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I'm a non-native speaker of English, and so is my wife. We were talking to a native speaker when at one point, my wife commented, "They should turn down the building." I've never heard of the phrase "turn down" meaning "demolish", so I thought her sentence was unidiomatic. But judging from the nonchalant reaction of the native speaker there, I'm not so sure. What do you say?

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The proper way to say this is:

tear down

not "turn down".

Your wife must have misheard the original and turned it into "turn down". A common problem that even "native speakers" have!

Actually these have a term themselves:

Eggcorn

The term eggcorn was coined by a professor of linguistics, Geoffrey Pullum, in September 2003, in response to an article by Mark Liberman on the website Language Log, a blog for linguists.[4] Liberman discussed the case of a woman who substitutes the phrase egg corn for the word acorn, and argued that the precise phenomenon lacked a name. Pullum suggested using "eggcorn" itself as a label for the class of error. The phenomenon is very similar to the form of wordplay known as the pun, except that, by definition, the speaker (or writer) intends the pun to have some humorous effect on the recipient, whereas one who speaks or writes an eggcorn is unaware of the mistake.

some examples:

ex-patriot instead of expatriate
mating name instead of maiden name
on the spurt of the moment instead of on the spur of the moment
preying mantis instead of praying mantis

Lot's a publications/people/etc have (and do) made (make) the same mistakes - so it shouldn't be anything for your wife to feel too embarrassed about.

  • Thanks. It's very likely my wife wanted to say "tear down", but that's not what came out. I didn't want to embarrass her, so I didn't ask to confirm. – ba_ul May 18 '14 at 6:06
  • @asif.m updated my comment a little - your wife doesn't need to feel too embarrassed. :D – user3306356 May 18 '14 at 6:18
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    @user3306356 What is the difference between an egg corn and a Malapropism, or is it just another name for the same thing? I once heard someone use House of Columns for House of Commons, so should I call these things 'columnisms'. At least Mrs Malaprop has the advantage of age over such new coinages. – WS2 May 18 '14 at 10:21
  • @WS2 I would guess that malapropisms can be "heard" - while egg corns sound the same and are only noticed in writing. I'm just guessing though. – user3306356 May 18 '14 at 10:38
  • Nice answer. One of my recent favorites is from the show. Modern Family,... "don't give me an old tomato" meaning ultimatum. For native speakers, a common one I've heard is old timer's disease for Alzheimer's, though this one makes sense. – Mike May 18 '14 at 13:02

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