Origins Of Phrases (Notes; Queries; Oddities)

Squail

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I think you can also throw in the fact that people don't read as much any more. If they've never seen a phrase written down, they will use the phrase that sounds nearest to what they've heard that they can rationalise.

Free rein was always written as 'free rein' in the past. It's only lately, with the prevalence of poor spelling and mishearings being spread about online, that the uses/spellings are changing.

Of course, that too. The English language perhaps doesn't help, with its great number of homophones !
 

Ermintruder

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Other phrases that the modern world consistently modifies: rule the roast, loose cannon (no not the ball), playwright (no not write)
Eggcorns. They drive me crazy, but they're never-ending.

Courtesy of NPR
  • "agreeance," a combination of agreement & acceptance
  • "another think coming" instead of “another thing”
  • "ascared" instead of “afraid”
  • “as dust fell” instead of “as dusk fell”
  • "biting my time" instead of “biding”
  • "best thing since life's bread" instead of “sliced bread”
  • "bond fire" instead of “bonfire”
  • "buck naked" instead of “butt naked” (though some say it’s the other way around)
  • "callapitter" instead of “caterpillar”
  • "chesterdraws" instead of “chest of drawers”
  • "chicken spots" instead of “chicken pox”
  • "civilware" instead of “silverware”
  • "close-a-phobia" instead of “claustrophobia”
  • "consinct" instead of “concise”
  • "curly roads" instead of “curvy roads”
  • "daring-do" instead of “derring-do”
  • "die-a-rear" instead of “diarrhea”
  • "doggy-dog-world" instead of “dog-eat-dog”
  • "Duck Tape" (a brand) instead of “duct tape”
  • "escape goat" instead of “scape goat”
  • "expresso" instead of “espresso”
  • "Extreme Court" instead of “Supreme Court”
  • "eyebulbs" instead of “eyeballs”
  • "Facetube" instead of “YouTube”
  • "flush out" instead of “flesh out”
  • "flustrated" instead of “frustrated”
  • "flutterby" instead of “butterfly”
  • "free examples" instead of “free samples
  • "gander up"(or “dandruff up”) instead of “dander up”
  • "genetic brands” instead of “generic brands”
  • "growth sprout" instead of “growth spurt”
  • "guilt trap" instead of “guilt trip”
  • "handy-downs" instead of “hand-me-downs”
  • "happy as a clown" instead of “happy as a clam”
  • "hearbuds" instead of “earbuds”
  • "Heimlich remover" instead of “Heimlich maneuver”
  • "hell in a handbag" instead of “hell in a hand basket”
  • "hysterical marker" instead of “historical marker”
  • "ice tea" instead of “iced tea” "illicit a response" instead of “elicit a response”
  • "in other worlds" instead of “in other words”
  • "jig-solve puzzles" instead of “jigsaw puzzles”
  • "John Henry" instead of “sign your John Hancock”
  • "junk-start" instead of “jump-start”
  • "just deserves" instead of “just deserts”
  • "labtop" instead of “laptop” "
  • "lapkin" instead of “napkin”
  • "last stitch effort" instead of “last ditch effort”
  • "lesser of two equals" instead of “lesser of two evils”
  • "magnaphone" instead of “megaphone”
  • "medium strip" instead of “median strip”
  • "mist of things" instead of “midst of things”
  • "mute point" instead of “moot point”
  • "nerve-wrecking" instead of “nerve-racking”
  • "nip it in the butt" instead of “nip it in the bud”
  • "nose drills" instead of “nostrils”
  • "old-timers disease" instead of “Alzheimer's disease”
  • "old wise tale" instead of “old wives’ tale”
  • "on the land"(or “on the lamb”) instead of “on the lam”
  • "optical delusion" instead of “optical illusion”
  • "out of bounce" instead of “out of bounds”
  • "ostenspacious" instead of “ostentatious”
  • "overfloating" instead of “overflowing”
  • "overhauls" instead of “overalls”
  • "pass mustard" instead of “pass muster”
  • “physical policy" instead of “fiscal policy”
  • "platemats" instead of “placemats”
  • "pre-Madonna" instead of “prima donna "
  • "radar detester" instead of “radar detector”
  • "rebel rouser" (or “rubble rouser) instead of “rabble rouser”
  • "real goal-getter" instead of “real go-getter”
  • "rot-iron fences" instead of “wrought-iron fences”
  • "scandally clad" instead of “scantily clad”
  • "self-compelled mower" instead of “self-propelled mower”
  • "self of steam" instead of “self esteem”
  • "sick sense" instead of “sixth sense
  • "skyscratcher" instead of “skyscraper”
  • "soul poppers" instead of “soap operas”
  • "stand at a tension" instead of “stand at attention”
  • "swirlpool" instead of “whirlpool”
  • "take it for granite" instead of “take it for granted "
  • "takes two to tangle" instead of “takes two to tango”
  • "tellingphone" instead of “telephone”
  • "towing the line" instead of “toeing the line”
  • "tremblor" instead of “temblor”
  • "underbrella" instead of “umbrella”
  • "valevictorian" instead of “valedictorian”
  • "vakinis" instead of “bikinis”
  • "Valentime's Day" instead of “Valentine's Day”
  • "very close veins" instead of “Varicose veins”
  • "vim and vinegar" instead of “vim and vigor”
  • "wet your appetite" instead of “whet your appetite”
  • "wheelbarrel" instead of “wheelbarrow”
  • "wild variety" instead of “wide variety”
  • "wind charms" instead of “wind chimes”
  • "windshield factor" instead of “windchill factor”
  • "wonderlust" instead of “wanderlust”
  • "world wind romance" instead of “whirlwind romance”
  • "world wind tour" instead of “whirlwind tour”
  • “worth ethic” instead of “work ethic”
 
