Eggcorn, that most successful of Language Log's neoLogisms, has entered another major dictionary. Back in September 2010, I reported that eggcorn had been included in the latest updates to the Oxford English Dictionary, as well as the dictionaries available at Oxford Dictionaries Online (New Oxford American Dictionary on the US side and the Oxford Dictionary of English on the UK side). The latest dictionary to jump on the eggcorn bandwagon is the American Heritage Dictionary, the fifth edition of which was released this week. Here's the entry that's available on their new website:
egg·corn (ĕg′ kôrn′)
n. A series of words that result from the misunderstanding of a word or phrase as some other word or phrase having a plausible explanation, as free reign for free rein, or to the manor born for to the manner born (from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet).
I especially appreciate the "plausible explanation" part of the definition, since that was a key element missing from the Oxford entries.
But wait, there's more!
The above entry is what appears on AHD's free website, but if you buy the print dictionary or the app for mobile devices (a subscription to which is included when you buy the print dictionary), you get extra features, including etymological notes. Here's the etymology given for eggcorn:
Coined by Geoffrey K. Pullum (born 1945), British-born American linguist (eggcorn being an eggcorn for acorn, taken as egg + corn)
That's another improvement over the Oxford Dictionaries entries, since the coiner is given explicit credit. On September 30, 2003, a week after Mark Liberman wrote a post about acorn being reinterpreted as egg corn, he added an update:
Geoff Pullum suggests that if no suitable term already exists for cases like this, we should call them "egg corns", in the metonymic tradition of "mondegreen", since the eponymous solution of "malapropism" and "spoonerism" is not appropriate.
I'll have my full appraisal of AHD5 in this Sunday's Boston Globe Ideas section. [Update: It's here.] In the meantime, you can hear American Heritage executive editor Steve Kleinedler interviewed about the dictionary on WBUR's "Here and Now" with Robin Young. Steve and Robin discuss Geoff Pullum's coinage of eggcorn and also touch on the recent New York Times Book Review essay by our other Geoff (Nunberg), "When a Dictionary Could Outrage."