Road grater

« previous post | next post »

This one seems not to be in the eggcorn database yet (Bob Cunningham, "Eagles' Andy Reid Making a Huge Mistake Not Starting Reggie Wells", 10/2/2010):

[Max] Jean-Gilles belongs on a run-first team. He can be a road-grater due to his size, but when it comes to the athleticism needed to play guard on a pass-first team, Jean-Gilles doesn't even come close to passing that test. [emphasis added]

But there are lots of examples out there.

It's not surprising. For most Americans, grader and grater are homophones. And grader in the sense  of "machine for leveling earth" is less salient than the sense of "someone who assigns grades", while what a road grader does to dirt could be thought of as grating it,  by analogy to what cheese grater does to cheese.


  1. Bridget Bradshaw said,

    October 3, 2010 @ 4:25 am

    The d/t homphone got me – I'm English, and for years I thought Paul Revere was a famous writer, until I went to Boston and heard how he got on his horse and wrote to Lexington. That'll be rider/rode then.

  2. groki said,

    October 3, 2010 @ 4:48 am

    assigned grading gives a sense of the vertical (higher vs lower grades), while road grading establishes the horizontal.

    so instead of auto-antonym, "grader" is more auto-orthogonym.

  3. The Ridger said,

    October 3, 2010 @ 6:50 am

    I always thought that wasn't true, no matter how many times I read it – surely I can hear a difference between batter and badder or matter and madder, I would think.

    Then on Thursday a friend who goes to a movie series of mostly indies and foreign films asked me if I'd seen "Ghost Rider". With Nic Cage, I asked tentatively, finding it impossible to believe that her film series was showing *that* moving. She blinked at me and said, "I don't think so." Another co-worker said, "Yes, you said you'd seen it. Polanski directed it."

    OH. With Ewan McGregor and Kim Cattrall and Pierce Brosnan. The Ghost Writer.

    So, yes. I had seen it, and it did belong – and obviously I don't hear (or probably say) a difference.

  4. Nick B said,

    October 3, 2010 @ 7:22 am

    As a British English speaker I have the t/d difference in my phonology. Therefore, I thought I had encountered a mistake on this blog when the (Canadian) writer talks about her "hearty" herbs. I always thought it was hardy. A Google search brings up some examples of "hearty plants", but "hardy plants" seems more common (over 5m compared to 800,000). I did find an OED entry for hearty:

    "Of soil, land, etc.: In good heart, well fitted to bear crops"

    but this would not seem appropriate to use with the actual plant. A Merriam Webster entry has

    "exhibiting vigorous good health"

    which seems a possible. Maybe the two words in AmE are converging in meaning?

  5. Vasha said,

    October 3, 2010 @ 10:47 am

    I find it remarkable that both Bridget Bradshaw and The Ridger speak of being confused between writer and rider. To me, they don't sound alike, because the i is longer before d than before t, and that distinction remains even when both consonants are flapped.

  6. Bloix said,

    October 3, 2010 @ 11:02 am

    Party hardy, everyone.

  7. Mark P said,

    October 3, 2010 @ 11:44 am

    The mind is a strange and wonderful thing, but it will fool you. Like most people, I have assumed that I distinguished between some of those words (writer and rider and others) because it was very clear to me which I meant when I said them. But I have spent some time paying attention not to what I perceive (or how I interpret what my ears report to my brain) but to what my tongue is doing when I say these words, and I have to admit that I say them the same way.

  8. James C. said,

    October 3, 2010 @ 1:20 pm

    Road graders are used as snowplows in Anchorage, Alaska. When I was growing up I figured they were “road graters” until somewhere in my mid-teens when I encountered the word in print for the first time. Mentally I still retain the metaphor of a road grater scouring the dirt or snow like a giant cheese grater, and it’s the first thing that comes to mind even though I “know better” now. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of other people who grew up around them have the same idea.

    This particular eggcorn is likely to be due to the fact that a “grader” is not a very salient concept until perhaps postsecondary education or construction work, whereas a cheese grater is something that most North American households have in the kitchen. Children have heard the term “grater” fairly frequently by the time they get around to learning the heavy equipment name, and since they learn it via spoken language they make the immediate assumption that their existing lexeme is related as part of the compound. The metaphor is a bit odd, but still conceivable enough for it to stick. It’s a particularly “natural” eggcorn.

  9. NW said,

    October 3, 2010 @ 1:59 pm

    I (Standard BrE speaker) was puzzled about what the supposed eggcorn was. What does 'road grater' sound like? After signally failing to find anything, I applied the AmE /t/ voicing rule and tried 'road grader', but still without success. What does 'road grader' sound like that could be applied to someone who was, from the context, some kind of athlete or sports player? As the sport wasn't mentioned, I couldn't guess whether the metaphor of a road grader made sense – someone scooping the ground low in whatever sport this is?

