Sometimes it's hard to distinguish a spelling mistake from an eggcorn. Either way, I've always been impressed by the possibilities for analytic creativity afforded by the English orthographic system. And somehow these little morpho-analogical poems are more impressive when they appears in serious publications.
Reader RA recently sent in this example from Peter Allen, "France evacuates 6,000 Parisians after unexploded World War Two bomb discovered", The Telegraph, 2/6/2011:
Military experts worked from around 8am to noon to diffuse it, with the all clear being given early in the afternoon. […]
A spokesman for the mayor's office in Boulogne said: "The bomb was originally found by builders carrying out work in late January, but experts have only been able to start diffusing it today. The area is now completely safe."
In addition to these two instances in the body of the article, the photo caption at the head of the article also uses "diffuse", so this was not a simple slip of the fingers.
Arnold Zwicky entered defuse/diffuse into the Eggcorn Database back in 2004, with the comment that
This eggcorn involves a metaphor shift: the problem or situation at hand likened a noxious substance that can be rendered harmless by scattering it about and thereby diluting it, instead of to a bomb that must be defused.
As of 2004/12/23, Google finds 18,400 hits for [_”diffuse the situation”_] This shows that the eggcorn is entering the mainstream, probably because the underlying analogy appears compelling to many.
The Telegraph's example is not metaphorical, but instead deals with literally defusing an actual bomb. So the metaphorical shift must have entered the mainstream so thoroughly that the result of the re-analysis (or at least its spelling) has diffused back to the original word.
I wonder whether Peter Allen and his editors think that defuse is spelled "diffuse" — which would hardly be the weirdest thing about English spelling — or whether they think that there's a figurative sense of diffuse that means to render a bomb harmless. Either way, it's impressive to see bomb-diffusing in the newspaper with the highest circulation among broadsheets in the UK.
An anonymous reader sent in this one from Stephen Smith, "America, Meet Omar Suleiman, the New 'Transitional' Man in Cairo", Reason 2/8/2011:
When the opposition Wafd Party asked Suleiman if he was considering lifting the decades-old state of emergency, which allows the government to arrest and detain with impugnity, the longtime intelligence chief responded incredulously, "At a time like this?"
This one isn't in the eggcorn database yet. And again, I'm not sure whether Mr. Smith thinks that impunity should be spelled "impugnity", or was simply led by normal typing-substitution processes to spell it that way, as opposed to thinking that impunity "exemption from penalty" is a nominalized form of impugn "to assail, dispute, find fault with".
In favor of the latter (eggcorn) theory is the fact that the meaning would work given a negation more or less: thus an extra negation would tell us that impugnity might mean something like "the property of not being assailed, disputed, or faulted", which is within spitting distance of impunity. And there's neither any verbal form spelled "impune" nor any nominal form spelled "impugnity", so the paradigms are open to merger on both sides.
There are four other examples of "impugnity" on Reason's web site, in articles or blog posts by four different authors. However, there are hundreds of examples of "impunity", so that the more creative spelling can't be seen as a house style.
In any case, Smith is far from the first writer — or even the most distinguished one — to use this (spelling of this) word. Thus in David Mamet's The Wicked Son we find
To suggest that the rational thinker is exempted, either through identification with the aims of killers, or through a laudable withholding of judgment, posits a position of impugnity. This feeling of impugnity — as the terrorists have limited themselves neither geographically, nor to a degree of consanguinity — is madness.
There are five instances of "impugnity" in this book, showing that a local slip of the fingers was not the cause.
And Erving Goffman wrote in Interaction Ritual that
A fundamental trait of personal character from the point of view of social organization is integrity, meaning here the propensity to resist temptation in situation where there would be much profit and some impugnity in departing momentarily from moral standards.
In this case, the book contained no other instances of "impugnity", but two of "impunity", suggesting a typesetter's (perhaps eggcorn-influenced) slip of the fingers as the cause.
(I was interested to learn that "impugnance" and "impugnation" do have whatever form of existence is granted to letter-sequences that can be found in the OED, though I'm pretty sure that I've never encountered either one. They're glossed as "The action of attacking or assaulting (a person); esp. spiritual assault, temptation", or "The action of impugning (an opinion, etc.); calling in question, disputing; impugnment".)