Eggcorn of the week

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Kevin L. has sighted a lovely specimen (Neave Barker, "Heatwave may rekindle Chernobyl's curse", 8/11/2010):

Today the winds have changed and the skies over the capital have cleared, a welcome rest bite for thousands of people doomed to spend sweltering nights in overheated apartments with the windows firmly closed.

This one has been reported a couple of times in the Eggcorn Database forum, but doesn't seem to have made it into the database itself yet.

In fact, a bit of web search shows that rest bite is pretty common. Google News has two others in its current index:

Dylan Thomas, "The Greatest Ever", Bleacher Report 7/28/2010: "With no rest bite in the action, Beniot put Jericho in an Elevated Boston crab with a knee to the upper back and neck area."

Stephanie Denton, "Post Europe — Benchmark Bribery legislation for Europe", 7/23/2010: "European organisations may have been given a brief rest bite with the announcement of the delay to the UK Bribery Act but Andrew Gillett explains why this time would be best used putting measures and systems in place to comply with the act."

No current examples of "rest bit", though.

Obligatory screen shot:


  1. rented said,

    August 13, 2010 @ 6:14 pm

    Minor typo. The screen grab shows "Neave Barker" rather than "Naeve Barker".

    [(myl) Oops. Fixed now.]

  2. Mr Punch said,

    August 13, 2010 @ 6:32 pm

    Is it possible that voice recognition software (or a stenographer) hears "res-pit" as "respite" but "res-pite" as "rest bite"?

    [(myl) I don't think it's very likely that this is an ASR error, because the language model's estimate of the prior probability of "rest bite" will presumably be quite low.]

  3. WindowlessMonad said,

    August 13, 2010 @ 6:33 pm

    It makes fine sense by analogy with 'sound bite'.

  4. Outis said,

    August 13, 2010 @ 6:35 pm

    On the topic of eggcorns. I was just wondering today whether wala, whala, wa la, and other variants should count as eggcorns of voilà. It's not in the eggcorn db, anyway.

    This may bend the definition of eggcorns somewhat, since wala is not a word. Still, as far as meaningless sound goes, "wala!" certainly is a plausible and expressive alternative to voilà, at least to anglophone ears.

    [(amz) discussion here, back on 10/23/07.]

  5. Dan Lufkin said,

    August 13, 2010 @ 7:16 pm

    Once again I can defend the honor of Dragon and report that the sentence in question was recognized with 100% accuracy, including "respite".

    I've been using Dragon since version 3 and find the new version 11 just jaw-dropping. It's obviously using a very sophisticated corpus processing algorithm and once you get it used to your material, it makes about one mistake per page.

  6. tablogloid said,

    August 13, 2010 @ 7:38 pm

    @ WindowlessMonad who said, "It makes fine sense by analogy with 'sound bite'."

    Wouldn't that make a "rest bite" a snore?

  7. Jan Freeman said,

    August 13, 2010 @ 7:54 pm

    I hadn't figured out how "rest bite" was an eggcorn, but WindowlessMonad is right, "sound bite" would be a good model. Me, I'm surprised that enough people say res-PITE to make this mishearing possible. I hear the word almost always in "respite care," and almost never as "res-PITE." Do I need to get out more?

    [(myl) For some reason, "rest bite" makes me think of the biblical verse about peace and fig trees:

    And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

    But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the LORD of hosts hath spoken it.

    I mean, relax under your fig tree, man, have a rest bite, chill.]

  8. John Cowan said,

    August 13, 2010 @ 8:33 pm

    Jan: I think "res-PITE" is a spelling pronunciation (as opposed to standard "RES-pit". That said, the standard pronunciation is etymologically irregular, since it is a doublet of respect. Unfortunately, a pronunciation "re-SPIT" would collide with the hypothetical but plausible word re-spit 'spit again'.

    There's a similar story with restive, which is pronounced "REST-ive". Etymologically, the prefix is re-, and the -ive is part of the stem rather than a suffix. As a result of the pronunciation, however, it has become a synonym for the similar-sounding restless, and its original meaning 'balky' has become rare, except perhaps as applied to horses.

  9. Spectre-7 said,

    August 13, 2010 @ 8:34 pm

    @Jan Freeman

    It's not an exceptionally common word in my part of the world, but I've only ever heard it with [aɪ]. In fact, I wasn't even aware [ɪ] was an option until just now.

  10. Ray Dillinger said,

    August 13, 2010 @ 9:11 pm

    Meh. Language evolves. It's as meaningful to say that the pronunciation is being regularized according to the spelling as the other way round.

    I like phonetically sensible spelling. Whether it's achieved by pronunciation that matches spelling or by spelling that matches pronunciation is immaterial to me. I am not one of those mad dreamers who wants to throw away the whole of traditional spelling and start over, but whenever two forms are both heard frequently enough to be "acceptable" I try to use the one that is in closer accord with the way the word is usually spelled. Likewise when two spellings are both acceptable I try to use the one that's in closer accord with the way the word is usually pronounced.

    So, yes, I've been pronouncing it as res-pite for years, quite consciously, since becoming aware that it's universally understood and common enough here (Left coast American) not to be considered unusual.

    I also, just as consciously and for the same reason, use a fair number of spellings that drop the second vowel of vowel diphthongs in unaccented syllables, but I'm more careful about that – generally I make sure most dictionaries at least mention the alternate spelling before I start to use it.

    But even so, I'm not completely consistent about it. When a secondary spelling or pronunciation seems awkward or wrong to me, (like the frequently-seen "dipthong" as spoken and spelled by a lot of people whose internalized pronunciation rules don't allow them to put the [th] sound next to the [f] sound) I don't use it.

