From Acorns to Eggcorns


How many times have you stumbled across the words “chester drawers” in a listing on eBay? Or heard someone, horrifyingly, say they eat “cold slaw”?

The creative endeavor of Chester is my pet hate; it makes me cringe every time and I have to restrain myself from correcting the speaker/writer with an impassioned speech on paying attention to what they’re saying and thinking about the fact that ‘chester drawers’ does not make any sense and can’t possibly mean what they think it means and paying attention to the red squiggly line that tells them it’s incorrect and…


Then I discovered something, a saving grace, if you will. These ‘mistakes’ have a name: eggcorns. Coined by linguist Geoffrey Pullum, 2003, the term used used to refer to a lady who laboured under the impression that ‘acorn’ was in fact, you’ve guessed it, ‘eggcorn’. Identifying an example of this linguistic phenomena is harder than it may appear though, one must also distinguish between neologisms, malapropisms and puns.

Neologism: a new coinage. Recent neologisms include:

Crowdsourcing: getting strangers to fund an activity, often via a fundraising page.

Malapropism: an error in which part of a word or phrase is substituted with another creating a nonsensical utterance. For example:

“Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two auspicious persons”

                                                                          -Much Ado About Nothing

Pun: a deliberate substitution of a word or phrase with another for comedic effect:

“Tomorrow…. you shall find me a grave man”

                                                          -Romeo and Juliet

An eggcorn, therefore, is a substitution which is phonetically similar to the original, can be understood with the same meaning and the speaker/writer is often unaware there has been an error.

So, what is in a name? For me, apparently quite a lot. Now, Chester presents a real-time example of an intriguing phenomena and no longer makes me shudder… well, not as much, anyway.

13 Punctuation marks you never knew you needed (but SO do)

by Imogen Stark

Do you ever get the feeling that full stops, commas, hyphens, dashes, colons, semicolons, apostrophes, quotation marks, question marks, exclamation marks, parentheses, brackets, braces and ellipses just aren’t enough to satisfy your everyday language needs? Here are some little-known punctuation marks which I (personally) think we should all be using. For those of you who are really keen, I’ve also included the keystroke keys so that you can go ahead and show off. 

THE INTERROBANG: We’ve all experienced the feeling of shock and question simultaneously (“You don’t know about The Definite Article?!”) which is normally signified with one exclamation and one question mark. It can, however, be replaced with the interrobang.

Keystroke keys:

  • HTML: &#8253
  • Unicode: U+203D
  • Word: Alt + 8253
  • If all else fails: `:-O / :O`


THE RHETORICAL QUESTION MARK/ PERCONATION POINT: Simply a backwards question mark, proposed all the way back in the 1580s by Henry Denham.

Keystroke keys: 

  • Unicode: U + 2E2E
  • If all else fails:`;-.`


THE IRONY MARK: Although it may appear very similar to the previous perconation point, it’s actually ever so slightly elevated, a little rounder and smaller. Unlike most punctuation marks, it also precedes the statement so that it is read as initially intended. Hervé Bazin proposed it in 1966, alongside 5 other (soon to be revealed) marks.

Keystroke keys:

  • Unicode: U + 061 F
  • If all else fails: `;-p`


THE LOVE POINT: With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, this is surely going to reach its peak use. Consisting of two exclamation marks, one of which is mirrored (but both sharing the same point – n’aww) it’s another of Bazin’s proposals intended to indicate affection. Although it’s probably been replaced by the very 2007-esque <3, it’s a sweet proposal.

Keystroke keys:Love_point[1]

  • Word: Alt + 3
  • If all else fails: `<3`


THE ACCLAMATION POINT: Another of Bazin’s designs, he described it as “the stylistic representation of those two little flags that float above the tour bus when the president comes to town”. How thoughtful. It represents the idea of welcoming someone, so might be used in the context of “I’m so happy to see you [acclamation point]”

Keystroke keys:Acclamation_point[1]

  • If all else fails: `:-D`


THE CERTITUDE POINT: Bazin’s at it again with this punctuation mark used to end declarations with steady conviction.

Keystroke keys:

  • If all else fails: `]:-|`


THE DOUBT POINT: The opposite of the certitude point, this one can be called upon if you ever need to end your sentence with a note of scepticism.

Keystroke keys:

  • If all else fails: `(:-/`


THE AUTHORITY MARK: Bazin’s last proposal, the authority mark is used to give your sentences an air of expertise, or to indicate when advice should most definitely be taken. “Read The Definite Article [authority mark]”.

Keystroke keys:Certitude_point[1]

  • If all else fails: `):-|`


THE SARCMARK: My favourite of them all, this was proposed by Paul Sak, who branded it as “The easy-to-use punctuation mark to emphasize a sarcastic phrase, sentence or message.”

Keystroke keys:

  • If all else fails: `:-,`


THE SNARKMARK: An alternative to the Sarcmark, this is again used to indicate that a sentence should be taken beyond its literal meaning. However, UNLIKE the Sarcmark, this one isn’t copyrighted, and it’s also a lot easier to type. You’re welcome.

Keystroke keys:

  • If all else fails: `.~`


THE ASTERISM: This was once used to divide subchapters within books and indicate breaks in long periods of text, but it is now almost always shunned in favour of the (far less funky looking) triple asterix (***). Definitely think we should bring this one back

Keystroke keys:

  • HTML: &#8258
  • Unicode: U + 2042
  • Word: Alt + 8258
  • If all else fails: `***`


THE EXCLAMATION COMMA AND QUESTION COMMA: Last but not least, these two hybrid marks allow you to be excited or inquisitive without having to end a sentence. Ingenious, eh?

Keystroke keys:

  • If all else fails: `:-o`


(Piece adapted from



The Great Language Game


As an avid follower, lover and subscriber to Mental Floss, I often find myself scouring their pages for interesting language facts or articles.  Their Youtube page (which can be found here) also features frequent videos hosted by John Green, who I find incredibly appealing in all his cool I’m­-an­-author ways.

In a recent prolonged session of procrastination (whoops), I came across a game devised by data scientist and fellow language-lover, Lars Yencken. Appropriately named ‘The Great Language Game’, it sets out to test your knowledge of 80 world languages by playing short samples of speech and asking for educated guesses as to the language being spoken. At first the game seems easy and you can find yourself getting caught up in the excitement of correctly identifying exotic, previously unknown languages such as Tigrinya and Khmer. Unfortunately, the rounds do get tougher and it inevitably comes to a momentous and upsetting end (which ultimately leads to you restarting the game again and again until you’ve beaten your current high score). However, after a few tries of tuning your ear to these mysterious speech sounds,  it seems that not only does following your gut instinct have a profound effect on your inner linguist’s ego, but also that you can begin to identify specific characteristics of the languages such as intonation and rhythm based on your previous trials and triumphs.


I’d like to say that I’ve surpassed my expectations as a great linguist by achieving a score in the thousands, but unfortunately not. Well, not yet, anyway. With more procrastination will undoubtedly come more attempts at beating The Great Language Game, which you can try for yourself here.

PS. I know you’re just dying to find out where Tigrinya and Khmer are from; Tigrinya is an Ethiopian language and Khmer is just a fancier name for Cambodian.