What is the term when, in writing, a word is incorrectly replaced by a similar sounding word?

I think this occurs more commonly with popular phrases where the writer has only heard the word being used in speech, and hasn't seen it in text.

Some examples:

  • Things took a turn for the worst - where it should be worse
  • These events are unpresidented - where it should be unprecedented

I think this is a different issue than misspelling, because the writer is unaware of the proper use of the word they have written, even if they have spelled it correctly.

The most relevant term I have seen is misword, but according to the Merriam-Webster, it is for a word that is "wrongly spoken" not written.

EDIT: This also includes words that are similar sounding, but not homophones.

EDIT2: Using the wrong word when writing, not in conversation

  • 1
    Possible duplicate of Is there a term/word for using an incorrect homophone
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 22, 2018 at 22:34
  • @Mari-LouA - That question is very similar. The answers are correct, but the question itself is limited to homophones, which isn't the case here. The question is also poorly worded.
    – rovyko
    Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 2:12
  • 1
    Possible duplicate of The word or term for inserting the wrong word into conversation
    – 1006a
    Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 15:55
  • @GaryBotnovcan It is 'worse' but you're right that it's a fairly bad example here since it works just as well in its rephrasing (target versus direction).
    – lly
    Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 16:24
  • It's "worse" when limited to two options, of course. "Worst" makes sense when things can turn several ways. Please don't mistake the uncommon for the nonsensical, @lly. Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 16:43

3 Answers 3


There are at least fours term for the incorrect use of a similar-sounding word when writing, each with somewhat overlapping application, depending on the exact situation.


A pair of phrases which are homophonic. Examples:

  • "I scream" instead of "ice cream";
  • "four candles" instead of "fork handles".


"An idiosyncratic substitution of a word or phrase for a word or words that sound similar or identical [which] introduces a meaning that is different from the original but plausible in the same context" [my emphasis]. Examples:

  • "eggcorn" instead of "acorn" [hence the origin of the term];
  • "haycorn" instead of "acorn" [Piglet's favourite food in the Winnie-the-Pooh stories: "I'm planting a haycorn, Pooh, so that it can grow up into an oak-tree"];
  • "old-timers' disease" instead of "Alzheimer's disease";
  • "preying mantis" instead of "praying mantis";
  • "for all intensive purposes" instead of "for all intents and purposes"; and my favourite...
  • "mating name" instead of "maiden name".


"A mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase as a result of near-homophony, in a way that gives it a new meaning." The subtle distinction between a mondegreen and an eggcorn is that an eggcorn is roughly consistent with the meaning of the original word/phrase, whereas a mondegreen gives a new meaning. Mondegreens are particularly associated with misheard song lyrics. Examples:

  • "...and Lady Mondegreen" instead of ""...and laid him on the green" (lyrics of the 17th-century Scottish ballad "The Bonnie Earl o' Moray") [hence the origin of the term]
  • "'Scuse me while I kiss this guy" instead of "'Scuse me while I kiss the sky" (from the song "Purple Haze" by The Jimi Hendrix Experience)
  • "Jose, can you see by the donzerly light" instead of "O say can you see, by the dawn's early light" (from the US national anthem - two mondegreens in one line!)
  • "wrapped up like a douche" instead of "revved up like a deuce" (from "Blinded by the Light" by Manfred Mann's Earth Band)
  • "See that girl, watch her scream, kicking the dancing queen" instead of "See that girl, watch that scene, diggin' the dancing queen" (from the ABBA song "Dancing Queen")


"The use of an incorrect word in place of a word with a similar sound, resulting in a nonsensical, sometimes humorous utterance" [my emphasis]. Examples:

  • "Sure, if I reprehend any thing in this world it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs!" instead of something like "Sure, if I apprehend anything in this world, it is the use of my vernacular tongue, and a nice arrangement of epithets" (Mrs. Malaprop in Sheridan's play The Rivals, Act 3 Scene III) [hence the origin of the term];
  • "Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two auspicious persons" instead of "apprehended two suspicious persons" (Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, Act 3, Scene V);
  • Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott once claimed that no one "is the suppository of all wisdom" (instead of "repository").
  • Better make up your mind which one it is :D fast.
    – Kris
    Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 7:57
  • 3
    Mondegreens are cool. There is a Hebrew website called Avatiach, which catalogs mondegreens in Hebrew songs, named after a song featuring the word "ahavtiha" (a fancy way of saying "I loved her") which reportedly is often misheard as "avatiach" (watermelon). Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 16:44
  • 1
    I had my own mondegreen: a new wave song in the early '80s, which I though was audacious in its chorus of "I lick Cecile" - only to discover it was the somewhat less revolutionary "Our lips are sealed". Great song nonetheless! Commented Jul 24, 2018 at 2:20
  • 1
    @Chappo I used to think it was a song about "Alex the Seal"
    – Ryan Leach
    Commented Jul 24, 2018 at 9:24
  • 1
    @ChappoHasn'tForgottenMonica I would only argue that the new meaning hints at a sharpened focus on the target as a way of trying to explain why it's use is accepted by so many people even though it's wrong. It seems like over 50% of people trying to use the phrase use the incorrect "hone in", even broadcasters. If I see it in a comment or on a news broadcast, i usually try to correct it and explain the correct usage and derivation. At one point decades ago I was a bit confused about about the usage but I looked it up and educated myself. So now I feel quite superior when I correct others.
    – Dustin G
    Commented Jan 28 at 17:43

I believe the word you're looking for is Malapropism.

From the linked Wikipedia page:

A malapropism (also called a malaprop or Dogberryism) is the use of an incorrect word in place of a word with a similar sound, resulting in a nonsensical, sometimes humorous utterance. An example is the statement by baseball player Yogi Berra, "Texas has a lot of electrical votes", rather than "electoral votes".[1] Malapropisms often occur as errors in natural speech and are sometimes the subject of media attention, especially when made by politicians or other prominent individuals. Philosopher Donald Davidson has noted that malapropisms show the complex process through which the brain translates thoughts into language.

Humorous malapropisms are the type that attract the most attention and commentary, but bland malapropisms are common in speech and writing.


The word "malapropism" (and its earlier variant "malaprop") comes from a character named "Mrs. Malaprop" in Richard Brinsley Sheridan's 1775 play The Rivals.[2] Mrs. Malaprop frequently misspeaks (to comic effect) by using words which don't have the meaning that she intends but which sound similar to words that do. Sheridan presumably chose her name in humorous reference to the word malapropos, an adjective or adverb meaning "inappropriate" or "inappropriately", derived from the French phrase mal à propos (literally "poorly placed"). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first recorded use of "malapropos" in English is from 1630,[3] and the first person known to have used the word "malaprop" in the sense of "a speech error" is Lord Byron in 1814.[4]


The answer, I believe, is eggcorn.

Eggcorn is a word or phrase that results from a mishearing or misinterpretation of another, an element of the original being substituted for one which sounds very similar.

  • 2
    -1 no attribution Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 0:27
  • "Except eggcorns aren't real words"? They aren't?
    – Kris
    Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 7:57
  • @PhilSweet I suggest you read the definition of eggcorn in Chappo's answer.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 8:28
  • 2
    @Mari-LouA I was doing some more reading last night. The usage is meandering and expanding. Originally it 1. only applied to nouns 2. Excluded malaprops. 3. Involved a process of making semantic sense out of what was heard. It now seems to have subzoomed malaprops.
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 9:48
  • 1
    @PhilSweet - "subzoomed" - lol - I see what you did there ;)
    – brhans
    Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 11:17

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