I “collect” misspellings of familiar foreign phrases and unfamiliar English ones, for the sheer fun of it.
Voilà is one of those words I often see misspelled. I have seen “wah lah”, “wall a” “wallah” and probably others I do not remember. I can understand that, being that it is a foreign word first of all and more importantly, one that is more likely to be heard than read. If a non-French speaker does read the word, zie is unlikely to connect it to the pronunciation anyway.
To be fair, I try to imagine how I would spell je ne sais quoi if I didn’t have the internet with which to look it up. Around our house, we say something has a certain je ne sais quoi if what we really mean is that we either don’t like it or can’t figure out what it is, or maybe both. I rarely have reason to spell it, but if I had to guess, what would I come up with? Since I know it is French, I’d probably get “je” and “quoi” right, but I suspect what I would end up with is “je nai sez quois” or “je nez sais quoi” or something like that. I don’t think I’d wind up with “Jenny Saykwa”*, but maybe I would.
What brings up these musings is that recently on his blog Pharyngula, PZ Myers posted an email he received in which the writer used the phrase “gore and tenacity” in the sentence “The gore and tenacity to take the consecrated Host and desecrate it by piercing a nail through it and discarding the Blessed Sacrament.” Commenters speculated on the meaning of “gore and tenacity” and finally realized the writer meant “gall and audacity”. That led one commenter to declare “gore and tenacity” the new “raisin date”.
Pharyngula, like many well read blogs, has a number of inside jokes that come from the lengthy comments thread, especially the nameless threads, and I don’t keep up. “Raisin date” left me scratching my head. I finally realized I was going to have to ask. As I was composing my question, the answer popped into my head. So I amended my question somewhat, to “What was the old ‘raisin date’? Was it by any chance a misspelled attempt at raison d’etre?”
I can understand how these errors happen. It would be easy to make fun of other people’s ignorance, but we really don’t learn language from the bottom up, we learn it from the top down. We learn intonation, inflection, and phonology (the music of language) first, and then imitate sentences which we then parse into smaller units that we can rearrange. So if you recall hear a speaker use a phrase like “gall and audacity” in a hectoring voice and need that “voice” in a criticism, and if you can’t remember the words “gall” and “audacity” because they aren’t in your everyday vocabulary, you could come up with “gore and tenacity”. And your audience, while puzzled at first, can figure it out, because they are hearing the music of the phrase in their heads.
That is how those banes of my life, “The proof is in the pudding” and “begs the question” used to mean “raises the question” obtained widespread circulation. People don’t parse those phrases to realize they don’t actually make any sense. The phrases as a whole function as “super words”, the way a child’s first “I don’t want to” functions as a “super word”, so that the meaning is in the whole even if the sum of the parts should leave you going “wait, what?”
I like “raisin date”, though. It has a certain Jenny Saykwa.
*I can’t pronounce French, either, so my spelling guesses use Anglicized pronunciation.