Daily Archives: June 2, 2010


Hmm, does this wood need another lork? No, that’s supposed to be an r, not an o: schorl. But the influence of school may make you want to say the sch as “sk”. This is, however, a word derived from German, not from Dutch, Italian, Latin, or Greek, so the sch is “sh”. That makes it a little less like the last sound you hear as water finishes emptying down a drain. But still, it sure’ll give you a taste of whorl, won’t it? But also an impression of a crush of rock, perhaps – less like coral and more like something you’ll find on a shore.

There used to be a town named Schorl, near the German-Czech border (with a pond, too). The town’s still there, but the name has improved a bit: now it’s Zschorlau – pretty much the same, but prettier. So what is it that made this town eponymous? Something they found in a tin mine: tourmaline.

Well, they didn’t know it was tourmaline. Actually, tourmaline hadn’t been “discovered” yet in medieval Germany. The name tourmaline – note that it, too, has those curly liquid sounds, ironic for a mineral crystal – comes from Sinhala, and names pretty rocks found in Sri Lanka. Who knew that the shiny black rock crystals (very geometric-looking, pretty in their chthonic, gothic way) found in Schorl’s mine were the same thing, generally – crystal silicate compounded with various other elements? The Sri Lankan stuff is just prettier. Well, eventually someone figured it out. Which would be sort of like figuring out that gold and iron were the same thing, because natural deposits of schorl make up about 95% of all natural tourmaline deposits. That sure’ll give you a new perspective! (So will the collocation schorl-schist. Be careful where you say that!)

Speaking of new perspectives, consider the different ways you can say this word, depending on where you’re from. The Oxford pronunciation guide just gives an extended vowel before the /l/; the /r/ is elided. Anyone who trills the /r/ will give quite a different, vibrating result. And for those of us who speak with retroflex /r/s, it has that swallowed sound and gives a bit of extra tongue exercise – say “Are you really sure it’s rural schorl?” a few times and see how you like it. Ah, all those realizations with the same basic material. English rocks!

My veil of tears: an eggcorn poem

Herewith a poem (and following note) from my book Songs of Love and Grammar, which will be forthcoming if and when I find a publisher or give up and publish it myself with an on-demand web publisher [EDIT: buy it at lulu.com]. The poem is about eggcorns. What are they? Read on…

My veil of tears

Oh, woeth me! I’ve fallen hard,
hosted by my own petard!
In one fowl swoop, my just desserts
have been served up – and, boy, it hurts!
I have betrayed my love, but plead
compulsion by deep-seeded need!
Whole-scale short-sided wrecklessness
has got me in an awful mess.
My Jane was straight-laced; I was cursed,
chalk-full of need to slack my thirst.
Although our lives were going fine,
I just couldn’t tow the line.
When on a small site-seeing tour,
I took a pretty southmore’s lure:
jar-dropping beauty, looks to kill –
with baited breath I stood stalk still.
“I have a view that’s quite unique,”
she said. “Let’s go and sneak a peak.”
Why did I heed her beckon call?
Free reign of passions leads to fall,
but what I thought led straight to hell:
“She’ll tie me over – my as well!”
We didn’t buy our time that night;
we cut straight to the cheese on sight –
I won’t mix words: our will to dare
just grew like top seed then and there.
As if possessed of slight of hand,
in never regions we did land
(to name a view would be too course
and put the cat before the horse).
When all was done, I had the sense
I’d face cognitive dissidence,
but thought I’d pawn off bold-faced lies.
At last I had to realize
my power mower was not one-of
when I got news that caused my love –
a note a few months later: “Soon your
southmore will produce a junior.”
I got a mindgrain; I could see
a storm in the offering for me.
My Jane was cued in, bye and bye,
and she raised up a human cry
in a high dungeon. “You’ve done wrongs!
Let’s go at it, hammer and thongs!
The chickens have come home to roast!
I won’t lie doormat now! Your toast!”
She caused a raucous with abuse
and anger I could not diffuse.
Her words were nasty – so profound,
my vocal chords can’t make the sound.
She was a bowl in a china shop,
beyond the pail. I said, “Please stop!
The dye is cast! It’s not the place
to cut off your nose despite your face!
Don’t get your nipples in a twist!
You give me short shift! I insist
I’m utterly beyond approach!
Don’t treat me like a mere cockroach!”
She cried, “My cause for consternation
is not a pigment of the imagination!
There’s a bi-product of your lust!
Get out! You fill me with disgust!”
The point was mute; my chance was past,
so I gave up the goat at last.
Fate accompli, forgotten conclusion –
my morays were my dissolution.
And so, without further adieu,
here’s some advice that’s trite and true:
It would be who of you to trust your gut;
nip wayward passions in the butt.
Don’t sow your wild oaks around –
the eggcorns might just bring you down.