Last edited:

Squail

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Ermintruder: I feel that many of the "eggcorns" which you list, are rather fine in their own right -- some, in fact, improvements on the original.

"Another think / thing" coming, got some discussion upthread. I personally am firmly in the "think" camp; but I don't claim to be "l'academie Anglaise".

"Overalls / overhauls" -- seems to me, a venerable one: I'm sure it comes (pace a letter or two) in Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, published I think eighty-some years ago. One of the main characters says something to the effect of, "Reckon he's got too big for his overhalls". Of course these folk were not-very-sophisticated farmers from Oklahoma, rather than literary mandarins.

I love "self of steam" for self-esteem. Feel that the railway-enthusiast community ought to adopt it; especially that part of it, which cherishes a passion for an outmoded means of locomotion.
 

Lb8535

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Messages
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Eggcorns. They drive me crazy, but they're never-ending.

Courtesy of NPR
  • "agreeance," a combination of agreement & acceptance
  • "another think coming" instead of “another thing”
  • "ascared" instead of “afraid”
  • “as dust fell” instead of “as dusk fell”
  • "biting my time" instead of “biding”
  • "best thing since life's bread" instead of “sliced bread”
  • "bond fire" instead of “bonfire”
  • "buck naked" instead of “butt naked” (though some say it’s the other way around)
  • "callapitter" instead of “caterpillar”
  • "chesterdraws" instead of “chest of drawers”
  • "chicken spots" instead of “chicken pox”
  • "civilware" instead of “silverware”
  • "close-a-phobia" instead of “claustrophobia”
  • "consinct" instead of “concise”
  • "curly roads" instead of “curvy roads”
  • "daring-do" instead of “derring-do”
  • "die-a-rear" instead of “diarrhea”
  • "doggy-dog-world" instead of “dog-eat-dog”
  • "Duck Tape" (a brand) instead of “duct tape”
  • "escape goat" instead of “scape goat”
  • "expresso" instead of “espresso”
  • "Extreme Court" instead of “Supreme Court”
  • "eyebulbs" instead of “eyeballs”
  • "Facetube" instead of “YouTube”
  • "flush out" instead of “flesh out”
  • "flustrated" instead of “frustrated”
  • "flutterby" instead of “butterfly”
  • "free examples" instead of “free samples
  • "gander up"(or “dandruff up”) instead of “dander up”
  • "genetic brands” instead of “generic brands”
  • "growth sprout" instead of “growth spurt”
  • "guilt trap" instead of “guilt trip”
  • "handy-downs" instead of “hand-me-downs”
  • "happy as a clown" instead of “happy as a clam”
  • "hearbuds" instead of “earbuds”
  • "Heimlich remover" instead of “Heimlich maneuver”
  • "hell in a handbag" instead of “hell in a hand basket”
  • "hysterical marker" instead of “historical marker”
  • "ice tea" instead of “iced tea” "illicit a response" instead of “elicit a response”
  • "in other worlds" instead of “in other words”