    Also I've never heard 'road grader' – the vehicle to me is a 'grader'. Is it called a road grader in AmE? That would partly explain why no bells rang.

  10. The Ridger said,

    October 3, 2010 @ 2:52 pm

    "Road grader" doesn't sound like anything, it is what he's being metaphorically called. It's American football, and the writer is saying that the player could clear and level the field of opposing players. It's not a terribly common metaphor for offensive tackles but it's not all that rare, either.

  11. Rodger C said,

    October 3, 2010 @ 3:23 pm

    @NW: To answer your question, yes, "road grader" is the normal American locution. When I was small I owned a toy road grader made of steel in the US. Now _that_ dates me.

  12. W. Kiernan said,

    October 3, 2010 @ 5:44 pm

    When I was first surveying land a guy I was working with used the word "swale," in the sentence "Get a shot in the centerline of that swale." I said "Centerline of what?" He repeated "that swale," I said "that what?," he said "that swale." I asked him "How do you spell that?" and he spelled it out.

    I had never heard or seen the word before. Survey field crews are better at algebra and trigonometry than you'd guess by their appearance, but their spelling is pretty spotty. As I'd frequently seen non-words like "ashphalt" and "rivot" and "bullard" (not the Hollywood actress but "bollard") and the ever-popular "masonary" in surveyors' field notes, I thought he was saying "swell" and spelling it creatively. When we got back to the office, I looked it up in a dictionary – good thing I checked before I told him that he was wrong.

  13. tablogloid said,

    October 3, 2010 @ 7:29 pm

    Party hardy, me hearties. Arrrh.

  14. dirk alan said,

    October 3, 2010 @ 10:33 pm

    are you smarter than a 5th grater ?

  15. ?! said,

    October 3, 2010 @ 11:10 pm

    But this is how languages like Japanese had their characters assigned, they spoke the phonemes and the morphemes were given post hoc, just like 'grater' is being assigned to the word for this kind of steamroller.

  16. Anthony said,

    October 4, 2010 @ 1:28 am

    A "road grader" is *not* the diesel-powered version of a steamroller. It's colloquially called a "blade", as it has a long, low curved blade which can be rotated to carve finer detail than you'd expect into a finished soil or aggregate surface. See, for example,

    Rollers are now called "smooth-drum compactors" or, at Caterpillar, "Vibratory asphalt compactors".

  17. richard howland-bolton said,

    October 4, 2010 @ 7:44 am

    My (New Yorker) ex was a teacher, and for years I thought she was talking about a drug called (to my RP British ears) 'Ridalin'.

  18. Nathan said,

    October 4, 2010 @ 1:31 pm

    Yes, grader and grader are homophones, but the verb forms are not–so the mistaken impression can show up there as well as in writing. I was quite taken aback the first time my wife asked me to "grade some cheese" for dinner, but I stopped commenting on that pronunciation years ago.

  19. Nathan said,

    October 4, 2010 @ 1:34 pm

    Um, grader and grater.

  20. Dhananjay said,

    October 4, 2010 @ 6:56 pm

    @Vasha: See AE Turk, "The American English flapping rule and the effect of stress on stop consonant durations", Cornell Working Papers in Phonetics 7, 103–133. A number of studies (including the very first experiment I designed for my phonetics class!) have found statistically significant, but perhaps nevertheless difficult to discern, differences in vowel length preceding neutralized t/d, but Turk argues that this is only true for unstressed vowels and goes on to suggest that this phenomenon is subject to dialectal variation.

  21. Private Zydeco said,

    October 4, 2010 @ 8:00 pm

    @Dhananjay, per comments by Bridget Bradshaw , the Ridger and Vasha the above note on Turk is an excellent citation; thanks duly/dually for interpolating/intercalating it as thus/this!

  22. Dan T. said,

    October 5, 2010 @ 10:24 am

    I remember as a kid once watching some horse-riding show my sister was in (during the time she was briefly into horse stuff) where they had an event called "Ride a Buck", in which the riders had to sit on a dollar bill between the saddle and the rider without dropping the dollar as they rode around the ring. I initially heard that title as "Write a Book", which to my mind would make a more interesting competition; the participants would ride the horses around the ring with a typewriter strapped to the front of the saddle, and would need to compose and type out the Great American Novel while riding their horses.

  23. Michael W said,

    October 5, 2010 @ 1:19 pm

    I might have thought a "road-grater" to be the equipment that grooves the surface of asphalt when it's going to be resurfaced. Apparently it's called either a "cold planer" or "rotomill", though the latter may be a generic trademark.

  24. Jimbino said,

    October 6, 2010 @ 2:19 pm

    "road-grater due to his size" shows brainless use of the hyphen and "due to."

    It should, of course, read: "road grader on account of his size" or "…owing to his size" or "…because of his size."

  25. maidhc said,

    October 9, 2010 @ 3:51 am

    If money is "due to" me, isn't it "owing" to me, and don't I have it "on account"?

RSS feed for comments on this post