I was in a meeting the other day when my boss started doing mash-ups. She was mixing with such dexterity I was transported back to Saturday night, back under the mirror ball, with the pills just starting to kick in.

First she dropped ‘definity’. From context, it was clear this was a mangle of definition and certainty. And why not! There’s a bit of space in there for a new word with a new shade of meaning. I welcomed it. Later, she dropped an old school crowd pleaser – irregardless. This is my second favourite mixmash ever. Take two words with the same meaning (irrespective and regardless) and bundle them into a word that glides ever so sweetly off the tongue, and is utterly perfect in the way it delivers meaning, except for the fact that if you look closely, it seems to be a double negative. 

My favourite example of this trend is misunderestimate. I use this exclusively when I mean underestimate, and sometimes when I mean misunderstand. The aspect that gives this its x-factor is its historical context. There’s not too many other neologisms that have been coined by the leader of the free world. Score +1 for the legacy of George W. 

But that seems to be the route to popularity for these linguistic intwertwinglings – they are the garbled product of people trying to drive their brains at speeds they can’t handle. This is not only Presidents, but all sorts of people in organisations who are seeking promotions they don’t deserve. People who are afraid of using small words for fear that if their underlying thoughts can be understood, they’ll look stupid. 

These creative mash-ups are then ironically adopted and spread on the interweb. Expresso. Earsdrop.  Apparently they’re known as eggcorns, which is an example – since an acorn is like an egg. But given that these things are most often coined around meeting tables, I doubt it’s the most common… 

There is another cause whereby eggcorns are created when people mishear the word the first time they come across it, eg ‘for all intensive purposes’.  It is clear that many users believe deeply in this expression, despite never having come across it in written form.  Adults may be increasing their use of eggcorns because, many people are introduced to new words only in the spoken context, not the written one. The substitution of the TV and radio news for the newspaper is the most obvious example here.  The written context is the eggcorns’ enemy. 

Give us your examples! What have you heard or, god forbid, spouted yourself? Which ones do you like best? Which do you reckon are going to catch on?


– Jason

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Thomas the Think Engine is the blog of a trained economist. It comes to you from Melbourne Australia.

6 thoughts on “Garbledy-gook”

  1. For some reason I think this happens a lot in the public service – my personal disfavourite is disbenefit.

    However, it seems that this is not a new phenomenon. My parents have long hated people being in agreeance.


  2. The favourite colour of a high school friend of mine was “pale duck blue”. Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a pale blue duck in my life (except maybe on Lake Burley-Griffin on a -2degC morning). I have always suspected that this was in fact a penchant for “powder blue” confused by hearing other references to “duck egg blue”.

    But mishearing has been the downfall of many an attempt at appearing intelligent, cultured or even just cool – for many years my dad wondered why Credence would bother singing that there’s a bathroom on the right…


  3. hey Jase – remember our awesomely awesome marketing lecturer back in, ah, was it 3rd year? he constantly talked about “incentivisation”, which i believe we defined as the use of incentives to motivate consumers to purchase a product. gold.

    my personal favourite is one i made up to describe my cat – fluzzy. she’s kinda both fluffy and fuzzy at the same time.


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