  • "jig-solve puzzles" instead of “jigsaw puzzles”
  • "John Henry" instead of “sign your John Hancock”
  • "junk-start" instead of “jump-start”
  • "just deserves" instead of “just deserts”
  • "labtop" instead of “laptop” "
  • "lapkin" instead of “napkin”
  • "last stitch effort" instead of “last ditch effort”
  • "lesser of two equals" instead of “lesser of two evils”
  • "magnaphone" instead of “megaphone”
  • "medium strip" instead of “median strip”
  • "mist of things" instead of “midst of things”
  • "mute point" instead of “moot point”
  • "nerve-wrecking" instead of “nerve-racking”
  • "nip it in the butt" instead of “nip it in the bud”
  • "nose drills" instead of “nostrils”
  • "old-timers disease" instead of “Alzheimer's disease”
  • "old wise tale" instead of “old wives’ tale”
  • "on the land"(or “on the lamb”) instead of “on the lam”
  • "optical delusion" instead of “optical illusion”
  • "out of bounce" instead of “out of bounds”
  • "ostenspacious" instead of “ostentatious”
  • "overfloating" instead of “overflowing”
  • "overhauls" instead of “overalls”
  • "pass mustard" instead of “pass muster”
  • “physical policy" instead of “fiscal policy”
  • "platemats" instead of “placemats”
  • "pre-Madonna" instead of “prima donna "
  • "radar detester" instead of “radar detector”
  • "rebel rouser" (or “rubble rouser) instead of “rabble rouser”
  • "real goal-getter" instead of “real go-getter”
  • "rot-iron fences" instead of “wrought-iron fences”
  • "scandally clad" instead of “scantily clad”
  • "self-compelled mower" instead of “self-propelled mower”
  • "self of steam" instead of “self esteem”
  • "sick sense" instead of “sixth sense
  • "skyscratcher" instead of “skyscraper”
  • "soul poppers" instead of “soap operas”
  • "stand at a tension" instead of “stand at attention”
  • "swirlpool" instead of “whirlpool”
  • "take it for granite" instead of “take it for granted "
  • "takes two to tangle" instead of “takes two to tango”
  • "tellingphone" instead of “telephone”
  • "towing the line" instead of “toeing the line”
  • "tremblor" instead of “temblor”
  • "underbrella" instead of “umbrella”
  • "valevictorian" instead of “valedictorian”
  • "vakinis" instead of “bikinis”
  • "Valentime's Day" instead of “Valentine's Day”
  • "very close veins" instead of “Varicose veins”
  • "vim and vinegar" instead of “vim and vigor”
  • "wet your appetite" instead of “whet your appetite”
  • "wheelbarrel" instead of “wheelbarrow”
  • "wild variety" instead of “wide variety”
  • "wind charms" instead of “wind chimes”
  • "windshield factor" instead of “windchill factor”
  • "wonderlust" instead of “wanderlust”
  • "world wind romance" instead of “whirlwind romance”
  • "world wind tour" instead of “whirlwind tour”
  • “worth ethic” instead of “work ethic”
Some of these are just mis-hearings and ignorance of the words, some are just cute reworkings or folksy-dialect versions (love "John Henry"). I'm fairly sure that the original was "buck naked". The list is missing such old faithfuls as "nucular".
 

