Today, I learned the term hyperforeignism after writing that I was drinking a latté and then stopping to wonder why I was putting a diacritical mark on the "e".

This reminded me of other language mistakes that occur more frequently when people are actively trying to make fewer language mistakes, such as:

  • Every "----- and me" becomes "----- and I"
  • Scattering "myself" throughout one's speech
  • "whom" overuse

These mistakes tend to reveal "I'm talking to an authority figure" or "I'm talking to a group that I may not be qualified to be speaking to".

Is there a term for this phenomenon?

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    Well, it is already answered as Hypercorrection, but you should also check out the About page about this : grammar.about.com/od/fh/g/hpercorrterm.htm – avi Jan 31 '13 at 17:29
  • There is also "hypocorrection". In that old We Are The World Live Aid song, the line ... saving our own lives is paired with ... just you and me. Here is where I can be used in place of me! Furthermore, it rhymes better with lives. Doh? – Kaz Jan 31 '13 at 21:33
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    @Kaz, are you sure that's hypocorrection rather than just an home-dialect-based decision that me was better? For anyone not following, btw, hypocorrection is a kinda opposite thing to hypercorrection where you sorta use slangy or dialecty or, eh, not really right talk so that while you lose some like eloquence you avoid appearing like a snobby git, 'cos that's how you roll. While hypercorrection may (among other motives) come from attempting speech that would be more privileged, hypocorrection attempts speech that would often be less privileged, for a variety of motives. – Jon Hanna Feb 1 '13 at 1:04
  • And for that matter, there's another sense of both hypercorrection and hypocorrection in terms of how we fill in blanks (or fail to) when we have a difficulty in correctly perceiving the message conveyed. – Jon Hanna Feb 1 '13 at 1:05
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    This question has garnered some hyperresponsivity. – Callithumpian Feb 1 '13 at 1:45


It can even influence a language: Fetus is the original Latin term, but it got "fixed" to foetus or fœtus both in how people wrote Latin, and also in languages that had a term derived from it so now foetus is sometimes found in English, Dutch and German and also fötus in German; all based on people "fixing" what wasn't broken.

In between personal hypercorrection and something introducing a new spelling that became common across four different languages, are myths like "the passive voice should be avoided", "don't start a sentence with a conjunction", "don't start a sentence with however", "don't split infinitives", "don't split any verb form", "don't end a sentence with a preposition", "don't use the genitive of an noun that represents a non-living thing", "don't use like as a conjunctive". Here not only has someone got a bizarre notion into their heads about what is correct, but the "rule" has ended up being actively taught.

Often it's combined with an incorrect understanding of its own terms, as in this notorious example: non-passive passives source

Not only is this teacher enforcing an imaginary rule, but of the 10 cases marked as "P.V.", only three are in the passive voice. Of those 3, only one seems like it could be rewritten into something that didn't weaken it (and that one still wouldn't actually improve). One actual use of the passive voice isn't marked as such.

In theory, such a "rule" could become so popular, that it became a real rule just by dominating the thinking of those who spoke the language. Many though are actually impossible to follow consistently, or just too at odds with common literate use, to ever reach that point.

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  • This answer is highly misleading (except for the hypercorrection part that actually answered the question). The example, however, clearly demonstrates passive voice. Words such as were, was, is, that, and other passive verbs should be avoided in great writing. Action verbs should replace these words because they force the writer to be more specific and make the writing clearer and more interesting to read. – nathan hayfield Jan 31 '13 at 17:50
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    @nathanhayfield: There's a huge difference between "passive voice" and "passive verbs". – aschepler Jan 31 '13 at 17:55
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    Maybe I don't know who did it, or what with; having been stabbed in the eye can make you a poor witness to details. Anyway, if you don't think my first example weaker than my second, that would mean you agree that the passive voice need not be weaker than the active, since the first is in the passive voice and the second in the active. – Jon Hanna Jan 31 '13 at 18:37
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    I don't understand the red mark on mentions. None of that stuff is passive voice. For example, "was using" is a progressive past, not passive. "I used it once" versus "I was using that for a while". What is passive voice is "I was used by him" (as opposed to the active voice "He used me"). This paper grader is a pitiful idiot of a teacher or teaching assistant. – Kaz Jan 31 '13 at 21:30
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    @Kaz, if you look carefully, three of them are indeed in the passive voice, while one thing not marked as passive is indeed. But that was entirely my point—not only are they applying a bogus "zombie rule", they aren't even applying it correctly by their own standards. – Jon Hanna Jan 31 '13 at 23:52


Wikipedia has:

In linguistics or usage, hypercorrection is a non-standard usage that results from the over-application of a perceived rule of grammar or a usage prescription. A speaker or writer who produces a hypercorrection generally believes that the form is correct through misunderstanding of these rules, often combined with a desire to seem formal or educated.

Linguistic hypercorrection occurs when a real or imagined grammatical rule is applied in an inappropriate context, so that an attempt to be "correct" leads to an incorrect result.

Hypercorrection is sometimes found among speakers of less prestigious language varieties who produce forms associated with high-prestige varieties, even in situations where speakers of those varieties would not. Some commentators call such production hyperurbanism.

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I've seen this kind of mistake referred to on this very site as a hypercorrection:

The use of a nonstandard form due to a belief that it is more formal or more correct than the corresponding standard form.

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You've already got your answer, but a related term is "superstandard" or "supercorrect" speech which is perceived by most people as going beyond the requirements of normal language use but not necessarily going so far as to break grammatical rules.

From http://www.linguistics.ucsb.edu/faculty/bucholtz/articles/MB_JLA2001.pdf:

A linguistic superstandard is a variety that surpasses the prescriptive norm established by the standard.


I use the terms superstandard and supercorrect to distinguish between true hypercorrect language use (that is, use that violates a rule of descriptive grammar) and strict adherence to prescriptive grammatical rules accompanied by the use of other formal language features. As discussed below, however, hypercorrection is often part of superstandard English.

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Muphry's law describes a more specific case of this phenomenon - the tendency for people to make mistakes when criticising other people's proofreading.

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  • Though there's also the fun inverse: If someone is being really nasty in stating uninvited criticisms of someone's speech or writing, they will always give you ample opportunity to turn the tables on them. – Jon Hanna Feb 1 '13 at 13:36

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