Mighty Oaks from Little Eggcorns Grow

Karl, stop eating my fries! I said. You promised Alexis you would skip the fries today and eat a salad.

"Yeah, well, Alexis isn't here, is she?" said Karl, reaching for another fry. I slapped his hand.

If you think I'm not going to tell her, you've got another thing coming, I said.

"Think," said Karl.

I am thinking, I said. She made it very clear that if I let you—

"No, not you. It's 'think.' You've got another 'think' coming."

What? I've never heard that, I said. We were sitting at the bar at First Editions, our favorite literary-themed pub, for a leisurely lunch just a short while after I had been threatened by Karl's youngest daughter to make sure he didn't eat anything unhealthy.

What about that Judas Priest song, 'You've Got Another Thing Coming?'

"They got it all wrong," said Karl.

Are you star-craving mad? I demanded.

"No, 'stark-raving mad,'" he corrected.

"That doesn't sound right," I said. "I'm going to take all this with a grain assault."

"Grain. Of. Salt," Karl said, rubbing his eyes like he had a headache coming on.

I couldn't stand it any longer and I burst out laughing. I'm just messing with you, Karl. I knew all that.

"Kid. . ." Karl said. He took a drink of iced tea — it was in the middle of the day, after all — and plonked the glass on the bar.

The problem Karl was describing is called an "eggcorn." It's where you substitute one word or phrase for another, usually in an idiom or expression that's not commonly written down. People repeat what they hear, and the misheard phrase gets passed down in a game of linguistic telephone.

The term "eggcorn" comes from linguists who love discussing this sort of thing at parties, which is why you never meet linguists at really good parties. It was created when two linguists were discussing an instance where a woman used the word "eggcorn" when she meant "acorn."

One linguist said this phenomenon didn't have a name, and the other one said they should just use the word "eggcorn" itself. Then the two laughed and laughed before sighing and gazing off into the distance, stricken by the realization that they hadn't been to a party in years.

Have you ever visited the eggcorn website? I asked Karl.

"The one at eggcorns.lascribe.net, which has 648 different entries?" he asked, knowing how much I hated narrative exposition disguised as dialogue. "Yes, I was on it last week after I heard Alexis say, 'doggy-dog world.'"

Ouch, I said, making a face.

"I told her it was actually 'dog-eat-dog world,' and she accused me of mansplaining. I said I was dad-splaining, and I wouldn't need to do it so much if she wasn't wrong all the time."

I bet that went over well.

"That's when she decided fries were bad for my health and I couldn't have anymore." He snatched another one from my plate, and I sighed and pushed them over to him. I flagged down Marion, the daytime bartender, and asked her for another order of fries.

"You didn't have to get those for me," said Karl. "These will be fine."

They're for me, I said. Those were getting cold.

"I don't even know why Alexis got mad at me," said Karl. "She's always correcting me on all kinds of stuff. But I make one little correction, and all the sudden, she bites my head off."

All of a sudden.

"What?" snapped Karl.

It's 'all of A sudden,' I said. The phrase is 'all of a sudden,' because there's more than one sudden. In fact, there's an infinite number of suddens. There's not just one sudden that we all share, like a block of cheese.

"Kid, I've been saying—."

Yeah, but you make it sound like a singular object. Like, I'm going to need the Sudden tonight. 'How much do you think you'll need?' All of it. I'm going to need all the Sudden.

"Kid, I've been—knock it off, Marion." Marion was standing nearby and had snorted at my last remark. "I've been saying 'all the sudden' since before you were born."

That doesn't make it right, I said.

"What do you know about it?" said Karl. Marion set my new plate of fries in front of me and I slapped Karl's hand as it hovered over my plate.

"Kid!" he said. "You shouldn't stand between a man and his fries."

I'm not. These are my fries. Besides, Alexis will hang me up by my toes if she finds out you ate fried food. And if she asks me whether you had any, I'm not going to lie for you again. The last time I did, she threw a gluten-free brownie at me.

"I know, I know," said Karl. "Don't get your dandruff up."

Dander, I said.

Karl hit me with a cold French fry.

Photo credit: PXHere.com (Public Domain, Creative Commons 0)

My new humor novel, Mackinac Island Nation, is finished and available on Amazon. You can get the Kindle version here or the paperback version here.