Tuesday May 11, 2004

Balking Down

In a a recent SPACE.com article I noticed the following eggcorn:

There has already been a near-death experience within the family of Mars rovers. For Spirit at Gusev Crater, it balked down early in its mission due to computer conniptions.

Looks to me like it's an eggcorn for "bogged down". It's easy to see how it happened, since "bogged down" and "balked" would have nearly the same meaning in this sentence. I wonder how common it is?

Consulting Google, we find:

"bogged down": 173,000 ghits
"balked down": 19 ghits

(And 3 of the 19 hits for "balked down" are in fact the same SPACE.com article.) So it looks like it's pretty rare. If we look at the present tense form, we find:

"bog down": 79,100 ghits
"balk down": 92 ghits

Interesting—there's fewer than half as many occurrences of the present tense of the "bog" version, but several times more occurrences of the "balk" version. Why should that be? Looking through the ghits for "balk down" provides the answer: in addition to various non-constituent false positives (e.g. "could still balk, down the road" and "a diversionary path (known as `BALK') down") it looks like "balk down" is occasionally a misspelling (or eggcorn?) for "back down". There's also a number of sentences including the phrase "Fairuza Balk down" (she's an actress), and, from a page about military floating bridges:

The M4T6 floating bridges and rafts consist of a deck built of square, hollow aluminum sections (called balk) supported by pneumatic floats.

[snip]

There are two basic types of balk depressors: manual and hydraulic. These balk depressors are furnished with the M4T6 bridge erection set and are used when the balk lugs will not fit easily into the recesses on the balk-connecting stiffeners. Balk depressors force the balk down into the stiffener and, at the same time, raise the stiffener up towards the balk.

Naturally. If you want to force a balk down, what else would you use but a balk depressor?

[Now playing: "Dear God" by Tricky]

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