Eggcorn of the week: "damper the enthusiasm"

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This morning on the radio, I heard this from Therese Madden of FIT:

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"We are Food Justice…"

That's just one of the chants heard on the lawn outside of the Independence Visitor Center on a recent Saturday afternoon. The hot sun did nothing to damper the enthusiasm of the 120 young people, mostly between the ages of 15 and 20.

This makes perfect sense, in that the first meaning of damper as a noun is "Something that damps or depresses the spirits", according to the OED.

But even though English is generally happy to uses nouns as verbs, there isn't a very well-established verb damper. And so instead, the common collocation "dampen <someone's> enthusiasm" has always used the verb dampen "To dull, deaden, diminish the force or ardour of, depress, deject".

Still, there are plenty of examples of enthusiasm-dampering on the web, e.g.

Last week's warm-up didn't damper the enthusiasm for the 5th Annual U.P. Pond Hockey Championship
Yet it did nothing to damper the enthusiasm among those in attendance.
“We don't want to damper the enthusiasm of the pool commission,” said Edelmayer, the township board's liaison to the commission.
The hot sun did nothing to damper the enthusiasm of the 120 young people, mostly between the ages of 15 and 20.

We can also find a few in the media outlets indexed by Google News:

The crowd was great for the Justin Moore concert and the rain didn't seem to damper the enthusiasm.
But the fact Musical Romance had to settle for second money didn't damper the enthusiasm of Kaplan, who couldn't have been more pleased with the performance.
Rain didn’t damper the enthusiasm of car owners and car lovers Sunday at the 39th Concours d’Elegance, presented by The Rotary Club of Forest Grove.

And even in Google Books:

Foster's attacks elicited little reaction and failed to damper the enthusiasm of league officials …
Poorly designed programs may damper the enthusiasm of all parties involved toward future mentorships.
There are no time-honored precedents, rules and regulations governing the making of motion pictures to damper the enthusiasm of a pioneering spirit or a man with new ideas.

But the COCA corpus has no examples of dampering enthusiasm, compared to 23 of dampening enthusiasm; the BNC has 13 examples of dampening and none of dampering.

The NYT index (since 1851) has 739 examples of the specific string "dampen the enthusiasm", compared to two of "damper the enthusiasm":

Connor Ennis, "Road Trip, Part 5", 10/18/2007: And of course, we can’t forget about Illinois, whose balloon we saw burst in Iowa City last weekend. Though that didn’t damper the enthusiasm the family of quarterback Juice Williams, who wear their pride in the stands and explain the heavy meaning behind his nickname.

John Branch, "Under the wigs, Dogers face a marketing test", 5/9/2009: Somehow, the fact that he [Manny Ramirez] was caught did little to damper the enthusiasm, at least inside Dodger Stadium.

Since this is just a matter of swapping suffixes between dampen and damper, it's not a very poetic eggcorn, not in the league of youthamism for euphemism, or having something down packed for down pat. But it's still an interesting example of the kind of meme-pool variation that sometimes turns into language change.



33 Comments

  1. Rod Johnson said,

    August 6, 2011 @ 1:02 pm

    I have always had the same reaction to dampen as opposed to damp. In my mental lexicon, something–a signal, say–is damped, not dampened, which means "to make damp." I'm not sure why I decided damp is the "correct" word here–maybe the fact that it's simpler. At any rate, there's a cluster of verbs and nouns here with semantic relationships that muddle their differences.

  2. Stephen Austin said,

    August 6, 2011 @ 1:12 pm

    Might it not be a confusion with the phrase "temper the enthusiasm"?

  3. MT said,

    August 6, 2011 @ 1:16 pm

    Is it possible that this also has something to do with the common and vaguely similar-sounding expression
    "to temper one's enthusiasm/expectations/etc." ?

  4. Keith Ivey said,

    August 6, 2011 @ 1:18 pm

    Are there any other examples where a noun formed by adding the agentive suffix "-er" to a verb is then verbed and used with the same meaning as the original verb? Perhaps "stopper"?

  5. Amy Reynaldo said,

    August 6, 2011 @ 1:19 pm

    I suspect "tamper" (and maybe "pamper") is influencing the emergence of "damper."

  6. Keith Ivey said,

    August 6, 2011 @ 1:32 pm

    Hmm, "stopper" isn't really the same, since you wouldn't say you "stoppered" something unless you were actually using a stopper to do it, whereas "dampered" in these examples doesn't involve literal use of a damper.

