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May 6th, 2009

Silly eggcorns / Broadway Street / alright or all right?

by Barbara Wallraff

Alice M. Johnson, of Sun Lakes, Ariz., writes: “Several years ago, I wrote a story for a local newspaper where I (tactfully, I thought) described a large woman as ‘Rubenesque.’ When the paper published the story, it said, ‘She was built on the order of a Reuben sandwich.’ Here are two other goofs I copied from publications: ‘She swallowed hard to keep from wretching’ and ‘A few taught-
bodied 60-year-olds.’ What should these errors be called?”

Dear Alice: Hilarious! But that’s not what you meant. “Eggcorn” is the term for a misspelling that suggests a word (or phrase) origin different from the real one. The name was coined half a dozen years ago on a linguists’ blog called Language Log (languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu). “Eggcorn” is itself an eggcorn, misrepresenting “acorn” as a sort of botanical egg.

While we’re on the subject, I’d like to mention some eggcorns I see far too often: “hone in” instead of “home in” (I discussed this mistake last fall), “just desserts” instead of “just deserts” (“desert,” which is pronounced like the word for sweets but means something deserved, dates back to around 1300), “tow the line” instead of “toe the line” (to understand the correct version, picture people lined up as if for a footrace) and “to the manor born” instead of “to the manner born” (it’s a quotation from Shakespeare). For more than 600 other eggcorns -- some funny, some pitiful, some both -- see the online Eggcorn Database, at eggcorns.lascribe.net.

Jocelyn E. Wilcox, of Rockland, Maine, writes: “Our local adult education courses are held in a high school located on Broadway in our city. The brochure sent out to residents lists the location as ‘Broadway Street.’ I have always believed Broadway is just that: a broad way. Thus the word ‘street’ is redundant. Am I mistaken?”

Dear Jocelyn: No, you’re absolutely right. I’m glad you asked, because evidently the adult-ed people in Rockland aren’t the only ones who need this reminder. Rooting around on the Internet, I found the mistaken form “Broadway Street” in occasional use from coast to coast.

The first line of the show tune “Give My Regards to Broadway” doesn’t include “Street.” The Drifters song “On Broadway” (“They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway”) doesn’t either. And neither should references to the other Broadways of the world.

Wayne Savicki, of Wyandotte, Mich., writes: “A question that has been bothering me for a long time: Is ‘all right’ or ‘alright’ correct? This seems to have changed over the years.”

Dear Wayne: Nope, there’s no change yet. “All right” is still the correct, standard form. Granted, “alright” is increasingly common, and the list of well-known authors who have written it is increasingly long. (Some of them, however, also wrote “all right” at other times. Gertrude Stein, whose sentence “The first two years of medical school were alright” is often cited as evidence of the word’s respectability, used “all right” in her book “Three Lives.”) “Alright” turns up in informal writing and in fictional dialogue, but “all right” remains more common in relatively formal writing, and all but the most permissive dictionaries and usage manuals recommend it.

© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.

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