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Monday, January 31, 2005
 
Eggcorns in Biblical Language ::

Ralph (the sacred river) has a nice post "Eggcorns and Belial" taking up the term "eggcorn" - that the ever stimulating Language Log did much to popularise - and asking where there are examples of "eggcorns" in the Bible.

Now a true eggcorn (according to LL) is like but different from a number of other language phenomena:
It's not a folk etymology, because this is the usage of one person rather than an entire speech community.

It's not a malapropism, because "egg corn" and "acorn" are really homonyms (at least in casual pronunciation), while pairs like "allegory" for "alligator," "oracular" for "vernacular" and "fortuitous" for "fortunate" are merely similar in sound (and may also share some aspects of spelling and morphemic content).

LL also claims that eggcorns also not merely a misshearing (what after Sylvia Wright we call a "mondegreen"), like Ralph's own name, since "the mis-construal is not part of a song or poem or similar performance."

Now, on that last distinction I am not convinced of the usefulness, particularly for Biblical Hebrew where we do not know what might have been part of a song etc..

Which leads in a round about way to my niggling worry about Ralph's proposals:
צלמות, tzalmavet, "shadow of death" for tzalmut, "deep darkness." - is probably a true eggcorn
But:
Gen. 2:23, where it says "she shall be called Woman (ishah), because she was taken out of Man (ish)." - Is surely a straightforward "folk etymology".
Though, Ralph's main example:
the old understanding of בליעל, beliyya'al, "Belial," as "without worth"- may indeed be a true eggcorn.
Though, of course, as Ralph points out, we cannot really know. Ah the joys and frustrations of working with such a small corpus!

So does any language buff out there have any other proposals for biblical eggcorns? (I'm happy to extend "biblical" to include the Christian Scriptures in Greek as well as biblical Hebrew!) There is even a real live prize for the proposer of the most convincing biblical eggcorn!


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