EnolaGaia

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Stormkhan

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Re: Roost versus roast.
The origin might be a culinary thing, which makes sense, but the explanation of the variation (i.e. the cock ruling the roost) also makes sense. So either might be fine to use technically but 'roost' is more understood by moderns as few even know of the cook controlling the household roast.
Both, really, are valid spellings.
 

catseye

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Many of those eggcorns are either things my children used to say or similar to, when they were small. Ie, before they learned to read and the correct form of phrases. 'Chester draws' for example, it's a mishearing, but a lot of people spell 'drawers' 'draws' anyway. It's all down to a lack of literacy; there can't be many traditionally published books that have been through the obligatory three sets of edits (content, copy and proof) that have let misspellings like this go past, so anyone who reads more than a few books ought to have picked up the correct phrase or spelling.

But they are misused on the internet, and that's all anyone seems to read these days. Grumble grumble.
 

eburacum

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"Another think / thing" coming, got some discussion upthread. I personally am firmly in the "think" camp....
Me too. 'Another thing coming' is the eggcorn here, a mishearing of the original phrase; but it emerged so long ago that a lot of people think it is the correct one. Both versions date back to the middle of the 19th century. And because that is the way idioms work, 'Another thing coming' is now correct usage too. But I think each version means something slightly different.

If a person says 'You've got another think coming', that suggests that you need to reconsider your options ('think again!'). If they say 'You've got another thing coming', that suggests that you are going to receive something bad, like a thump in the ear (or some other punishment). The second reading of the phrase is considerably more threatening than the first. So people who hear the second version are interpreting in a significantly different way; the first version is friendly advice, the second one is a warning of retribution.

Language can be a minefield, even when eggcorns are not involved.
 

Tunn11

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Wasn't flutterby the orignal name for butterfly, the latter being the eggcorn? From Chaucer. Or is that a myth as well?
 

EnolaGaia

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Wasn't flutterby the orignal name for butterfly, the latter being the eggcorn? From Chaucer. Or is that a myth as well?

No. The original Old English word had the "butter" before the "fly" ...
Old English buttorfleoge, evidently butter (n.) + fly (n.), but the name is of obscure signification.

As far as I know "flutterby" is a 20th century spoonerism.
 

Tunn11

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No. The original Old English word had the "butter" before the "fly" ...


As far as I know "flutterby" is a 20th century spoonerism.
Dammit! Another urban myth I fell for. A bit more delving reveals other explanations as highlighted by @Sid above.

Next you'll be telling me that Elvis isn't working in that chip shop in Norwich.
 

Ermintruder

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As far as I know "flutterby" is a 20th century spoonerism
I always wondered if that might've been earlier in confection, perhaps even a mild malapropism......

Mrs. Malaprop's Malapropisms
Here are some of the original malapropisms from the lady herself: Mrs. Malaprop in Richard Sheridan's play The Rivals (1775).
In case you're not sure what it is that Mrs. Malaprop is intending to say we've put the correct word(s) in square brackets after each quotation
.

"...promise to forget this fellow - to illiterate him, I say, quite from your memory."
[obliterate]

"O, he will dissolve my mystery!"
[resolve]

"He is the very pine-apple of politeness!"
[pinnacle]

"I have since laid Sir Anthony's preposition before her;"
[proposition]

"Oh! it gives me the hydrostatics to such a degree."
[hysterics]

"I hope you will represent her to the captain as an object not altogether illegible."
[eligible]

"...she might reprehend the true meaning of what she is saying."
[comprehend]

"...she's as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of Nile."
[alligator]

"I am sorry to say, Sir Anthony, that my affluence over my niece is very small."
[influence]

"Why, murder's the matter! slaughter's the matter! killing's the matter! - but he can tell you the perpendiculars."
[particulars]

"Nay, no delusions to the past - Lydia is convinced;"
[allusions]

"...behold, this very day, I have interceded another letter from the fellow;"
[intercepted]

"I thought she had persisted from corresponding with him;"
[desisted]

"His physiognomy so grammatical!"
[phraseology]

"I am sure I have done everything in my power since I exploded the affair;"
[exposed]

"I am sorry to say, she seems resolved to decline every particle that I enjoin her."
[article]

