An EGGCORN is a misheard word or phrase that retains the original meaning. Typically, the eggcorn sounds very similar to the word or phrase it is substituting and can even seem to make sense — which is why eggcorns cause confusion. For example, “mute point “is an eggcorn because it is similar to the original phrase, “moot point.”
The word “eggcorn” is itself an eggcorn; it’s the misheard word for ACORN, which is how the term for misheard words and phrases came to be.
Some of the most popular EGGCORNS (with the original, correct phrase in bold/parentheses) are listed below:
Abject lesson (object lesson)
All and all (all in all)
Another thing coming (another think coming)
Beckon call (beck and call)
Biting my time (biding my time)
Bold-face lie (bald-face lie)
Chomp at the bit (champ at the bit)
Day in age (day and age)
Doggy-dog world (dog-eat-dog world)
For all intensive purposes (for all intents and purposes)
Pass mustard (pass muster)
Old-Timers’ Disease (Alzheimer’s Disease)
One in the same (one and the same)
Take it for granite (take it for granted)
Towing the line (toeing the line)
In 2003, a professor of linguistics named Geoffrey Pullum was on a website for linguists. There was a discussion about a woman who substituted the phrase “eggcorn” for the word “acorn.” The group noted this sort of phenomenon (i.e., similar word substitution) didn’t actually have a name. Pullum suggested using “eggcorn” itself as the name for it, and thus, the term “eggcorn” was born.
It’s worth noting that an eggcorn differs from a malapropism. Malapropisms use an incorrect word in place of a word with a similar sound, but in that case, the result is nonsensical. With eggcorns, however, the substitution has a similar meaning to the original word or phrase that it actually makes some sort of sense. It’s imperative for professional writing to know the original, proper phrase so that you don’t accidentally use an eggcorn!
If you find eggcorns amusing, here’s a list of 100 common eggcorns compiled by NPR.
If you really like eggcorns, here’s the eggcorn database. It is an ongoing project compiling eggcorns (old and new) with examples of eggcorns actually being used in various media and online platforms.