Self-reflexive instance-naming

December 1, 2022. A whimsical post on naming things named after an instance after an instance.

Some general phenomena are named after specific instances. For instance, a mondegreen is a misallocation of word boundaries, with “Lady Mondegreen” a misallocated variant of “laid him on the green”. Another example is the Baader-Meinhof effect, where something is encountered, apparently for the first time, then suddenly noticed everywhere. In 1994, a man called Terry Mullen wrote to a newspaper to describe his experience of frequency bias with the eponymous Marxist guerilla group. In a beautifully self-referential moment, this caused people to begin noticing the Baader-Meinhof effect everywhere! For our purposes, the most important example is the eggcorn: a semantically motivated mishearing, named for “eggcorn”, a cute but infelicitous rendition of “acorn”.

We can lump these under the general heading of “instance-naming” (distinct from synechdoches or metonyms where whole may stand for part as well as vice-versa). A few months ago, I set myself the challenge of self-reflexively naming the phenomenon after an instance, and became promptly stuck. How could I name it after an instance without getting confused with the original referent? And if I came up with a new term, how could it refer to an instance? It seemed impossible. If you like, you can have a go before you read on to my proposed solution.

Self-reflexive instance naming puzzle.
Name the phenomenon of naming things after an instance after an instance.

I forgot about this puzzle until a plane flight last week, where lack of other amusements forced me to solve it. The idea is simple: punningly allude to an instance so as to indicate both the general phenomenon of instance-naming, and a specific example. After some experimentation, I struck on the idea of modifying “eggcorn” to “egcoin”, which literally means “a new word based on an example”. As a semantic equation:

$$ \text{egcoin} = \text{e.g. (example)} + \text{coin (create a new word)} + \text{eggcorn}. $$

It gets better: on hearing “egcoin”, someone might mistakenly suppose they had heard “eggcorn”. This makes “egcoin” an eggcorn precisely when it is heard as such!