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TWTS: What's the "hap" in "haphazard"?

Note: This edition of That's What They Say originally aired on April 15, 2018.

An eggcorn is a word or phrase that occurs when someone re-interprets a word in a way that makes sense and allows them to understand its components.

For example, someone might say "all intensive purposes," when what they really mean is "all intents and purposes." Or "escape goat" instead of "scape goat."

Anne Curzan has been thinking about an eggcorn she heard on the radio recently. During an interview, a person said "halfhazard" instead of "haphazard."

It's an it's easy mistake to make. Does anyone actually know what a "hap" is?

"Haphazard" shows up in English in the mid-16th century as a noun, an adjective and sometimes an adverb.

As a noun, it could refer to a chance or accident or fortuitousness. As an adjective, it meant that something is dependent on chance. It could also be used to describe something that lacks any obvious form of organization.

The "hap" in in "haphazard" is borrowed from early Scandinavian. It comes into English in the 13th century and means good luck or fortune. This is where we get the phrase "by hap" which means by chance or by luck. It's also the "hap" in "mishap."

"Hazard" is also a borrowing and goes back to Anglo-Norman and Old French. It comes into English to refer to a gambling game played with two dice and very quickly comes to mean a chance happening or an unpredictable outcome.

From there, it becomes a chance or accident, and that leads to the meaning that we're familiar with today: a possibility of a dangerous outcome, a risk of loss or harm.

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Anne Curzan is the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.
Rebecca Kruth is the host of All Things Considered at Michigan Public. She also co-hosts Michigan Public's weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.
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