LINGUIST List 10.125

Thu Jan 28 1999

Sum: To tie someone over

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  • MARC PICARD, Summary: To tie someone over

    Message 1: Summary: To tie someone over

    Date: Wed, 27 Jan 1999 13:06:55 -0500
    From: MARC PICARD <>
    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