An eggcorn is a misconstrual of a word or phrase on the basis of an inaccurate (but seemingly sensible) analysis of its parts or origins. It uses other existing words or word parts in place of the originals. The term eggcorn is of course one such – the word should be acorn. The six dozen eggcorns in this poem have all been observed “in the wild” – used by real people in earnest, not as jokes (see eggcorns.lascribe.net). The eggcorns (and their proper forms) are veil of tears (vale of tears), woeth me (woe is me), hosted by my own petard (hoist with my own petard), one fowl swoop (one fell swoop), just desserts (just deserts), deep-seeded (deep-seated), whole-scale (wholesale), short-sided (short-sighted), wrecklessness (recklessness), straight-laced (strait-laced), chalk-full (chock full), slack my thirst (slake my thirst), tow the line (toe the line), site-seeing (sightseeing), southmore (sophomore), jar-dropping (jaw-dropping), baited breath (bated breath), stalk still (stock still), sneak a peak (sneak a peek), beckon call (beck and call), free reign (free rein), tie me over (tide me over), my as well (might as well), buy our time (bide our time), cut to the cheese (cut to the chase), mix words (mince words), grew like top seed (grew like Topsy), slight of hand (sleight of hand), never regions (nether regions), to name a view (to name a few), course (coarse), put the cat before the horse (put the cart before the horse), cognitive dissidence (cognitive dissonance), pawn off (palm off), bold-faced lies (bald-faced lies), power mower (paramour), one-of (one-off), caused (cost), mindgrain (migraine), in the offering (in the offing), cued in (clued in), bye and bye (by and by), human cry (hue and cry), high dungeon (high dudgeon), hammer and thongs (hammer and tongs), come home to roast (come home to roost), lie doormat (lie dormant), your toast (you’re toast), a raucous (a ruckus), diffuse (defuse), profound (profane), vocal chords (vocal cords), bowl in a china shop (bull in a china shop), beyond the pail (beyond the pale), the dye is cast (the die is cast), cut off your nose despite your face (cut off your nose to spite your face), don’t get your nipples in a twist (don’t get your knickers in a twist), short shift (short shrift), beyond approach (beyond reproach), a pigment of the imagination (a figment of the imagination), bi-product (by-product), the point was mute (the point was moot), gave up the goat (gave up the ghost), fate accompli (fait accompli), forgotten conclusion (foregone conclusion), morays (mores), without further adieu (without further ado), trite and true (tried and true), be who of you (behoove you), nip in the butt (nip in the bud), sow your wild oaks (sow your wild oats), and of course  eggcorns (acorns).


Most likely the first thing you’ll think of on seeing this word is Moulin Rouge, a Paris cabaret once a bit scandalous but now very touristy and expensive (and also the rather altered, fantasized subject of a Baz Luhrmann film). Moulin Rouge, for its part, makes my punning mind think of Hua Mulan (or Fa Mulan; the name means “magnolia”), the legendary Chinese woman warrior, who, if she had been fighting for the communists, could have been called Mulan Rouge.

For that matter, Mulan rouge might name some makeup she applied. If she applied makeup, that is – I don’t know that it would have been appropriate for Chinese warriors of 1500 years ago. I’d imagine muscles would be more in fashion (not mussels, moules, which one would order closer to the Moulin Rouge – though muscle, mussel, and moule do all have the same source). But as a woman in the army of that time and place, one wonders whether her position was not a bit Quixotic – tilting at a windmill, as it were. A windmill? Moulin-à-vent.

But never mind wind, and never mind red. How about a hole in a glacier that drains water from the top to the bottom? That would be a moulin bleu, perhaps, or replace vent with eau. While you’re mullin’ that over, consider that whatever it is, it’s called a moulin, anyway (yes, as in French for “mill” – the water’s swirling is the reason for the name), and as Greenland’s glacier cap is being run through the mill of global warming, we can wonder whether our efforts at forestalling the big melt are like tilting at windmills. The glaciers are being taken down by these new mill streams – one two-square-mile meltwater lake, 11 million gallons, drained in 84 minutes (that’s more throughput than Niagara Falls).

The word moulin looks a little like different angles on a glacial moulin: the waterfall m, the hole seen from above o, the pond before the hole bores all the way through u, the channel seen in side cutaway li, and perhaps a bit more flow n. It has such a smooth sound, nasals and liquid, it’s hard to associate it with churning, or grinding, or the roar of a massive drain. But it seems the speakers of Latin found molina as natural a name for a mill as we find mill to be – anyway, molina is the source of both moulin and mill. Molina is also a common enough surname, for various noted artists, athletes, and politicians, as well as millions of ordinary folks. I wonder if there’s a milliner named Molina who makes hats for the Moulin Rouge? Maybe a costume on a Mulan theme, made with magnolias. One would hope such an effort would not meet a chilly reception, be all wet, or go down the drain.