We came upon this wonderful visitor this afternoon. We are well-pleased to have her in the garden
because she is a hunter. She is the barn cat of insects, dining on pests with whom we’d just as soon not share space. Often, this time of year, we find her egg cases attached to fence posts and barn walls. It’s OK. They will ripen and hatch in their own time. Meanwhile, these elegant hunters are usually only seen when they turn up on the side of the house or some other exposed, flat surface. In other settings they are practically invisible in their stick-like camouflage. This one disappeared a few minutes after I photographed her. I was sure she was still there, but I couldn’t make out where.
In looking up some details about mantids, I came on this interesting sidebar: While the common name of the broad category of mantids is “Praying Mantis,” for its posture, it is often spelled “Preying Mantis,” for its obvious carnivorous habits. Either makes perfect sense, but this kind of confusion of one word for another, similar sounding word with a distinct meaning that would be also appropriate, has a name: it’s known as an Eggcorn. Linguist Geoffrey Pullum coined the term in 2003, to give standing to a phenomenon with no other name. Pullum, presently at the University of Edinburgh, created the word from the example of a woman who referred to acorns as egg corns.
Pullum maintains the eggcorn phenomenon is unique and deserves its own name. Below are some Wikipedia links to similar, but different, language slips.
- It is not a folk etymology: it is an error made by one person instead of a community.
- It is not a malapropism: egg corn and acorn are homophonous in the dialect in question.
- It is not a mondegreen: it is an error of misinterpretation from common speech and does not acquire a new meaning.
In any case, the Praying Mantis may be doubly praying, as the name Mantis derives from the Greek for “fortune teller” or “prophet.”
The things I didn’t know this morning!