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Easedropping vs. eavesdropping, and the return of the eggcorn

You’ve probably heard of the word eavesdropping, but what about the word easedropping?

“Eavesdropping can be easy, which is why some folks now refer to the act of listening in on other peoples’ conversations as easedropping,” says University of English Michigan Professor Anne Curzan.

Is this an act of lexical wrongdoing? Or is it, perhaps, a stroke of creative genius?

According to Curzan, easedropping is an example of something we've talked about several times before on That's What They Say: the eggcorn.

“An eggcorn is a reinterpretation of a word or a phrase into something that sounds very similar and makes sense,” says Curzan.

These eggcorns often pop up when the usage of the word and the word itself have slightly drifted apart.

Take eavesdropping, for instance.

“Perhaps because we don’t stand under eaves very often,” says Curzan, “people have re-interpreted that as easedropping, or even eardropping.”

Eggcorns are not a new invention. According to Curzan, many expressions that were once eggcorns are now used more often than the expression they came from.

The word hangnail is one of these historical eggcorns.

“It comes from agnail or angnail, and ang meant painful so it’s a ‘painful nail,’” says Curzan. “We’ve reinterpreted it in a way that makes sense.

- Sean McHenry, Michigan Radio Newsroom

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