Other examples of eggcorns include coming down the pipe instead of coming down the pike, duck tape instead of duct tape**, and chomping at the bit instead of champing at the bit. Many of the most common eggcorns seem to swap in homophones in familiar phrases, such as H-E-R-E for H-E-A-R in here, here, B-A-I-L-I-N-G for B-A-L-I-N-G in baling wire, and T-O-W instead of T-O-E in toe the line.
Linguists are interested in eggcorns because they illustrate how speakers think about the words they are producing. For the rest of us, we can either ridicule them as errors and complain about how the language is going to the dogs, or we can view them in an inquiring spirit as one aspect of the unending evolution of the English language.
Several subscribers roundly dismissed such shifts as errors. They are indeed just that, at least to start with, when they are made by only one or two people. When they become common, as hone in on is becoming in the US, one has to start treating them as signals of a possible impending shift in acceptability. There are hundreds of words and expressions in the language today that began similarly as mistakes; if we were to continue to insist on their being errors, the language would be to that extent impoverished.
Since Mark Liberman coined the term, linguists and language lovers have gone eggcorn hunting. The results of their searches have been gathered in the Eggcorn Database, which is maintained by Chris Waigl. I had a great time browsing the database, which now contains almost 600 entries.
Instead of showing ignorance these people show an ingenious theory, which just happens to be wrong, but is obviously the product of real intelligence. There's just no way for you to find out that a word that you've heard doesn't have the origin or morphological division into parts that you imaginatively think it has.
If you just happen to be wrong about it, you misheard very slightly or you've got the wrong impression of what the word is, then you're not going to find out until you've written the word down for the first time. Then it becomes clear. And what's become clear is not what you've done but, rather, that you had an ingenious theory of this word that was all your own.
An eggcorn differs from a folk etymology in that the former is an error by a single individual while the latter is a usage adopted by a wider group. An eggcorn could develop into a folk etymology as it gets wider use, as may be happening with "hone in on" in place of "home in on."
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. It’s not a mondegreen because the mis-construal is not part of a song or poem or similar performance.
The criteria of how to identify eggcorns have also been clarified. Not every homophone substitution is an eggcorn. The crucial element is that the new form makes sense: for anyone except lexicographers or other people trained in etymology, more sense than the original form in many cases. There are, of course, borderline cases. For some low-frequency examples it is hard to tell what was going on in the writer’s mind; on the other end of the scale we find reshapings that are already so widespread that they frequently occur in journalistic writing or are standard forms in some regional dialects of English. The latter are not necessarily reinvented every time they occur, but learnt#. Some of them will enter the dictionaries, marked as folk etymologies.
Another linguist, Mark Liberman, had mentioned a woman who wrote eggcorn instead of acorn, since in her American regional speech the first vowels are the same; she also probably says beg like the first syllable of bagel. Professor Pullum suggested this example should lend its name to the whole class of such misanalyses. Their essential quality is the change of a word into another which is either said the same or is closely similar and which seems to make at least as good sense in context as the original. It has now become quite well established, not least because journalists find it great fun to explain such an odd term and give examples.
The word _eggcorn_ was coined collectively by the linguists who write at the excellent group blog Language Log. Linguists collect usage examples. Unlike language teachers or the often self-styled grammar experts who complain in the press about the decay of English, they are not picky: the actual, real-life use is what counts, and the most interesting bits — those that might reveal something about how real people apprehend their language — often stretch the received rules of correctness.
It is a particular kind of error that results from having a wrong idea of what the parts of a word or the origins of words might be that's only revealed when you write it down. When you speak it people don't normally notice.
"Eggcorn" is itself an eggcorn of "acorn," which a person might defend saying that it is a seed of an oak (hence cornlike) and shaped like an egg. (A spinoff site devoted to eggcorns is at eggcorns.lascribe.net.)