A New Yorker eggcorn?

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Could that famously well-edited publication be the source of one of those sporadic folk-etymologies that we call eggcorns? Sure: see "And every lion tongue cast down", 8/1/2005. The mistake discussed there is more of a mondegreen, but it involves the same sort of creative mis-hearing.  However, the example that Ian Leslie sent in this morning, taken from Anthony Lane's review of The Expendables, is more ambiguous:

Stallone, who co-wrote the movie with Dave Callaham, is also listed as the director, but since he appears to be having trouble, in the autumn of his years, getting his eyelids and lower lip to act in consort with the rest of him, I’m hardly surprised that he had no energy left over to command the film. [emphasis added]

"Shouldn't that be 'in concert with'?", Ian asked. The answer, it appears, is "Well,  yes, in a statistical sense, at least since the end of the 18th century".

But people were unsure about the matter for a couple of hundred years, and a tail of uncertainty remains to this day. The OED gives this etymology for concert:

[a. F. concert (16th c.), ad. It. concerto concert, harmony, f. concertare to CONCERT. At its first adoption this word was confounded with the earlier word CONSORT, which was constantly written for it down to the Restoration, and often later; e.g.
1611 COTGR., Concert de Musique, a consort of Musicke.]

The subentry for the phrase in concert (with) starts with an early 18th century citation:

1712 ADDISON Spect. No. 487. {page}10 When she [the Soul] operates more in concert with the Body.

But we are also given this cross reference

[1634-1793 see CONSORT 2b.]

where we find

1.b. in consort: in accord; in concert (with which it finally blends). Obs.

1634 FORD P. Warbeck III. ii, I'll lend you mirth, sir, If you will be in consort. 1729 T. COOKE Tales, &c. 43 In Consort to my Friend my Passions move. 1793 LD. AUCKLAND Corr. (1861) III. 10 A cordial disposition..to act in consort with me.

So in the 17th and 18th centuries, in concert with and in consort with were in free variation. For the last couple of centuries, the culture seems to have mostly settled on the "concert" version.

However, in consort with retains a bit of mindshare. Thus in the NYT index since 1981, "in concert with" gets 1,639 hits, whereas "in consort with" gets 24.  And looking over a few pages of each, I don't see any obvious pattern behind the choice, except that Donal Henahan seems to have liked to use in consort with to mean "together with", e.g.

The most puzzling aspect of the work, however, is the restricted role of the offstage amplified piano, played in this instance by Alexander Slobodyanik. It enters the work with one fortissimo note cluster to shut off the first movement, then does not appear until the end of the second, when it heaves a deep five-measure sigh in consort with the violin.

The Juilliard String Quartet took the role of the Baroque concertino, or small solo group, playing in consort with the ripieno, or full orchestra.

The poems themselves continually allude to death and heard in consort with Schubert's music, continually predict it.

This is presumably because the literal concert available in the context of these phrases creates an alternative unwanted interpretation.

The other consort examples seem to be pretty much random substitutions for concert. Are the authors or editors working to bring back pre-Restoration spelling norms? I don't think so — I suspect that this really is a sort of eggcorn-like confusion. Both words concert and consort exist; their pronunciations are almost the same; and their meanings are both compatible with the phrase in con__rt with used to mean "together with; in partnership/company/harmony/coordination/agreement with".

The New Yorker's practice also tends towards concert — a search for "in concert with" turns up 24 hits, whereas "in consort with" turns up only two, both  in reviews by Anthony Lane.

Their search engine apparently indexes stemmed text, because it also yields this sentence (from Susan E. Tifft, "Scion of the Times", 7/26/1999):

Kovach warned his protégé that he was making a mistake in consorting with such an exclusive group, but Arthur refused to distance himself from his friends.

Obviously this could not be "in concerting with such an exclusive group", and it reminds us that the verbal expression "to consort with" is an influence likely to cause spontaneous regeneration of "in consort with".

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15 Comments »

  1. Twitter Trackbacks for Language Log » A New Yorker eggcorn? [upenn.edu] on Topsy.com said,

    August 14, 2010 @ 10:10 am

    [...] Language Log » A New Yorker eggcorn? languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2551 – view page – cached Could that famously well-edited publication be the source of one of those sporadic folk-etymologies that we call eggcorns? Sure: see "And every lion tongue cast down", 8/1/2005. The mistake discussed there is more of a mondegreen, but it involves the same sort of creative mis-hearing. However, the example that Ian Leslie sent in this morning, taken from Anthony Lane's review of The Expendables,… Read moreCould that famously well-edited publication be the source of one of those sporadic folk-etymologies that we call eggcorns? Sure: see "And every lion tongue cast down", 8/1/2005. The mistake discussed there is more of a mondegreen, but it involves the same sort of creative mis-hearing. However, the example that Ian Leslie sent in this morning, taken from Anthony Lane's review of The Expendables, is more ambiguous: View page Tweets about this link [...]

  2. Jeff DeMarco said,

    August 14, 2010 @ 11:34 am

    FWIW, the term "consort" is in very active usage in the music world, and especially among those who engage in early music activities. It normally refers to a a grouping of instruments, often of like nature, such as the Rose Viol Consort or the Early Music Consort of London. In such contexts, "in consort with" can crop up in a literal usage.

