01 December 2022

"Hypercorrection" explained

I was recently invited to a holiday alumni event that included amuse-bouches.  Readers as unsophisticated as I am can find more information about those at the link.  What was more interesting for me as an old English major was this phrase:
In France, amuse-gueule is traditionally used in conversation and literary writing, while amuse-bouche is not even listed in most dictionaries, being a euphemistic hypercorrection that appeared in the 1980s on restaurant menus and used almost only there. (In French, bouche refers to the human mouth, while gueule may mean the mouth or snout of an animal, though commonly used for mouth and derogatory only in certain expressions.
Inquiring minds want to know what constitutes a "euphemistic hypercorrection."
A euphemism is an innocuous word or expression used in place of one that is deemed offensive or suggests something unpleasant. Some euphemisms are intended to amuse, while others use bland, inoffensive terms for concepts that the user wishes to downplay. Euphemisms may be used to mask profanity or refer to topics some consider taboo such as disability, sex, excretion, or death in a polite way.
That at least was familiar (though the etymology was not) -
Euphemism comes from the Greek word euphemia (εὐφημία) which refers to the use of 'words of good omen'; it is a compound of (εὖ), meaning 'good, well', and phḗmē (φήμη), meaning 'prophetic speech; rumour, talk'. Eupheme is a reference to the female Greek spirit of words of praise and positivity, etc. The term euphemism itself was used as a euphemism by the ancient Greeks; with the meaning "to keep a holy silence" (speaking well by not speaking at all).
But hypercorrection was totally new:
In sociolinguistics, hypercorrection is non-standard use of language that results from the over-application of a perceived rule of language-usage prescription. A speaker or writer who produces a hypercorrection generally believes through a misunderstanding of such rules that the form is more "correct", standard, or otherwise preferable, often combined with a desire to appear formal or educated...

Hypercorrection can be found among speakers of less prestigious language varieties who attempt to produce forms associated with high-prestige varieties, even in situations where speakers of those varieties would not. Some commentators call such production hyperurbanism...{defined by Kingsley Amis as an "indulged desire to be posher than posh")...

Some British accents, such as Cockney, drop the initial h from words; e.g. have becomes 'ave. A hypercorrection associated with this is H-adding, adding an initial h to a word which would not normally have one. An example of this can be found in the speech of the character Parker in the marionette TV series Thunderbirds, e.g. "We'll 'ave the haristocrats 'ere soon"

Hyperforeignism arises from speakers misidentifying the distribution of a pattern found in loanwords and extending it to other environments
And there is also hypocorrection.

I don't plan to attend the party, but FWIW my ideal amuse-bouche is a bowl of Cheetos.


  1. I think the most common hypercorrection must be the use of “I” in a sentence like “The Queen visited your mother and I in the hospital.”

    1. The second would be the non-reflexive use of "myself" as in "Tom and myself decided to go and visit the Queen"

    2. Yes!! That one too.

  2. If I remember correctly, Mildred in Of Human Bondage, is a good example of a character making full use of hypercorrection.

  3. One example I've heard of is the substitution of "terlet" for "toilet." (I can't recall hearing this for many years, although my Minnesotan grandfather used to say it as a joke quite often.) Since the old New York accent ("goil" instead of "girl") was considered lower class, speakers hypercorrected away from the "oi" sound, even in words that possessed it legitimately.

    1. In the 1960s, Target began as a low-priced budget items spin-off from a semi-ritzy Dayton's department store in Minneapolis. Back then I heard my cousins refer to the store (it wasn't even a chain then) with a French accent as "tar-gjey." Not sure whether that qualifies as a hypercorrection, since it arose intentionally out of amusement rather than accidentally from linguistic confusion.

  4. Would you consider the term "conversate" as in "we really need to conversate about that topic." a sort of hypercorrection? It always makes me cringe when I hear it.

  5. A great example can be found in Terry Pratchett's works (Unseen Academicals iirc) where a washerwoman goes out of her way to speak as poshly as she can, paying special attention to dropped haitches. She ends up over doing it, saying things like "Hi Have a Hidea..."


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