Biding my tongue

July 9, 2008 09:08 – 09:08

About 30 years ago, at a dinner with office and other acquaintances I heard someone say “butt naked” instead of “buck naked.” I was too polite at the time to question it. And, since Al Gore had not yet invented the internets, I couldn’t Google it to see if others had been mis-saying it, as well. Since then, I’ve heard “butt naked” repeatedly, and it makes me wonder about how language changes on the basis of misheard phrases. I just Googled the phrase. I got 1,1950,000 basic hits. When I Google the correct original phrase—buck naked—I get only 900,000 hits.

Sometimes, you don’t know what someone is saying until it’s captioned. Other times, you don’t know what someone is hearing, until they write it down. Today, I read someone write about “biting” their time instead of biding their time. I considered whether to alert her to the fact that she should have said “biding.” But, since I’m not her English teacher and this isn’t an assignment, and she didn’t ask me for a critical read, I think I’ll resist.

I just Googled “biting my time” and got 3,440 hits. Actually, it was 25 hits initially, but I decided to see the whole number, which included “entries very similar to the 25 already displayed.” I’m betting that both numbers grow. The correct phrase—biding my time—currently wins, at 167,000 hits. That number will probably grow, as well. But, I fully expect that “biting…” grows much more rapidly, like an uncontrolled virus.

Maybe this should be called linguistic mutation (linguistic mutation garners 1,190 hits). Having written that make me wonder if someone mishears garner as garter. It’s hard to know how to Google that one to see.

On a whim, I just Googled “biting my dime,” and got no hits. But, knowing how people mishear things, I know it’s just a matter of dime before it takes root. And, of course, once I click Publish in Word 2007, my own occurrence of “biting my dime” will be forever inscribed for The Google to find on the internets. This is not exactly stacking the deck, but it’s close.

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