  3. Mary Bull said,

    August 14, 2010 @ 11:41 am

    I enjoyed reading your discussion of the two phrases very much, Mark. As it happens, I subscribe to the New Yorker and had read this particular review only yesterday. My mind went comfortably along with "in consort with," though I feel sure it would have been just as at home with "in concert with." But then, I'm an old-fashioned old lady and very likely not a typical New Yorker reader.

  4. Lugubert said,

    August 14, 2010 @ 12:44 pm

    I have neither "in concert with" or "in consort with" in my active vocabulary, but when reading the quote, I supposed that the supposed correct phrase was "in cahoots with".

  5. Peter said,

    August 14, 2010 @ 1:42 pm

    Seconding Jeff DeMarco, "(in) consort" has a range of quite specific technical-ish meanings in music, which your Juillard Quartet excerpt is certainly an example of.

  6. mollymooly said,

    August 14, 2010 @ 2:53 pm

    @Lugubert: quite a lot of google hits for "in cohoots with", suggesting a conspiracy of geese.

    –flying geese: a skein
    –standing geese: a gaggle
    –plotting geese: a cohoot
    –wallpapering geese: a flock

  7. Robert Coren said,

    August 14, 2010 @ 4:11 pm

    If I may be forgiven for a bit of tangentiality, my favorite "consort"-related mistake of recent years was the claim, made by I forget which US politician, that Moammar Ghaddafi of Libya "cavorts with terrorists". The speaker almost certainly meant "consorts", but the image the actual phrase put in my mind is ineradicable and rather amusing.

  8. rkillings said,

    August 14, 2010 @ 7:03 pm

    Jeff deMarco is right, but stops short of stating the obvious: 'consort' and 'concert' have long been, and still are, interchangeable as names for a performing group. What difference is there between the English Concert and the King's Consort? They are both period-instrument orchestras, founded relatively recently.
    The history of blending of these two words goes too far back to make a case for an eggcorn.

    [(myl) On the contrary, the (partial and sense-dependent) blending multiplies eggcorns: "a consorted effort"; "consorted attempt";"a rock consort"; etc.]

  9. Rare New Yorker Copy-Editing Error Spotted!? | Defamer Australia said,

    August 14, 2010 @ 7:15 pm

    [...] it's complicated. The linguistic nerds at Language Log break it down: "In the 17th and 18th centuries, in concert with and in consort with were in free variation. [...]

  10. Jonathan Cohen said,

    August 14, 2010 @ 8:05 pm

    This is a side point, but the New Yorker has not been "famously well-edited" for years. The increasing deficiencies in its copyediting and fact checking departments, as documented by people like Languagehat, are no longer shocking. When I was young, I wanted either to work at the New Yorker in one of the above capacities or to run an independent bookstore. The time for both has passed.

  11. Karen said,

    August 15, 2010 @ 8:40 am

    Hmmm. Since I only knew "consort" from reading, I pronounce (I almost wrote "pronounced" but I doubt it will change now) it konSORT, which is not "almost the same" for me as "KONsert".

    [(myl) In the dictionaries that I've checked, the noun consort (which is what's under discussion here) always has first-syllable main stress. In r-ful varieties, the second syllable is something like /ˌsɔɹt/ in consort as opposed to something like /ˑsɚt/ in concert -- basically a somewhat backer and rounder vowel, and perhaps a secondary stress if you believe in that sort of thing. Anyhow, just the sort of minimal difference that is the stuff of eggcorns. According to M-W, the verb consort can have either first-syllable or second-syllable main stress -- but that's not relevant here.]

  12. Dan T. said,

    August 15, 2010 @ 10:51 am

    I can remember as a kid, after attending a performance of an individual singer unaccompanied by any band or orchestra, being highly uncertain of whether I ought to describe what I just attended as a "concert" when speaking or writing about it; the two competing senses of the word, as referring to a musical performance and as referring to two or more entities cooperating in something, were clashing in my mind. So is a single-artist performance just a performance, or is it a concert? You might be able to buy tickets to it at places that advertise "concert tickets".

    [(myl) FWIW, it never would have occurred to me to doubt that a solo performance is a "concert". And the large number of hits for "solo concert" suggests that I'm not alone. The fact that the relevant M-W sense is "a public performance (as of music or dancing)" is also a clue. For some reason, peevers don't seem to complain about this shift and extension of sense (from "coordination" to "performance") -- maybe it happened too long ago?]

  13. Dan Everett said,

    August 15, 2010 @ 3:04 pm

    Sometimes eggcorns might reveal how we store words lexically. I remember once writing 'without further adieu'. I suppose it could show that I retrieve words phonologically, since my pronunciation of the word isn't much different than 'ado'.

  14. SteveT said,

    August 16, 2010 @ 1:06 am

    Perhaps it was a planned pun based on the definition relating to spouses? Some definitions have an implied submissiveness and perhaps Lane wanted to comment on Stallone's overpowering features.

  15. Mary Kuhner said,

    August 16, 2010 @ 5:02 pm

    When I was quite young, a friend of my mother's delivered a memorable rant in my hearing: her musical group, which was named Saint Cecilia's Concert, had been listed as Saint Cecilia's Consort in the newspaper. She felt that, Saint Cecilia being a virgin saint, giving her a consort just wasn't right. So that's a late-1960's confusion of the two words in a specifically musical context.

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