The New Yorker baubles it

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Yesterday, The New Yorker posted an article on its website: "The Error in Baseball and the Moral Dimension to American Life," by Stephen Marche. As originally published, the article contained this paragraph (emphasis mine):

In practice, "ordinary effort" describes, as Bill James wrote, what should have happened. What should have happened in a piece of fielding can have nothing to do with the play of the fielder. Utter offered me a case: The runner hits the ball into the outfield, the fielder baubles the ball, and the runner advances to second. Is that an error? It depends. "What we would have to look at is—is it a single or is it a double? Or is it a single and advance on an error or on the throw?" The way that the scorer determines whether that bauble is an error or not has less to do with the action of the fielder than with the action of the runner. "Was the runner going all the time? Did he never think about stopping at first? Or was he running and looking at the play and then slowed down a little bit and then took off when he saw the little bauble?" If he paused, noticed the misplay, and ran to second, "That becomes the error."

Obligatory screenshot (also preserved for posterity by the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine):

The use of bauble instead of bobble did not go unnoticed on social media.

But by this morning, the baubles had been changed to bobbles. On Twitter, the author was sanguine about "a spelling mistake in a piece on errors" (reminiscent of Muphry's Law).

I brought the bobble/bauble bobble to the attention of the American Dialect Society mailing list, noting that this eggcorn-ish error could be attributed to the cot/caught merger. Those speakers with the merger would pronounce the two words as homonyms. (As J.W. Brewer observes in the comments below, Stephen Marche is Canadian, and the merger is very prevalent in Canadian English.) On ADS-L, Larry Horn wrote:

And here I thought a bauble becomes an error only when you get cold feet before the wedding and seek to become disengaged.  Tough to sort out those diamond miscues.

After the baubles were removed, Larry followed up:

Very sad.  I was really attached to the diamond miscue motif.  I was wondering if you get shifts in the other direction, and searching "fancy bobble" pulls up a couple, including one from On the Wings of a Dove, a novel not written by Henry James:

"Yes, son, three dollars is a lot of money but your Ma is worth every penny of it. Some day I hope you will find yourself a girl to love as much as I love your ma. When you do you likely will find yourself willing to spend the last penny you have in your pocket to buy her a fancy bobble just like I'm gonna do now".

"expensive bobble" fetches a plethora of expensive bobble-head dolls.

In the bobble → bauble direction, one contributor to the Eggcorn Forum in 2006 noted examples of baublehead or bauble head. It's easy to turn up more recent examples, such as:

I got a ginormous bauble head that I have no idea what the hell I am going to do with it. So if any of you guys really want the bauble head, I'll be more than happy to ship it to your house. — Racin' Today, Nov. 18, 2016

And sometimes the bobble/bauble similarity serves as the basis for an intentional pun, as in this "Frank & Ernest" comic strip from Dec. 26, 2011.



32 Comments

  1. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 3, 2017 @ 11:34 am

    Mr. Marche is apparently Canadian and as I understand it the cot-caught merger has a quite high market share among CanEng speakers. But do we need to hypothesize the coincidence of the New Yorker also having had the piece copy-edited by someone with the merger? (I lack the merger myself, which made the error seem much weirder until that plausible explanation for the mix-up clicked.)

  2. Morten Jonsson said,

    October 3, 2017 @ 11:35 am

    That's beautiful. It gives a picture of the fielder marveling at what he just found in the grass, as if noticing for the first time what a lovely, perfect thing a baseball is. He knows he should throw it to first, but he doesn't want the moment to end.

  3. Faldone said,

    October 3, 2017 @ 11:43 am

    The BATTER hits the ball into the outfield.

  4. John Burke said,

    October 3, 2017 @ 12:12 pm

    We may also be reminded of the words of John Marshall in Marbury v. Madison: "If the Constitution be not a splendid bobble…"

  5. Rube said,

    October 3, 2017 @ 1:10 pm

    I am Canadian, and bauble/bobble are exact homonyms for me. Still, in writing they remain quite distinct, and I am surprised that this got through the New Yorker proof-readers, even for a website.

  6. Ellen K. said,

    October 3, 2017 @ 1:12 pm

    I don't think an editor needs to have the merger to miss the error. They just need to be used to listening to people with the merger. I don't have the cot/caught merger, but, yet, it too me a moment to figure out what the word should have been. A combination of hearing the word from people with the merger, the uncommonness (in my experience anyway) of "baubles", and "bobbles" not being common (again, in my experience) in writing.