  11. Chris said,

    August 13, 2010 @ 9:17 pm

    I took the eggcorn meaning to be 'a (metaphorical) short break while grabbing a bite to eat'. Rest bite/sound bite works better, though.

  12. rootlesscosmo said,

    August 13, 2010 @ 10:07 pm

    I was a brakeman on the Penn Central in the late 1960's, working with men most of whom had grown up in norther New Jersey–Hudson, Essex, Union and Bergen Counties. An important technical term in the application of the Federal Hours of Service Act, "respite" was always pronounced by them as 'ri-spait.

  13. Marie said,

    August 13, 2010 @ 11:10 pm

    I got my pronunciation of respite from this song. It would not spawn that eggcorn.

    Respite for My Soul by Pat Humphries

  14. Stephen said,

    August 13, 2010 @ 11:32 pm

    The draft edition of the OED gives the pronunciations Brit. /ˈrɛspʌɪt/, /ˈrɛspɪt/, U.S. /ˈrɛspət/ (in 1989 they only listed /ˈrɛspɪt/), and at least one of the authors seems to be British. I too (American) have only ever heard /ˈrɛspɪt/.

  15. fs said,

    August 14, 2010 @ 12:35 am

    /ʌɪ/? That's interesting. I would have thought /aɪ/.

  16. Jonny Rain said,

    August 14, 2010 @ 8:47 am

    I think it resonates with "rest stop" more than "sound bite" although it may be a blend of both?

  17. Jonny Rain said,

    August 14, 2010 @ 8:48 am

    As in, "Lets get off at this rest stop for a quick bite to eat."

  18. Jean-Pierre Metereau said,

    August 14, 2010 @ 12:26 pm

    I came across a wonderful (on purpose) eggcorn in the comic strip "One Big Happy." The little girl talks about how something will help the cat's "selfish steam." That comes so close to making sense…

    [(myl) In fact, like many eggcorns, it's basically a very short poem.]

  19. mollymooly said,

    August 14, 2010 @ 1:02 pm

    I'm not sure whether Jan Freeman's "res-PITE" is meant to indicate last-syllable stress or just highlight the vowel. My estimated frequency of pronunciation is /ˈrɛspaɪt/ > /ˈrɛspɪt/ > /rɛsˈpaɪt/.

    @fs "/ʌɪ/? That's interesting. I would have thought /aɪ/."

    See John Wells IPA transcription systems for English, especially Sec.7: "Upton's scheme". The verdict is some way south of "interesting".

  20. mollymooly said,

    August 14, 2010 @ 1:06 pm

    Make that /ˈrɛspaɪt/ > /ˈrɛspɪt/ > /rɪˈspaɪt/ > /rɛsˈpaɪt/.

  21. a George said,

    August 14, 2010 @ 6:50 pm

    I could have participated in the Audio Engineering Society Convention in the autumn of 2009, and one of the highlights for an ‘istorically interested person like myself was announced in the following way:

    "Significant Technical Contributions of RCA Corp.

    Moderator: Cliff Rogers
    Presenters: Fred Barnham, L3 Communications; Hans Dietza


    The Broadcast Division maintained an unbelievable spree-décor, among their employees-we were routinely challenged to development of state-of-the-art products that met the challenging needs of this fast growing industry, with unbelievable support. …… "

    —– now, what is this spree-décor? In writing it looks like an architect's dream of 1930s Berlin, or perhaps Cabaret decadence, but saying it out loud explains it. It reminds me of a book I read at just the right time to improve my linguistic and phonetic imagination: "The Real Diary Of A Real Boy" by Henry A. Shute.

    What they wanted to say is "ésprit de corps". If you googled the phonetic version you got ca. 600 hits when I found this gem, so the RCA people are not entirely alone. If you googled the correct term you got 3,350,000 hits, so I would say they were outnumbered! And hopefully still are.

    To me it looks interesting that “rest bite” seems to have at least a smattering of the original expression “rest” meaning time for relaxing. So, there is no doubt they knew what they were talking about. In the Spree case, perhaps the decorum surrounding "ésprit de corps" is what carries it. And they know, both what it means and that it is a foreign term, because the accent was used. Wrong vowel, though. And the E has been dropped, but that has happened before.

  22. ken lakritz said,

    August 15, 2010 @ 1:24 am

    Another eggcornish reformulation of 'respite' is 'rest pit.' I think it's influenced by the 'pit stops' that NASCAR drivers take to refuel and repair their cars. See, e.g.,

    If you are seeking a rest pit from your job as a cable ties technician and you just want to catch your breath, then why not take a trip to Newark.

  23. Adouma said,

    August 15, 2010 @ 2:32 am


    /ʌɪ/ is perfectly possible in a number of English dialects. Irish is the most notable, of the top of my head.

  24. Rodger C said,

    August 15, 2010 @ 2:23 pm

    If I'm not mistaken, /ʌɪ/ is reconstructed as the historically prior form, standard from the 16th until the early 19th century, and, as Adouma points out, still used in some places.

  25. groki said,

    August 18, 2010 @ 3:49 pm

    a George: spree-décor

    AHDEL (via spree: 3. A sudden indulgence in or outburst of an activity. See Synonyms at binge.

    nice eggcorn. "spree-décor" gives me an image that's the inverse of the inmate-pacifying yellow walls of an institution: as though RCA's product development workspaces were done up in a decor specifically designed to provoke feverish binges of creativity.

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