  7. rkillings said,

    August 6, 2011 @ 1:57 pm

    Why not welcome yet a third variant of the verb 'damp'? After all, 'damp' and 'dampen' have shared overlapping meanings since the 16th C.

    Like Rod Johnson, I thought that 'damp' was now the established verb in science and engineering (as in 'damped oscillation' and 'suspension damper'), but to my dismay I now see the EU's financial markets regulators talking about 'volatility dampeners'. The damp vs. dampen choice seems to be a shibboleth signaling which of the Two Cultures the speaker belongs to.

    So now add 'damper' to the mix: it can be low-culture vernacular, rhyming with 'tamper' and 'pamper' and primed to become a concise replacement for 'put a sock in it'.

  8. Marilyn Martin said,

    August 6, 2011 @ 2:30 pm

    Seems that "damper the enthusiasm" is but a short step away from "put a damper on the enthusiasm," which is represented in the hundreds of thousands on Google.

  9. The Ridger said,

    August 6, 2011 @ 2:35 pm

    I think Marilyn is correct: this may not be so much a confusion of "dampen something" with "damper" as a simple noun->verb transformation from "to put a damper on -> to damper", which is fairly commonplace.

    Keith: "diaper" isn't quite the same, since the -er isn't a suffix, but certainly "to diaper" means "to put a diaper on", and most people won't be doing morphological analysis.

  10. Keith Ivey said,

    August 6, 2011 @ 2:48 pm

    Ridger, "diaper" isn't even close to the same. The whole point is that "damper" already contains the verb ("damp") it's being used as a new synonym for.

    After I've moisturizered my face and clippered my fingernails, I'm going to duster my furniture.

  11. Robert Coren said,

    August 6, 2011 @ 3:05 pm

    @Keith Ivey: "After I've moisturizered my face and clippered my fingernails, I'm going to duster my furniture."

    I'd point out that one of these things is not like the others; you use a clipper on your nails and a duster on your furniture, but you actually do put moisturizer on your face.

  12. Ø said,

    August 6, 2011 @ 3:32 pm

    When a wet blanket damps enthusiasm, it's probably going to dampen it, too.

  13. Keith Ivey said,

    August 6, 2011 @ 4:08 pm

    True, Robert Coren, but I don't think that makes in difference in whether a noun can be made into a verb:

    put oil on -> oil
    put wax on -> wax
    use a hammer on -> hammer
    use a file on -> file

  14. Robyn said,

    August 6, 2011 @ 7:16 pm

    The protest was about food, and damper is a kind of bread. Maybe the author was reaching for a pun?

  15. Eric P Smith said,

    August 6, 2011 @ 9:17 pm

    Like Rod Johnson and rkillings, I have always believed that to dampen means to wet, and to damp means to reduce oscillation. I would never have used the one verb where I meant the other. I am surprised to find how much the two have come to influence each other.

  16. Ø said,

    August 7, 2011 @ 7:06 am

    @Eric: I, too, observe that distinction, and sometimes I have felt a little peevish toward those who don't. But I am learning that it's not simply a case of two similar words getting confounded: they are basically the same word. And I now believe that you could damp or dampen someone's spirits, or put a damp on them, even before the same words acquired senses related to moisture.

  17. Ø said,

    August 7, 2011 @ 7:30 am

    In case my last comment was unclear: the distinction in question is between one word meaning "deadening" (with damped oscillation as a special case) and another one meaning "moistening".

  18. Eric P Smith said,

    August 7, 2011 @ 9:11 am

    @Ø: thankyou. No matter how well I think I know my native language, there is always so much still to learn.

  19. Ø said,

    August 7, 2011 @ 11:18 am

    so much still to learn Ain't it the truth?

    Here's a question: In literature you run across the ancient English idea of the "rising damp(s)" as something injurious to one's health. Wikipedia tells me that the phrase refers to water creeping up into the fabric of a building from the ground, but I'm pretty sure that that's a modern re-use of an old phrase, and that it used to mean something in the air rather than in the wall. Now I'm wondering if the phrase predated the specific association of "damp" with water, and just meant a certain kind of noxious emanation.

    [(myl) According to the OED, damp originally (from 1480 onwards) meant "An exhalation, a vapour or gas, of a noxious kind". This sense is flagged as "Obs. exc. as in 1b", which is "spec. in coal mines: (a) = choke-damp n., also called black damp, and suffocating damp. (b) = fire-damp n., formerly fulminating damp".]

  20. Nelida said,

    August 7, 2011 @ 6:52 pm

    Marylin and The Ridger beat me to the punch. "put a damper on" woud seem to be the correct expression (other than using "dampen" as a verb).

