Writing for Business

Jan 14 2010   5:33PM GMT

Sarah Palin and her elk? What a lovely eggcorn!

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Which is correct?
The ever-increasing emphasis on good corporate governance is partially a response to the malfeasance of Bernie Madoff and his ____.
a. ilk
b. elk

Answer: a.

I’m fairly certain that Bernie Madoff doesn’t have an elk. (And if he does, I hope the elk doesn’t have to do time with him.) No, this sentence is talking about Madoff and others like him.

Ilk is a Middle English word that means type or sort, from the Old English ilca ( and it derives from i, meaning that or the same and lik, meaning form).

And, really, I don’t expect to catch too many readers with today’s question but I couldn’t resist this eggcorn. Especially after I heard reports of people spurning Sarah Palin and her elk. I mean, Palin, for sure, but why hurt the feelings of the harmless moose? One pictures the two of them trudging off dispiritedly into the Alaskan bush, massive heads hanging.

The Eggcorn Database has a great entry exploring the elk/ilk confusion. Here’s an excerpt quoting Ben Zimmer on Language Labs:

There’s nothing in the comment to suggest that this substitution was the result of intentional wordplay, but it’s hard not to think that the slip was influenced by Palin’s well-documented love of hunting big game in Alaska like moose and caribou. […] And perhaps the commenter is from a part of the country where milk is pronounced as [mɛlk] (say, Pittsburgh, Utah, or Washington State), rendering ilk and elk homophonous, or nearly so. Add the fact that ilk is a low-frequency word that lingers in crystallized idiomatic usage (”of X’s ilk,” “X and his/her/its/their ilk”), and it’s clear to see that this is a prime candidate for eggcornization.

But really, both posts are interesting and entertaining. You should go read them!

P.S.: I do agree that Madonna and her elk should get first class treatment — even if the elk requires several seats.

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