14 Jun 2006

A Strategery of Vaguary

Submitted by Karl Hagen
I was following up a completely different instance of non-standard usage (I'll write about it in another post), when I stumbled upon a new eggcorn, or if not precisely new, at least unrecognized in the eggcorn database before now. (I just submitted it, though.)

Within a blog entry on the Duke Lacrosse scandal, I found this gem:

Okay, Brodhead, but you've already admitted that three Lacrosse players have been identified. How is that "unclear"? You want to cloud the issue by saying well, we don't really know who was there, we don't really know what happened, blah blah blah, you get my point. His other principle, which apparently takes center stage the way the statement has been framed, is that they don't know who did it. He offers up all sorts of vaguaries which suggest the original statement of the victim is somehow (ahem) innaccurate. Big surprise.

This isn't just a misspelling of vagaries. The writer here does not mean random occurrence but something like "deliberate evasions", i.e., strategic vagueness. Clearly the word has been reanalyzed as formed from the root vague.

Vagary and vague do actually derive from the same Latin root, vagari, meaning "to wander", but in English, their meanings have been completely separate until now.

Checking Google, the eggcorn appears with both the -ary and the -ery suffix, although to judge by Google hits, the suffix in -e seems somewhat more common. It's also notable that, except for the forms vagery/vageries the misspelled/eggcorn form almost always appears in the plural. Vagaries itself is more common in the plural, but the sigular-to-plural ratio is much greater for the variants.

Sing. Form g-hits Plur. Form g-hits Sing-Plur Ratio
vaguary 998 vaguaries 18,100 1 : 18.14
vaguery 931 vagueries 25,000 1 : 26.85
vagery 1970 vageries 558 3.53 : 1
vagary 614,000 vagaries 5,120,000 1 : 8.33

These raw numbers, of course, include many simple misspellings, where the intended meaning is "vagary," as well as other irrelevant tokens, such as user names, etc. But here are some other examples that are more than just misspellings.

From the Wikipedia entry on unsolved problems in philosophy:

Clearly, unsolved philosophical problems exist in the lay sense (e.g. "What is the meaning of life?", "Where did we come from?", "What is reality?"). However, philosophers generally accord serious philosophical problems specific names or questions, which indicate a particular method of attack or line of reasoning. As a result, broad and untenable topics become manageable. It would therefore be beyond the scope of this article to categorize "life" (and similar vaguaries) as an unsolved philosophical problem.

From a political blog, The Third Avenue

This week, President Bush is dusting off his immigration policy in typical fashion: all vagueries and platitudes, no specifics. Why no details, it is not as Bush tells the press, because of his view of the constitutional roles that the executitve and legislative branches play, rather, it is a way to sneak in radicial changes and radical policy that would otherwise be unpopular with either his base or the American people.

From a journal entry dated 8/18/01:

Direct in song lyrics makes you go, "Oh. Ok." and then you get it and then the song's over and poof. Know what I mean? Not that I'm advocating enigmatic vaguery, but it's like, it's not an essay, it's a song.

From a MacAddict forum post:

You haven't answered anything at all. All you've done is mention some very generalized concepts and simply made the claim that they represent reality.

I'm asking you to actually substantiate rather than default to mythological vaguery.

From a newsgroup posting:

I don't know what the friggin' big deal is with saying outright, what they are tiptoeing around by vague implications.
Either a repair install will or won't work in the OP's situation, they should stop with the vageries, and give the OP a definitive answer.

Title of a post to the gmp-devel mailing list:

GMP vaguaries when converting strings to integers