  7. Vardibidian said,

    October 3, 2017 @ 1:43 pm

    Is there a corollary to Hartman's Law that any article or statement about errors is bound to contain at least one grammar, punctuation, or spelling mistrake?

    Thanks,
    -V.

  8. Chandra said,

    October 3, 2017 @ 2:05 pm

    That's a gem of a misspelling.

  9. Ralph Hickok said,

    October 3, 2017 @ 2:17 pm

    Stuff happens.

    During my brief educational stint on the copy desk of the New Bedford Standard-Times, the Page One proof was read by the publisher, the executive editor, the managing editor, the city editor, the state editor, and all four people on the copy desk–a total of nine people.

    One day, the lead story was about a major flareup in the ongoing Cyprus crisis. The nine of us caught a couple of minor errors in body text on Page One.

    We were mortified to see "Cypress" in the top headline when the first edition came off the press.

  10. AntC said,

    October 3, 2017 @ 3:46 pm

    I [Br.E] don't know/understand baseball terms at all, so just assumed it was jargon.

    I wouldn't use 'bobble' transitively anyway: "the ball bobbled in his hands" OK we get that in cricket. "The fielder bobbled the ball" my dictionary tells is N.Am usage only.

    So I'm afraid the whole piece was lost on me.

  11. Andrew Usher said,

    October 3, 2017 @ 4:44 pm

    Assuming the editors don't read it out loud, their having the merger isn't necessarily relevant. It's whether the eyes can 'glance over' the error and not see it, a phenomenon not completely explained and, notoriously, possible even with pretty flagrant errors – like 'pubic' for 'public', which has no base in speech at all.

    The origin of the mistake (eggcorn?) are obviously in the merger, given that the words hardly overlap semantically, but once established it can spread to others without it.

  12. Chris C. said,

    October 3, 2017 @ 5:02 pm

    I am unavoidably reminded of a scene in "The Cheap Detective".

  13. Mary Kuhner said,

    October 3, 2017 @ 5:05 pm

    I do have the merger (Pacific Northwest resident, one Western Canadian parent) but found the error jarring. It's an interesting case because "bauble" is a writing-only word for me–I'm not sure I've ever said it–and "bobble" is apparently a speaking-only word for many in the comment section. If you have a writing-only and a speaking-only word and they are homophones, mapping them onto each other seems supremely natural.

    The more I think about "bauble" the more I suspect that, since I don't say this word, I have a mental "pronunciation" that is more like ba-u-ble, even though I know it's pronounced bobble. (The same thing happens with a lot of silent-letter words like "gnome". I probably say "nome" but I definitely do not think "nome" and don't recognize those as homophones as a result.)

  14. Ralph Hickok said,

    October 3, 2017 @ 8:47 pm

    I believe I learned the word "bauble" from the song "Baubles, Bangles, and Beads," which was in the 1953 musical, "Kismet."
    I was but a child in Wisconsin, where there was no confusing it with "bobble."

  15. ErikF said,

    October 3, 2017 @ 8:51 pm

    I pronounce the two words the same as well (CanEng), but detected the error right away: I imagine it's because I've read far too much fantasy which uses deliberately-archaic words. The word didn't "look" right in the sentence to me, although it took me a minute to figure out what word should be there instead as I don't use "bobble" in conversation very often.

    At least the word was misspelled consistently! Maybe an editor did go through and fix the spellings, but had a thinko like I did and chose the wrong word.

  16. Pickering said,

    October 3, 2017 @ 9:08 pm

    As they say in baseball, to error is human.

  17. Andrew Usher said,

    October 3, 2017 @ 11:09 pm

    I don't believe I can understand Mary Kuehner's concept of "mental pronunciation". For me, the pronunciation stored _is_ what I would say, or in a few cases what I would want to say before correcting myself. And I don't think "ba-u-ble" corresponds to anything that could be uttered within English phonology, but some layer between spelling and pronunciation of which I am unaware.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo.com

  18. Rachael said,

    October 4, 2017 @ 5:13 am

    I'm another BrE speaker, and I have no knowledge of bobble as a verb at all, only as a noun.
    I'm also surprised by the comments suggesting bauble is an uncommon word. I've been familiar with it since preschool in the sense of a Christmas tree decoration, but probably only learned the jewellery meaning in adulthood. Is it not used for the Christmas tree decorations in America? What do you call them then?

