Palin and her elk

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Via Nancy Friedman's Twitter feed comes this lovely eggcorn, in a comment on the New York Times Opinionator blog:

NOW is in the wrong fight. The issues should be about access to affordable healthcare and jobs. Without addressing these issues, NOW and others have nothing to offer the average Jane and in consequence, have allowed Sarah Palin and her elk to define women's issues.

There's nothing in the comment to suggest that this substitution was the result of intentional wordplay, but it's hard not to think that the slip was influenced by Palin's well-documented love of hunting big game in Alaska like moose and caribou. (Not sure about the elk, though. See Bill Poser's post and comments thereon for an explanation of the difference between North American moose and elk.) And perhaps the commenter is from a part of the country where milk is pronounced as [mɛlk] (say, Pittsburgh, Utah, or Washington State), rendering ilk and elk homophonous, or nearly so. Add the fact that ilk is a low-frequency word that lingers in crystallized idiomatic usage ("of X's ilk," "X and his/her/its/their ilk"), and it's clear to see that this is a prime candidate for eggcornization.

[Update: Commenters suggest that speakers of dialects where milk is pronounced as [mɛlk] may still pronounce ilk as [ɪlk]. So this seems to be a case of lexical diffusion where the sound change spreads variably depending on how common the word is — much as speakers who lack the cot-caught merger may pronounce dog with the caught vowel but less common -og words like blog with the cot vowel. More on that point here.

And for further thoughts on the eggcornic status of ilk » elk, see Chris Waigl's entry in the Eggcorn Database and discussion in the accompanying forum.]


  1. Stephen Jones said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 6:00 pm

    I suspect that 'ilk' is now used most of the time in an unfavourable sense. I also suspect that this is a fairly recent change. Any other opinions on this?

  2. J. W. Brewer said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 6:09 pm

    I am irresistably reminded of the Monty Python segment featuring Miss Ann Elk and her theory about the brontosaurus. Unfortunately, the only google hit for the phrase "elk and her ilk" looked like the page returned was going to be quite vulgar if not pornographic and I didn't feel sufficiently committed to the spirit of scientific linguistic research to click through.

  3. J. W. Brewer said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 6:13 pm

    Apparently more frequently spelled "Miss Anne Elk" or even in the British style "Anne Elk (Miss)," although I don't think Ann for Anne should qualify as an eggcorn. See, e.g.,

  4. Mike Keesey said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 6:23 pm

    Great definition of Cervidae: "elk and their ilk".

  5. marie-lucie said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 6:40 pm

    Palin and her elk, like Artemis and her stag.

  6. Nathan Myers said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 7:00 pm

    The book referenced in the Wikipedia article, "Natural Kinds, Laws of Nature and Scientific Methodology", by Peter J. Riggs, has "… Galileo presented an argument in favor of the reliability of the telescope in reply to Sizzi and others of that ilk", and "… in most papers of a Humean ilk, this prohibited metaphysical baggage is never explicitly declared". I suppose ilk does not itself count as a Natural Kind.

    Riggs defines an Elk Theory as a simple observation masquerading as a theory. Anne Elk's theory, incidentally, was that brontosauruses are thin on the ends and thick in the middle. We expect of an actual theory that it imply results of experiments that may be, but not have not yet been, performed.

    Finally, "brontosaurus", nowadays, is not capitalized, because it's the common name for the genus Apatasaurus (and, indeed, their ilk, perhaps including all of Neosauropoda, or perhaps limited to Diplodocoidea). Some confused people insist it is no longer a word at all, but such people would probably say that "ain't", "choate", and (if they have any scruples left) "flammable" are not words.

  7. Nathan Myers said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 7:07 pm

    Sorry, that's Apatosaurus. (My daughter would be scandalized.)

  8. Bloix said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 7:11 pm

    IStephen Jones, another opinion: it's my sense that "ilk" traditionally has been pejorative and that in recent years it's become more neutral. So my opinion is precisey the opposite of yours. Perhaps one of us will open a dictionary at some point.

  9. Linda said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 7:22 pm

    I opened the OED.
    First meaning SAME, from the OE ilca, second meaning EACH, from the OE ilch. Both now Scottish.

  10. Nicholas Waller said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 7:26 pm

    Unfortunately, Miss Anne Elk appears to have been written by Cleese and Chapman, not Palin (and Jones).

  11. Ryan said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 7:29 pm

    I say mɛlk in Colorado too.

  12. Leonardo Boiko said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 8:02 pm

    @J. W. Brewer: It was not really porn, it was something worse: sports fans. The context is a newsline: «Mom whips here [her?] tits out at her sons hockey game». Then a comment tries to mock Canadians:

    > Drunkanuck: "Mmmmm, Canadian Moose Milk…

    > Ref: "Fuck that elk and her ilk!

    So yep, the only Google hit for that gem of a phrase was buried in depressing vulgarity.

  13. Nancy Friedman said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 8:29 pm

    Curiously, "and her elk" has a number of Google hits unrelated to ungulates, whereas "and his elk" and "and their elk" always refers to hunting or to the Elks Club.

    For example, in a comment on a post about Mike Tyson and his bride: "Her and her elk are low quality people."

    I love this one: "Why can't we, as a society, treat each other with a bit of respect and give Madonna and her elk the 1st class treatment she deserves!" — Comment by Ashly Smithson, St. Albans [UK]:

  14. Ben said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 9:36 pm

    I betcha the people who say "melk" say "eyggcorn" also too.

