An amazing thing happened the other day, or at least it was amazing to me. The president of the University at Albany, George M. Philip, apologized for the off-campus carrying-on of some of its students.
“On behalf of the University at Albany, I apologize for the destructive and disruptive behavior by UAlbany students early Saturday,” he wrote in a letter published in the Times Union. “The university shares the outrage of community members and wants to assure them that UAlbany does not condone such behavior.”
Imagine such a thing! Not hedging and waffling about innocent-until-proven-guilty, not embracing one’s own, but just flat-out apologizing for the riotous bout of vandalism and hell-raising by students in the Pine Hills neighborhood of Albany who were celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. It’s an annual bash, known as “Kegs and Eggs,” which this year got a bit out of hand, resulting in 14 arrests with the possibility of more to come.
I was stunned, of course, because my experience in this area has been with Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, whose acting president took the exact opposite route when four Skidmore students were arrested for beating up a guy in a downtown diner. The students were black and Hispanic, the guy they beat up was white, and the college was at great pains to justify its commitment to diversity (meaning, of course, racial diversity, not intellectual).
Faculty and staff members even got up a defense fund to hire the best lawyers they could find to represent the students, all of whom eventually pleaded guilty to either assault or disorderly conduct.
Even after the pleas, there was no apology from the acting president, Susan Kress. The closest she could come was to “deeply regret the harm to all those affected,” which apparently included the violent students themselves.
By contract, the UAlbany president said, “In the weeks and months ahead, we will be working closely with all our community partners to prevent the recurrence of the egregious behavior we witnessed this past weekend.”
The Skidmore acting president offered no such thing but only more “commitment to building and supporting a diverse community as an essential element of our educational mission,” etc.
I haven’t even heard that Irish-American faculty or staff have gotten up a defense fund for the Albany students, so it’s quite a difference all the way around.
Maybe you read the editorial reprinted in this newspaper the other day from The Brunsick News in Georgia regarding federal indebtedness. “Congress dares to wonder why the nation cannot buy as much as a postage stamp without having to borrow from the government next store or overseas,” it said.
And maybe you wondered what a “government next store” is.
Well, that was probably supposed to be “next door,” and if so, “next store” is a corruption known humorously in the language game as an “eggcorn.”
An eggcorn is a substitution in writing of one word of phrase for another that sounds similiar or even identical but has a different meaning, and it derives from the use of “egg corn” for “acorn,” an amusing mistake that follows a pattern.
It was introduced on Language Log, a blog for language freaks of the more academic sort, in 2003. The best eggcorns have a weird logic of their own, like “Sarah Palin and her elk,” instead of “ilk,” which has turned up on any number of blogs. (Blogs are the best source for these goofs, unmolested, as they are, by editors.)
One New York Times blogger complained that “NOW and others have nothing to offer the average Jane and in consequence, have allowed Sarah Palin and her elk to define women’s issues,” and we were off and running.
Other eggcorns are “preying mantis” for “praying mantis,” “ex-patriot” for “expatriate,” and “car links” for “car lengths,” all of which have turned up in the free-for-all of the Internet.
They are not exactly the same as mondegreens, another humorous category devised by Language Log. A mondegreen is an eggcorn that comes from a song or poem or rote recitation of some sort, like the Pledge of Allegiance, the beginning of which one young reciter understood as, “I led a pigeon to the flag.”
The word mondegreen itself comes from the English folk song lyrics, “They had slain the Earl of Moray/And laid him on the green,” which a child who later became a writer long understood as, “They had slain the Earl of Moray/And Lady Mondegreen.”
I guess she mourned for Lady Mondegreen till finally making her confession in the Atlantic magazine in 1954, after which “mondegreen” acquired a new life.
I believe that “spittin’ image” is an eggcorn. The original idea is that spit is the exact duplicate of the person who produces it, so that someone was said to be “the very spit” of his father, a usage that goes back to the 14th century. Later the idea was reinforced by making it “spit and image,” which makes good sense, and then later still, in the early 20th century, that got transformed into “spittin’ image,” which makes no sense, and which betrays its origin by always being “spittin’ ” (pronounced as in “spit ’n’ image”) and never “spitting.”
Tell your neighbor next store about these curiosities, and get him to buy the paper.
If you attend a performance of “The Musical of Musicals” this weekend or next at the Schenectady Civic Players playhouse in Schenectady, you will also have the opportunity to see some photos that I’m exhibiting there in the ground-floor lobby. These are mostly, but not entirely, the same photos I showed at Proctors a couple of months ago. They are from my travels in Mexico, India, Morocco and Turkey.
The playhouse is at 12 South Church St., in the Stockade. Performances are at 8 p.m. this Friday and Saturday and at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. Next week they are at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. on Sunday.
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