Mondegreens and Eggcorns
Posted by June on November 23, 2015


Here are two fun language terms to roll out at your next cocktail party.

A mondegreen is any misheard expression, lyric, catchphrase or slogan. The name itself is a mondegreen. For example, there's an old John Prine song called "That's the Way That the World Goes 'Round" with the lyric, "It's a half an inch of water and you think you're going to drown." As the Prine has repeated many times, a woman once asked him to play the happy enchilada song. When he asked her what she was talking about, she recited the lyric: "It's a happy enchilada and you think you're going to drown."

Related to the concept mondegreens are eggcorns, which are also misheard terms, including one derived from “acorn.”

The name mondegreen comes from a misheard lyric from the Scottish ballad “The Bonny Earl of Moray.” In the song are the words “laid him on the green,” which some people famously misheard as “laid him mondegreen.” The name eggcorn came into being exactly as you'd guess.


Till vs. 'Til
Posted by June on November 16, 2015


One of the quickest ways to tell whether an article has been professionally edited is the word 'til. 

This contracted form of until correctly uses an apostrophe to indicate omitted letters. But though it's technically right, it's a dead giveaway that the writer or editor didn't know what he was doing.

Professionals, when they want a shorter form of until don't use 'til. They use till.

Anyone who hasn't studied a style guide might think this is an error. A till, in many cases, is a drawer in a cash register famously featured in the sentence "He had his hand in the till." So anyone with good language fundamentals but no editing training would logically conclude that till is the error.

It's not. The word till used to mean until actually predates until itself. Till is the original. That's why style guides say to use this original word and not a contracted version of a its younger cousin.

And while, technically, the contracted for 'til is legit -- you can, after all, contract anything you want -- it's a sure-fire sign that the editor doesn't know editing.


Passives Fail
Posted by June on November 9, 2015


Here's a link to the 2009 Chronicle of Higher Education article referenced in this week's podcast. In the article, linguist Geoffrey Pullum points out some problems with Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style," the most shocking of them being that Strunk and White didn't understand passive voice.

More on the subjunctive
Posted by June on November 2, 2015


Fascinatingly, the subjunctive mood is much easier to use (you probably use it well all the time) than it is to understand. So here's a bit more on the subject, my newspaper column on the subjunctive from last year.