  19. George said,

    October 4, 2017 @ 5:59 am

    I'm Irish, so cricket is almost as mysterious to me as baseball (OK, slight exaggeration…) but otherwise I'm with AntC on this. I could see from the title of the post and the bolding that the problem was 'bauble' but the idea that 'bobble' was the intended word didn't cross my mind. I wouldn't use 'bobble' transitively either.

  20. George said,

    October 4, 2017 @ 6:07 am

    …. and Rachael's comment on Christmas tree decorations makes me wonder whether some of the confusion between bobble and bauble might come down to the fact that both can be vaguely round things that hang off other things.

  21. Rube said,

    October 4, 2017 @ 7:35 am

    @Rachael: Canadian, 58, have only ever heard them called "ornaments", never "baubles".

  22. ajay said,

    October 4, 2017 @ 7:41 am

    I think there was a Stephen Fry/Hugh Laurie sketch (though I can't find it) making fun of the cot/caught merger, with a panel of American academics discussing the symbolic significance in cinema of the banana, pronounced "bawnawna". The punchline comes with one of them producing an actual bawanawna, peeling it, and posing with it in order to demonstrate the importance of "the bawnawna as phawllus".

  23. Levantine said,

    October 4, 2017 @ 9:04 am

    Rachael, I'm a British transplant to the States, and when I first used "bauble" to describe a Christmas-tree decoration here, I was met with bewilderment. I believe the standard American (and Canadian?) term is "ornament" (which sounds a little too grand to me).

  24. Robert Coren said,

    October 4, 2017 @ 9:43 am

    @Faldone: Well, the Official Rules make frequent reference to a person called "the batter-runner", to indicate a batter who has become a runner as a result of putting the ball in play. But you're right, at the time that the ball is hit the outfield, he's a batter, not a runner.

  25. DWalker07 said,

    October 4, 2017 @ 10:45 am

    It's a baseball diamond, after all, so there's a bauble there somewhere.

  26. Ellen Kozisek said,

    October 4, 2017 @ 3:12 pm

    @Andrew Usher
    I would say my mental pronunciations are sometimes less reduced than my verbal pronunciations. I think what she is describing is it's a diphthong in her head, but a single vowel in actual speech.

    @Rachael
    Bulbs or ornaments. (The latter is a more general term.)

    @ajay
    I'm confused. Banana doesn't have either the cot nor the caught vowel. It has the cut and the cat vowels. (Well, a schwa that becomes the cut vowel when stressed.) And I'm pretty sure that would be the same for my neighbors with the merger.

  27. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 4, 2017 @ 5:37 pm

    I second Ellen K.'s confusion re the Fry/Laurie routine from the other angle, because "phallus" typically has (in its stressed syllable) the TRAP/BATH vowel in AmEng (academic-jargon register, outside of which it is probably very rarely said aloud) and is thus entirely unaffected by the presence or absence of the cot/caught merger. To loop back to the original post here, "babble" is unlikely to be muddled (at least in pronunciation) with either bauble or bobble.

  28. Rodger C said,

    October 5, 2017 @ 11:35 am

    I third the puzzlement here. I've heard less-educated Americans pronounce "phallus" like "fail us," but that doesn't seem relevant.

  29. Ralph Hickok said,

    October 5, 2017 @ 11:57 am

    @Ellen K.:

    And yet Ira Gershwin, in the famous song "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off," wrote "You say banana and I say banawna."

    I wonder if he ever actually heard anyone pronounce it that way.

  30. Stephen Hart said,

    October 5, 2017 @ 3:24 pm

    "After the baubles were removed, Larry followed up:…
    "When you do you likely will find yourself willing to spend the last penny you have in your pocket to buy her a fancy bobble just like I'm gonna do now".

    Couldn't that quote be merely an attempt at making fun of a "hick" accent–"bobble" and "gonna"? Sort of like Walter Brennan's "Taxy" (printed on the side of the Taxi) in the 1936 film "These Three"?

  31. Robert Coren said,

    October 6, 2017 @ 9:35 am

    @Ralph Hickok: Well, that song starts with actual speech differences (either, neither, tomayto/tomahto) but soon devolves into nonsense (nobody actually says "potahto", etc.).

  32. nbm said,

    October 7, 2017 @ 11:16 am

    There is a sewing notion called "bobble fringe," a tape or ribbon with spherical pom-pom tassels (not unlike classic Xmas ornaments in appearance) dangling from it. Quick research appears to confirm my belief that both UK and US Englishes use the term.

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