Is there a way to refer to the only-semantic-similarity-based counterpart to eggcorn, which is phonetic similarity-based by definition? Not a hypercorrection, just that thing when you remember something "in your own words" but you mistakenly believe it's the original expression/word.

Many fixed expressions can be affected by this phenomenon so one would think it must have a name other than ignorance or the extreme opposite of being anal-retentive.

In a related english.stackexchange question I used the example of "false news instead of fake news".

  • Do you mean specifically using a synonym in an idiomatic expression, or something more general? May 5, 2019 at 15:27
  • @MathieuBouville This would be absolutely fine. I guess there's nothing more general.
    – jkyoto
    May 5, 2019 at 15:32
  • @MathieuBouville I see what you might mean. No, this is not the answer. I need a linguistically "judgmental" term for that.
    – jkyoto
    May 5, 2019 at 15:34
  • @vectory Then (i.e., if we'll end up having to create a new term) I guess semantic eggcorn is the best option. This phenomenon is far less spectacular than eggcorn. Not interesting enough to impose a new word anyway.
    – jkyoto
    May 6, 2019 at 7:29

2 Answers 2


Wikipedia mentions mistake as a linguistic term in the context of language learners, found at Error (linguistics) (via Malapropism) citing H. Douglas Brown (1994) for a definition

a failure to utilize a known system correctly

I see no reason not to apply that to L1 speakers, unless there's a specific term to note the distinction. Linguistics has technical jargon and thus is a language variety, and even L1 speakers learn new words.

Your example using false in stead of fake shows half-way similar sound and meaning, after all, leaves little doubt that you were trying for fake news, but with a twist. The precise nature of the twist cannot be infered from the anecdote alone. If it were completely intentional you probably would not question it. Nevertheless you might have been aware of the mismatch, going with it anyway for several reasons, ideally improving the idiom, or at a minimum producing a coherent sentence.

Extreme cases of language confusion appear in Aphasia, where speech production can appear dysfunctional in various ways, due to brain damage, temporary or permanent. The respective research probably have jargon for the different varieties of mistakes.

  • I first searched for misappropriation, which wiki has as a term of law. Would that in place of malapropism be an error?
    – vectory
    May 6, 2019 at 18:36
  • Unless "utilizing a known system" includes memorizing random usage preferences or etymological quirks, there's nothing in the system that says variation is necessarily a mistake. Variation is not a "system mistake" anyway. At least as far as my question is concerned, system implies grammar or logic. But even if I agree that "false news" is logically incorrect, you will have to agree that "mistake" is not the most specific, let alone the most interesting thing about my question.
    – jkyoto
    May 9, 2019 at 7:45

If the multi-word expression is something we would conventionally call a collocation, I think collocational error would do. I'm not sure if there's a name for when we make mistakes about those expressions that are so fixed and non-compositional that calling them collocations (rather than idioms) would be a stretch.

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