Lost in the mist of eggcorns

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Jon Miles sent a link to a slashdot comment on Russian scientists' plans to clone a mammoth:

All this in the mist of global warming.

"Mist" for midst is in the Eggcorn Database, submitted in 2005 by Arnold Zwicky based on a sighting reported on ADS-L by Larry Horn:

“well, in the mist of all of this with [name of spouse with cancer] I had fell and hit my head…”

Larry's comment:

Whether this was a typo for “in the midst of” or a reanalysis isn’t entirely knowable. But since the “all of this” in the context refers to the murky complexity of misdiagnoses, denial of coverage, etc. etc., I suspect the “mist” is in fact a reanalysis/eggcorn.

Jon Lighter added the invented example:

“In the mist of life we are in death.”

Searching Google Books for "in the mist of" turns up plenty of similar examples. Some are clearly not typos, in the sense that the spelling "in the mist of" is used repeatedly, to the exclusion of "midst".  Other books showing a similar pattern are here and here.

This still leaves it unclear whether this "mist" is a true lexical re-analaysis, or just a spelling error. The fact that many speakers simplify the final cluster in midst to [mɪst] makes it more likely for "mist" to be learned as the way to spell that lexeme.  And this tendency may be strengthened by the fact that "in the mist of X" often makes independent sense.

The further simplification of midst to [mɪs] is also sometimes apparently signaled in spelling (examples mainly from the web):

In the miss of all this action from the top of the stairs were I was sitting, I looked down and I saw a dear friend packing clothes and other items as though he was moving.

What an awesome life your uncle lived and that is to be celebrated even in the miss of sorrow.

But we are in the miss of really trying to prove out how we are going to deal to handle that.

As my work load keeps on building I am in the miss of purchasing Edius Neo for capturing live events in SD.

Of course, sometimes "miss" is substituted for mist or mists rather than midst:

Every November 5 lit barrels of tar are carried through the streets of town in a rite whose origins are lost in the miss of time.

Update — it strikes me, irrelevantly, as odd that the noun miss has missed out on the  chance for "in the miss of X" to play the role of expressions like "in the place of" or "given the lack of X".  My searches for this post turned up some moves in that direction, e.g. (Edward Johnson, Wonder-Working Providence of Sion's Saviour in New England, 1657):

Some were taken away by death, and then to be sure they had land enough, others fearing poverty and famishment, supposing the present scarcity would never be turned into plenty, removed themselves away, and so never beheld the great good the Lord hath done for his people.

But the valiant of the Lord waited with patience, and in the miss of beer supplied themselves with water, even the most honored, as well as others, contentedly rejoicing in a cup of cold water, blessing the Lord that had given them the taste of that living water, and that they had not the water that slacks the thirst of their natural bodies, given them by measure, but might drink to the full; as also in the absence of bread they feasted themselves with fish. [emphasis added]



17 Comments

  1. Spell Me Jeff said,

    December 8, 2011 @ 12:38 pm

    Midst strikes me as one of those words that doesn't come up too often in the spoken vernacular. Certainly it seems to come up less than mist. Mist also has the advantage of being both physically tangible and frequently adapted to figurative language. (E.g., "Play Misty For Me.") That makes it a very flexible word.

    Reanalysis sounds like a good working hypothesis.

    [(myl) I agree about the reanalysis part. But the overall frequency in COCA of midst is actually almost twice as great as mist. In the "spoken" section, the difference is even greater, with midst having a frequency of 10.81 per million, while mist is at 1.40 per million. The COCA speech transcriptions are not all that "vernacular", but the same sort of thing is true of the LDC's conversational speech corpora (where midst is about 5 times more common than mist. In the BNC's spoken section, mist (at 2.61 per million) is slightly more common than midst (at 2.51 per million).]

  2. Paul Zukowski said,

    December 8, 2011 @ 5:43 pm

    When one considers "middle," "midway," "midpoint," and "middling," it's hard to imagine missing the sense of "midst."

  3. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    December 8, 2011 @ 5:57 pm

    @Paul Zukowski: On the other hand, it fits nicely with the reanalysis of "amidst" as "amiss", which is also attested; "amiss the confusion" and "amiss the chaos" each get several dozen Google hits, almost all of which seem to be errors for "amidst".

