LINGUIST List 10.125

Thu Jan 28 1999

Sum: To tie someone over

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. MARC PICARD, Summary: To tie someone over

Message 1: Summary: To tie someone over

Date: Wed, 27 Jan 1999 13:06:55 -0500
Subject: Summary: To tie someone over

About a week ago, I submitted the following query to the List:

In her summary of the geographical distribution, semantic range and
origin of to tide someone over, Erica Hofmann Kencke mentioned that
some speakers have modified this to <to tie someone over>. Her
interpretation, with which I totally agree, is that it is 'probably a
construction by which a speaker "corrects" an incomprehensible idiom
to a form that seems to make more sense'. I've personally heard a
number of similar "corrections" over the years, e.g., <to wind one's
way home>, <on an even key>, <blind check>, <plutonic love> (I kid you
not), etc. Is there a name for this sort of thing (I don't think it
would qualify as hypercorrection, do you?), and has any sort of list
ever been compiled?

I received about a dozen responses (all of which I have acknowledged
privately), and the general consensus was that these were all cases of
good old FOLK ETYMOLOGY. I suppose I should have known that but I
think I was simply unable to extend this concept from its application
to individual lexical items, as characterized by the infamous and
ubiquitous <sparrowgrass> example, to phrases or expressions such as
those above. No one seemed to think there was a need to make a
distinction so I guess that's that.

The resident expert on this question appears to be Larry Horn who wrote:

These are generally classified as folk etymologies, under the broader
heading of reanalysis. What makes them folk etymologies is that
speakers are inventing a transparent analysis to replace the original
one that has become opaque. Examples are legion, a couple of which
are "tow the line" (for 'toe'), "bonified" (for 'bona fide'). (These
are also called "Pullet surprises", from the possibly apocryphal
student who described someone as having been awarded a pullet
surprise.) The mishearing of song lyrics is often cited in the same
connection. There was a huge collection of these on Linguist List
several years ago, most extensively in March 1994, and the discussion
flares up every now and then. Here's the complilation I retained from
the Linguist List posting.

The compilation is a very long one, too long to list here. Therefore,
I've taken the gist of what he sent, systematized it somewhat and
added a few other examples that were proposed by other
respondents. Note that I have systematically excluded the really old
and obscure cases like <sandblind> (< *samblind 'semi-blind') as well
as all the ones involving loanwords, e.g., <penthouse> 
(<OFr. apentis). Addenda and corrigenda are welcome.

a different tact < a different tack
a mind of information < a mine of information
an ultra-violent-ray lamp < an ultra-violet-ray lamp
a movie read at PG < a movie rated PG
a parenthesee < a parenthesis
blind check < blank check
bonified < bona fide
chaise lounge < chaise longue
Chip 'n' Dale chairs < Chippendale chairs
devil-make-hair attitude < devil-may-care attitude 
digestive track < digestive tract
dissent into madness < descent into madness
doggy dog world < dog-eat-dog world
duck tape < duct tape 
exhilarator < accelerator
for all intensive purposes < for all intents and purposes
four-stair furnace < forced-air furnace
French benefits < fringe benefits
heating ducks < heating ducts
like a boat from the blue < like a bolt from the blue
no holes barred < no holds barred
old-timer's disease < Alzheimers disease
on an even key < on an even keel
pestasides < pesticides
planter's warts < planta wart
plutonic love < platonic love
prostrate gland < prostate gland
rot iron < wrought iron
sparkling paste < spackling paste
spittin' image < spit n image (< spirit n image?) 
supposably < supposedly
tenure tract, ten-year track < tenure track 
this veil of tears < this vale of tears
throws of passion < throes of passion
to ball ones eyes out < to bawl ones eyes out
to bear the blunt of something < to bear the brunt of something 
to charter a course < to chart a course
to come to turns with < to come to terms with
to do one's upmost < to do ones utmost
to hone in on < to home in on
to jive with something < to jibe with something
to need an expertee < to need an expertise
to pour over ones books < to pore over ones books
to sit on the windowseal < to sit on the windowsill
to tie someone over < to tide someone over
to tow the line < to toe the line
to wile away the time < to while away the time
to wind one's way < to wend ones way
to wreck havoc < to wreak havoc
undoubtably < undoubtedly
Wallah! < Voil!
wild awake < wide awake
windshield factor < wind-chill factor
without undo regret < without undue regret

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