Misdeciphering unfamiliar words

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Misdeciphering unfamiliar words

Postby Envelope Generator » Wed Mar 04, 2015 2:17 pm UTC

Years ago, reading a manual of some kind, I learned a word that doesn't exist. The sentence was something like "Make rough changes using control x and vernier adjustments using control y", and I took verny as an adjective roughly synonymous with fine. Even my later encounter with the phrase vernier caliper wasn't enough by itself to make me realize my error, as I managed to interpret it as a caliper that's more verny than a regular caliper.

Does this kind of mistake have a name? Do you have examples of your own?
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Re: Misdeciphering unfamiliar words

Postby somehow » Wed Mar 04, 2015 2:40 pm UTC

Well, what your brain did when confronted with "vernier" might be called morphological misanalysis: trying to break down an unfamiliar word into familiar morphemes ("verny" + "(i)er"). You're familiar with the morpheme "(i)er", so your brain quite reasonably hypothesizes the existence of some new morpheme "verny". When something like that happens on the level of an entire language, so that the new morpheme actually comes into common usage, it's called "back-formation". For example, the verb "burgle" (to steal) came into existence through misanalysis of "burglar" as "burgle" + "er", i.e., one who burgles.
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Re: Misdeciphering unfamiliar words

Postby Lazar » Wed Mar 04, 2015 4:43 pm UTC

Envelope Generator wrote:Does this kind of mistake have a name?

Yes, it's a mondegreen.
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Re: Misdeciphering unfamiliar words

Postby jaap » Wed Mar 04, 2015 5:34 pm UTC

Lazar wrote:
Envelope Generator wrote:Does this kind of mistake have a name?

Yes, it's a mondegreen.

I'm not so sure, as a Mondegreen is based on mishearing a word or phrase, so the erroneous word will sound very similar. This is about misreading it, like "misled".

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Re: Misdeciphering unfamiliar words

Postby eSOANEM » Wed Mar 04, 2015 5:47 pm UTC

Yeah, I'm pretty certain it's not a mondegreen. somehow is right, it's a morphological misanalysis leading to an interesting back-formation.
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Re: Misdeciphering unfamiliar words

Postby Lazar » Wed Mar 04, 2015 6:20 pm UTC

jaap wrote:I'm not so sure, as a Mondegreen is based on mishearing a word or phrase, so the erroneous word will sound very similar. This is about misreading it, like "misled".

But the misanalysis of misled imposes a different pronunciation – /ˈmɪzl̩d/ – whereas vernier is pronounced the same in either analysis. You're probably right that this isn't a mondegreen in the strict sense, but it feels like one because it's a rare case where the distinction between writing and speech is effectively neutralized in terms of facilitating the misanalysis – and where, like a mondegreen but unlike burgle, the new meaning is unrelated to the original.
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Re: Misdeciphering unfamiliar words

Postby Aiwendil » Thu Mar 05, 2015 2:34 am UTC

Lazar wrote:But the misanalysis of misled imposes a different pronunciation – /ˈmɪzl̩d/ – whereas vernier is pronounced the same in either analysis.


Is it? I pronounce 'vernier' as two syllables, but if I were to mis-analyze it as a comparative of *verny, I would pronounce it as three. But perhaps I'm incorrect in pronouncing it as two...

Edit: All right, quick google search says I've been mispronouncing it all these years. Never mind, then.

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Re: Misdeciphering unfamiliar words

Postby jaap » Thu Mar 05, 2015 10:33 am UTC

Aiwendil wrote:
Lazar wrote:But the misanalysis of misled imposes a different pronunciation – /ˈmɪzl̩d/ – whereas vernier is pronounced the same in either analysis.


Is it? I pronounce 'vernier' as two syllables, but if I were to mis-analyze it as a comparative of *verny, I would pronounce it as three. But perhaps I'm incorrect in pronouncing it as two...

Edit: All right, quick google search says I've been mispronouncing it all these years. Never mind, then.

I thought is was 3 syllables in either case, but that as it was named after a Frenchman it would end in an ay sound. It seems not though.
I still wouldn't call it a Mondegreen though. It sounds the same, and is spelled the same, but mis-analysed anyway. I can't think of another example, except maybe "inflammable", which I also would not call a Mondegreen.

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Re: Misdeciphering unfamiliar words

Postby Znirk » Wed May 06, 2015 1:13 pm UTC

I've seen it called misling (because you're being misled by the ambiguities of English spelling).


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