"...if ever you betray what you are entrusted with... you forfeit my malevolence for ever..."
[benevolence]

"Your being Sir Anthony's son, captain, would itself be a sufficient accommodation;"
[recommendation]

"Sure, if I reprehend any thing in this world it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs!"
[apprehend, vernacular, arrangement, epithets]

allegory.jpg

(credits: Hathi Digital Library Trust and the University of California Library)
Hold On! An Allegory of the Banks of the Nile — Mrs. Malaprop. John Tenniel, artist, and Swain, engraver. Punch (10 June 1882). Tenniel depicts a middle-aged British sailor riding the Egyptian crocodile while a French one, clearly of secondary importance, rides behind on the tail.
https://victorianweb.org/periodicals/punch/allegories
 

blessmycottonsocks

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"Rule of thumb" was mentioned in today's Quora.

Modern usage refers to a generalisation or approximate method for doing something.
The term has been in use since the 17th century and relates to various trades where a rough and ready measurement of an inch could be taken using the end joint of your thumb (the French word for inch is pouce, which also means thumb).
The term also acquired a certain urban legend notoriety due to a rumoured statement by 18th-century judge Sir Francis Buller that a man may beat his wife with a stick no wider than his thumb.
 

Trevp666

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And I thought 'rule of thumb' had something to do with the Romans, and the gladiatorial arenas, and if the Emperor or whoever was in the seat of the 'main dude' decided that the beaten opponent should be 'topped' then he gestured with his thumb in a downward pointing fashion.
 

Yithian

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And I thought 'rule of thumb' had something to do with the Romans, and the gladiatorial arenas, and if the Emperor or whoever was in the seat of the 'main dude' decided that the beaten opponent should be 'topped' then he gestured with his thumb in a downward pointing fashion.

There has been debate over whether 'thumb-up' or 'thumb-down' meant death? Experts now think that 'thumbs-up' meant to kill (although it's more complicated than that):

“We don’t have videotapes of people from antiquity. We have some sculptural references but it’s mostly verbal references,” says Anthony Corbeill, a professor of Latin at the University of Virginia, who wrote a book on gestures in ancient Rome. “Sparing is pressing the thumb to the top of the fist and death is a thumbs-up. In other words, it’s the opposite of what we think.”​
Historical confusion about that thumb-pressing gesture exposes just how difficult it can be to track the evolution of body language. The Latin term for the gesture of approval, Corbeill explains, is pollices premere, which means “press your thumbs” and has been described by Pliny the Elder as a common gesture of good wishes. But that doesn’t help much. “The verb premere in latin is just as ambiguous as ‘press’ in English,” he says. “A thumb can press or be pressed, it works both ways.”​
Corbeill located an example of what exactly the gesture might look in Nîmes, in southern France, when he found an appliqué medallion that shows a scene from a gladiatorial battle. “What’s great about these is that they often have text accompanying them, so what you see very clearly is two gladiators fighting to a standstill. There’s two referees around them breaking up the battle and up above it says, in Latin, STANTES MISSI, which means ‘let the men who are still standing be released,'” he says. “And right underneath, one of the referees is pressing his thumb. He’s got a fist with his thumb pressing down on it.”​
So the crowd didn’t the decide the fate of the gladiator, but rather a referee in the arena who would use that gesture to communicate a decision about whether the fighter should be spared. A second relief in Munich from the 1st century A.D. confirmed Corbeill’s conclusion, showing the same gesture in the same context, and a 4th century riddle also implies that meaning when it describes a storm being kept at bay by a thumb “pressed” to keep liquid in a straw.​
And what about the gesture for the death blow? Here things are in some ways even trickier, as there is no definite visual representation of the movement.​
Two textual descriptions of a gladiatorial battle, from the poets Juvenal and Prudentius, both reference the pollice verso or pollice converso, the “turned” thumb, as the signal for death. “This is the reason often historians have thought of the thumb turned down,” Corbeille says, but there’s evidence that the turn would have gone in the other direction.​
For example, the word for turning also means turning a limb in question on the joint, but doing the modern thumbs-down gesture involves turning the wrist, not the thumb. “‘Turning the thumb’ is turning the thumb up [from that closed fist],” he says, “and you’ve got the ‘up’ gesture.”​
Another reason we know the thumbs-up was the kill signal was a gesture known as the infestus pollex or hostile thumb, which is mentioned in texts but, again, isn’t pictured. In antiquity, says Corbeill, “the thumb was hostile in the same way the middle finger was hostile, and it was a threat, just like it is now.”​

