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A brown squirrel on a tree with an acorn in its mouth

From eggcorns to Lady Mondegreen and Monty Python

A recent Guardian article under the heading “That eggcorn moment” reminded me of an unforgettable “toothcomb moment” resulting from my 2009 article on Linguee (which, in case you are wondering, is an online “translation tool combining an editorial dictionary and a search engine”, to quote from the Linguee website).
A brown squirrel on a tree with an acorn in its mouth

Eggcorn is the term coined by linguists to describe the error that results from a mistaken analysis of commonly heard words and phrases.

I decided to start a discussion on this in a an e-group for professional translators, during which I learned about Lady Mondegreen (allegedly common knowledge, but it turned out that several translator colleagues hadn’t come across her either – see Google, if you haven’t a clue what it is about) and, courtesy of Wikipia, an unexpected connection with Monty Python. Doune Castle is now on my list of places to visit on one of our journeys to or from Scotland.

The discussion clearly struck a chord, as evidenced by the numerous contributions – many positively hilarious – from various colleagues. I have taken the liberty of quoting some of them here:

  • As an American, I had to chuckle the first time I heard a Brit say they had gone over something with “a fine TOOTHcomb” (emphasis for pronunciation). I pointed out that it was “a fine-toothed COMB” (again, for pronunciation) and was told (one again) that Americans change everything. What can you do?
  • What? Are you saying that Americans never have Haare auf den Zähnen?
  • I always thought it was ‘fine-tooth’ rather than ‘fine-toothed’ and have the backing of Chambers Dictionary which shows it as fine-tooth(ed), suggesting that either is correct. Haven’t tried the OED.
  • Shorter Oxford has “fine-tooth comb”. Oxford Spelling Dictionary has “fine-tooth comb” and “fine-toothed comb”.
  • Haven’t come across eggcorn before, but you may like to note for future use that Beachcomber, in a spoof Robbie Burns poem, defines a “towmond” as “the edge of an egg in midwinter”. Huh?
  • Similarly, ‘Christ the Royal Master/Leans against the phone‘.
  • I’ve always thought of these mondegreens/eggcorns as “green chairs” – from the hymn “All things bright and beautiful, all green chairs great and small”. Which is what my mother told her father she’d sung on her first day at school.
  • Ah, I see now. With “The National Organisation for Women and others have nothing to offer the average Jane and in consequence, have allowed Sarah Palin and her elk to define women’s issues” for example, some people just don’t know it was a moose.
  • … I heard of a manager in Aylesbury, I think, who dictated a letter saying “ipso facto” and his secretary typed “if so, fax so”.
  • My son came home from his first day at school and told me they had said grace at lunch time. It went “For atta too tee, three fat fulls amen”. After some deliberation we realised he was supposed to be saying “For what we are about to receive may the lord make us truly thankful, amen”!
  • Or, like when a friend first started teaching in London and asked the class if they knew what Christmas was all about. A small boy very cheerfully replied it was all about Baby Cheeses.
  • When I was little, I believed that the man who handed the “Klingelbeutel” round on an long stick in church said “gets gots”. What he really said, was of course, Vergelt’s Gott!
  • When I was little I was forever singing “sticky chairs on me” around the bedroom with my sister. I refused to believe that the real lyrics were “take a chance on me”.
  • Similarly, our boys refuse to believe that the Beatles song is Lady Madonna not Beebee Banana…
  • Has anyone mentioned Agathe Bauer (I got the power)?
  • When my father first went on a walking holiday in the Austrian Alps, he was baffled for a time because he thought everyone who greeted him was saying “Great Scott”. And as a kid I was mystified by the pop song “Shrimples in the garden” (which turned out to be “Shrimpboats is a-coming”). Not to mention the BBC shipping forecast, where they seemed to keep on about “Margaret to good visibility”… And there is currently an ad on German TV for some cosmetic cream. The first time I only heard it, but didn’t see the writing: “Nun auch in Leicht und Explosiv”, which sounds a trifle dangerous.
  • This is what they call ‘Verhörhammer’ at our local radio station Bayern 3.
  • In a recent transcript of a CEO interview, we kept encountering paradise ships = paradigm shifts, and arrows = errors.
  • My 4 yr old son is adamant that Farmer Christmas will be delivering his presents this year.
  • My granddaughter, then aged four, said that another little girl
    she knew, who has a Polish mother and Pakistani father, spoke ‘a
    different sandwich – Polish and Hairdo.’
  • Here is another one – my youngest, then about three or four, once sang “I was born under a large green stone” instead of “I was born under a wondering star”. Later we always laughed when Bon Jovi´s “Bad medicine” came on the radio – we heard it as “Bad venison”.
  • My daughter, when about 5, used to apologise for things by saying “I’m sorry, it was my steak”.