  15. George Amis said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 9:52 pm

    In a technical sense, "of that ilk" means, or meant, primarily "of the same place", and is used, for instance, in the names of Scottish baronets. "Blair of that Ilk" is a way of saying "Blair of Blair", as opposed to the Blairs of Lewis or Rasay or Tallisker. Sir Iain Moncreiffe of that Ilk (that is, Moncreiffe of Moncreiffe) is the author of a book on the Scottish clans. Presumably this use is not at all pejorative. OED calls the common modern sense of "of that ilk" erroneous.

  16. ignoramus said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 9:56 pm

    Palin and her elk
    may be meant Palin and swan song

  17. Mark P said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 10:22 pm

    I can't recall anyone ever actually saying "ilk" as opposed to writing it. I think it does have connotations that are at least somewhat to the negative side of neutral.

  18. micah said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 10:35 pm

    Curiously, "and her elk" has a number of Google hits unrelated to ungulates, whereas "and his elk" and "and their elk" always refers to hunting or to the Elks Club.

    There are also considerably fewer hits for "and her elk". The obvious hypothesis is that, for the other two, the eggcorns are being masked by a larger number of genuine usages.

  19. Terry Hunt said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 10:37 pm

    Further to George Amis' (correct) remarks, the designation "X of that Ilk" means that the person concerned is officially recognised (by Scotland's Court of the Lord Lyon) as the Chief of Clan X.

  20. Chris Waigl said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 10:55 pm

    Now in the ECDB. The Eggcorn Forum, however, is dubious about its genuine eggcorn status.

  21. Faldone said,

    December 10, 2009 @ 11:06 pm

    I grew up in Chicago and I say melk. I also say ilk, not elk. I don't know how eyggcorn is supposed to be pronounced but I'd be willing to bet that I don't pronounce it that way.

  22. Tim said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 1:49 am

    My guess is that "eygg-" was meant to represent /eg-/, rather than /ɛg-/.

  23. Kenny Easwaran said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 5:31 am

    I say melk (born in Alberta, grew up in New Jersey), but pronounce other words in -ilk with /ilk/. However, it might help that "bilk", "ilk", and so on are extremely uncommon words, and so I just adopted a spelling pronunciation.

    I also do remember noticing at some point that I have some sort of fronting effect for short vowels in front of voiced velar consonants ("eyggcorn") which applies to both "g" and "ng" but not "d", "b", "n", "m", or "k". I assume someone has documented this kind of phonological pattern before and can say something about what dialects it's common in.

  24. Cecily said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 5:49 am

    Oh dear. I use "ilk" a fair bit, in speech and writing, rarely intended with a derogatory slant. Maybe people have been misinterpreting, without me realising, or maybe the pejorative sense is more common in the US?

  25. Ben Hemmens said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 9:23 am

  26. Roy said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 9:49 am

    The "elk" in the tweet inspiring this thread might have been an intentional pun, an (unintentional) eggcorn, but it might also have been a transposition error common among touch-typists. "I" and "E", struck by the middle fingers of the right and left hands respectively, are occasionally (frequently, in my case) interposed. (L&S, F&J, G&H are similar pairings.)

    Though personally, I prefer the eggcorn hypothesis.

  27. Alissa said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 12:13 pm

    I say [mɛlk], but 'silk' is [sɪlk] and 'ilk' is [ɪlk]. 'Egg' is [ɛg], by the way, not [eg]. I don't think it's a phonological thing; it's just how one word is pronounced. To be honest, when I first heard [mɪlk] I thought it was a spelling pronunciation (though I was a kid and wouldn't have known to call it that).

  28. Ignoramus said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 2:56 pm

    Elk see OED for third meaning i.e. Swan
    thus an apt rendering in a freudian slip or double removal and political denial
    for those that do not want to be on that list.

    Palin and elk to Palin and ilk or Palin and her swan song or to the last chance to lead the herd of thundering tuskers across the non-warming melting tundra looking a star in the heavens.

  29. Ben said,

    December 11, 2009 @ 5:05 pm

    Yup, I meant "eyggcorn" to represent /eg/ (or even /eɪg/) rather than /ɛg/. I just thought the IPA wouldn't be in keeping with the pseudo-Palinian I was typin'.

    "Melk" in Chicago, eh? Interesting. I'm a Chicagoan, and I was always very aware of the "melk" pronunciation, but I thought of it as a marker of being from downstate, or maybe central Indiana or Ohio or Iowa, like /eg/ and /leg/. But with all these things, data trumps instinct. I could be wrong; I often am, in fact.

  30. Graeme said,

    December 12, 2009 @ 4:50 am

    Ms Palin went rouge.

    Recently in an Australian Parliamentary committee, I was referred to as 'academics of that ilk': not pejoratively, rather a backhanded putdown to put down a colleague deemed too lefty to associate with my (supposedly reputable, objective) 'ilk'.

  31. Bloix said,

    December 12, 2009 @ 3:50 pm

    From this weekend's Washington Post Magazine, in a profile of a veteran Shakespearean actor named Edward Gero:

    "I think there too kinds of actors: actors who don't want to disappear into their roles and actors who do. And I like to think of myself as the second ilk. You disappear into the role to serve the play."

    No pejorative connotation there.

  32. naddy said,

    December 12, 2009 @ 6:25 pm

    […] Palin's well-documented love of hunting big game in Alaska like moose and caribou. (Not sure about the elk, […])

    Alaska is outside the natural range of elk in North America, although small populations have been introduced on Afognak and Etolin Island.

    Alaska Department of Fish and Game:

  33. Not My Leg said,

    December 15, 2009 @ 8:12 pm

    Wait, people in Washington pronounce 'milk' in a way that rhymes with 'elk'. I am from Washington, and I don't think that I do this (obviously not saying it isn't real, just don't recall hearing it.) I definitely pronounce milk and ilk the same.

    (Which is confusing, because you would expect that I would pronounce the 'M' in milk.)

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