CONTINUED:
https://time.com/4984728/thumbs-up-thumbs-down-history/
 

Trevp666

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Yes that's all very well, but it doesn't answer whether the actual phrase 'rule of thumb' has anything to do with it.
 

EnolaGaia

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Yes that's all very well, but it doesn't answer whether the actual phrase 'rule of thumb' has anything to do with it.

For the third time (see earlier responses) ... "Rule of thumb" is a phrase that only dates back as far as the 17th century. It concerns casual or approximate measurement, and it has nothing to do with ancient Rome or ancient Roman hand gestures.

The "thumb" idiom popularly related to ancient Rome would be "thumb(s) up / down", signifying approval / disapproval. As Yith's post describes, it's not clear Roman gestures followed the connotations we presume today. The "thumbs up" gesture for "good / OK / fine" became popular owing to 20th century military / aviation usage. The association of the 20th century colloquial version of the "thumbs up" gesture / phrase with Roman gladiatorial verdicts quite possibly comes from movies rather than ancient history.
 

Stormkhan

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I would posit that the aviation use of a 'thumbs up' for a positive signal to ground crew (obviously before the common use of radio) is because it's easy to do!
Say you were communicating to crew on the left of the 'plane. You're in a fairly restrictive cockpit. Lifting your left fist up to show a thumb is easy. Turning your wrist thumb down isn't so much. Crossing your right arm over your body to do the same is also tricky.
So it sort of makes sense to show a thumbs up for good to go and a rapid shaking of your head to show negative?
 

blessmycottonsocks

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So it sort of makes sense to show a thumbs up for good to go

So a victorious and particularly bloodthirsty gladiator who wanted permission to finish the job as it were, would look to Caesar or whatever other nobleman was present and hope for the thumbs up, with the silent wish "Aw c'mon please Dominus - can I gut this fragmen of excrementum? Can I huh, huh?
 

Trevp666

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So a victorious and particularly bloodthirsty gladiator who wanted permission to finish the job as it were, would look to Caesar or whatever other nobleman was present and hope for the thumbs up
Look......for the fourth time!

For the third time (see earlier responses) ... "Rule of thumb" is a phrase that only dates back as far as the 17th century. It concerns casual or approximate measurement, and it has nothing to do with ancient Rome or ancient Roman hand gestures.
 

Trevp666

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My friend that goes diving informs me that the use of 'thumbs up' is only ever used to indicate your desire to surface immediately.
The logic being that (apparently) if you were suffering from some kind of hypoxia/apoxia which affected your judgement, you might forget that the signal that 'all is good' is an 'O' made with your thumb and forefinger, instead giving a 'thumbs up'.
Off to the surface for you, sunshine.
 

ChasFink

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Getting back to that list of eggcorns:

"Duck tape", despite being a current brand name, is almost certainly the original. It comes from the material it was made from, cotton duck, and/or the fact that it was used on board amphibious "duck" vehicles to waterproof cartridge cases and patch small leaks. It has never been a preferred method of repairing ducts.

"Buck naked" goes back centuries. "Butt naked" is not attested before the 1960s.

Many of the others seem to have their origin in deliberate humor, and in at least one case ("daring-do") a modernization of archaic spelling.

I don't think any of us are immune from eggcorns. It was only a day or two ago, reading a post elsewhere on these forums, that I realized tenderhooks are really tenterhooks.

And if I may be allowed to go all Grampa Simpson for a bit, it reminds me of the film "The Devil's Rain". The marketing people were apparently illiterate, making heavy use of the plug line "Heaven help us all when The Devil's Rain!"
 
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