  21. Dakota said,

    August 8, 2011 @ 6:17 am

    Musicians may also be familiar with the stop on a pipe organ marked "damper", that damps oscillations, and the damper pedal of a piano, that lifts the dampers to sustain oscillation.

  22. tablogloid said,

    August 8, 2011 @ 7:38 am

    Maybe their enthusiasm couldn't be dampered because it was already at its dampest.

  23. Boris said,

    August 8, 2011 @ 11:46 am

    Is it really the case for some people that damper is a more transparent word than dampen? For me, damper as in "to put a damper on" is very opaque. I know what the expression means, but not really what a damper is (well, I didn't until you quoted the OED). On the other hand dampen as in "to make damp" is completely transparent to me. And even though it may not be obvious what it means to make one's enthusiasm damp (although I would probably figure it out even if I never heard the expression before), substituting "damper" would make things worse, not better.

    On the other hand, I can imagine someone who doesn't know what "temper" means thinking that the word is "damper" and that it's a variant of "dampen" in the same phrase.

  24. Joe said,

    August 8, 2011 @ 11:55 am

    Rather than "temper", I'd say that "hamper" would be the influence along with dampen.

  25. Dakota said,

    August 8, 2011 @ 12:03 pm

    Chimneys and wood-burning stoves also have dampers to control the air flow through the flue, but they are not meant to make the fire wet.

  26. Lauren Gundrum said,

    August 8, 2011 @ 12:46 pm

    I agree with Boris. As Marylin and The Ridger pointed out, "put a damper on" is a pretty common expression, but it seems much simpler to user "damper" as a verb. To me, "dampen the enthusiasm" sounds more correct than "damper the enthusiasm," though. Is it generally ok to switch the suffixes there?

  27. Anand Manikutty said,

    August 11, 2011 @ 3:28 pm

    In addition to "put a damper on", there is also "put *the* damper on". Still, "dampen enthusiasm" seems to be the correct way to phrase it.

  28. Anand Manikutty said,

    August 11, 2011 @ 3:31 pm

    That should have been "dampen [someone's] enthusiasm". (I typed "dampen [someone's] enthusiasm" with '<'s instead of '['s. The '<'s disappeared.)

  29. Just another Peter said,

    August 11, 2011 @ 8:17 pm

    If it was in Australia, it could have been a deliberate pun, given the "We are Food Justice…" chant. Damper is a traditional stockman's dish.

  30. Anand Manikutty said,

    August 12, 2011 @ 10:14 am

    @ Just another Peter – funny, that. (:

    @ Mark Liberman – while of course it's true that the use of the term "damper enthusiasm" may gain currency, and that languages are always changing, I don't think that the phrase "damper enthusiasm" would gain wide acceptance as a normative phrase.

    Eggcorns tell us something important about how languages are interpreted by us. However, I am not sure that eggcorns will, in themselves, become popular. I think this is due to the effect of organizations (in particular, educational institutions). Institutions will almost certainly privilege the existing phrase as opposed to the eggcorn.

    While this may "damper" one's enthusiasm for eggcorns, I would also argue that the effect of institutions is not nescessarily a bad thing. I never ended up learning some of the more perjorative phrases in the English and Hindi languages (in India) until I was well into my teen years. By that time, I was able to appreciate the pejorative nature of those words and phrases. I bring this up, of course, because some egg-corns may have perjorative or mildly pejorative implication (e.g. "old-timer's disease") and so may encounter institutional resistance. In any case, my bigger point is that institutions help us learn languages as part of what I believe to be a Socratic dialectic. This helps us understand both the meaning as well as the intent of particular words and phrases.

  31. Stilgherrian said,

    August 14, 2011 @ 6:28 pm

    I'm being lazy and not looking for an email address, but I think I've found your eggcorn for the week: this heavy-breathing rabbit at http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/2838878.html

    The pregnancy was announced and within a hare's breath calls for gay marriage were heard.

    [(myl) A nice one, but not for this week...]

  32. Mark Mandel said,

    August 15, 2011 @ 11:37 am

    Spotted on a blog: "It rained enough on Friday night to put a dampener on Saturday morning gardening,…"

  33. Mike said,

    August 18, 2011 @ 12:24 am

    Stoves have dampers on them, and my family used a wood stove, which we dampered to adjust the temperature. A damper's like a carbeurator — it controls air flow to ignition. Putting a damper on something slows its burn rate, or closes it off entirely. Used as a verb, dampering enthusiasm would mean mitigating it.

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