  4. Jerry Friedman said,

    December 8, 2011 @ 6:13 pm

    @Paul Zukowski: What if one considers the possibility that someone has never noticed the [d]?

  5. Janice Byer said,

    December 8, 2011 @ 8:59 pm

    I can easily imagine not hearing the [d] for having not noticed it while reading, and the chain of perceptual lapses locking me into an eggcorn.

  6. Mr Fnortner said,

    December 8, 2011 @ 11:10 pm

    FWIW, for me midst is so middle that I think m-i-d first, followed by s-t. And I pronounce it mɪtst. I like the eggcorn, but I think many who make the error may not realize what word they are supposed to be saying.

  7. briggslaw said,

    December 9, 2011 @ 5:31 am

    "I had fell and hit my head . . ." 'Fell'?

  8. richard howland-bolton said,

    December 9, 2011 @ 7:01 am

    @ briggslaw "had fell"
    Is there some sort of recent(?) grammatical change here? I often see (e.g. on the Beeb site) things like 'she was sat' where 'she was sitting' would seem more natural to this 64-year-old ex-Briton.

  9. richard howland-bolton said,

    December 9, 2011 @ 7:07 am

    "All this in the mist of global warming."
    Eggcorn or not, it's a pretty good poetical phrase: the temperature rising, the permafrost becoming impermanent, steam rising … and there the half glimpsed mammoth in the midst of the mist. I'm getting goosebumps!

  10. xyzzyva said,

    December 9, 2011 @ 7:29 am

    The further simplification of midst to [mɪs]…

    I for one would never elide /ˈmɪtst/ to [ˈmɪs(ː)], even though a word like /ˈmɪsts/ is almost always [ˈmɪsː] for me. Funny the cluster /tst/ just isn't an issue, while the much more common /sts/ is.
    ———
    It just occurred to me that midst is notionally /ˈmɪdst/ for many people (clearly not me), so maybe that's the difference.

  11. Mr Punch said,

    December 9, 2011 @ 9:06 am

    "In the mist of" – I'm struck by the parallel to "fog of war" – "a term used to describe the uncertainty in situation awareness experienced by participants in military operations" (Wikipedia).

  12. Trimegistus said,

    December 9, 2011 @ 10:47 am

    Some proportion of the "mist" for "midst" uses may simply be sloppy spellchecking. But "miss" for "midst" is pure eggcorn.

    It seems that such things are more common nowadays; at least I don't remember so many eggorns and mondegreens when I was younger, and certainly there wasn't such an active community hunting and celebrating them. How is it that more people are using phrases without ever seeing them in print?

  13. Jerry Friedman said,

    December 9, 2011 @ 1:07 pm

    @briggslaw and richard howland-bolton: I often hear and less often see various non-standard past tenses and past particples: I seen him, my dog got ran over, "I shrunk the kids", etc. I think these are fairly common in America, and "I had fell" is another example. "She was sat" instead of "she was sitting" or "she was seated" is very British, though.

  14. Dan T. said,

    December 9, 2011 @ 1:35 pm

    Perhaps "Gorillas in the Mist" comes to some people's minds.

  15. A.M. said,

    December 9, 2011 @ 11:22 pm

    Agree with Trimegistus, and want to add that things like that are encouraged by the used of word processors auto spell checkers. One just stops noticing the words that don't have that waving red line under them.

    Remember the "Spelling Chequer" poem?

  16. The Ridger said,

    December 11, 2011 @ 5:10 pm

    @Trimegistus: I expect two things are in play: many of these are barely, if at all, noticeable in speech, meaning that speakers and listeners may have been saying/hearing different words; and in the past we simply didn't have access to the mass of unedited writing from "ordinary" people that the Internet provides now. If I were to hear "in the mist of" I doubt I'd notice.

  17. This Week’s Language Blog Roundup | Wordnik ~ all the words said,

    December 16, 2011 @ 10:24 am

    [...] is the Chinese language; and discovered the truth about mince pies. At Language Log, snowclones and eggcorns were hung by the chimney with care, with hopes that Newt Gingrich would not be there. Chinese and [...]

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