Hypercorrection happens when people try to avoid making one type of ‘error’ in speech or writing, but overcompensate and apply the corrections to too many words. For example, those who habitually ‘drop’ their h’s sometimes add an h an just about any word beginning with a vowel when trying to speak ‘proper’.

One case of hypercorrection that has become part of the language is the saying ‘to eat humble pie‘, meaning ‘to behave or be forced to behave humbly; to be humiliated’. To word humble in this saying comes from the word numbles, which means the offal of a deer. In the 14th century, a numble pie was one made from such offal. By the 17th century, a pie of this type was called ‘an umble pie’, which eventually acquired an initial h through hypercorrection and became ‘a humble pie’.

Numbles comes from the Old French word nombles (loins), from the Latin lumbulus (little loin).

Other words the have changed in a similar way to numbles include apron – originally napron, newt – originally ewt. This kind of change of word boundries, which is common in English, is called metanalysis.

This entry was posted in English, Language, Pronunciation.

13 Responses to Hypercorrection

  1. Declan says:

    I always assumed that that was an idiom. Some of the Kerry accents in Ireland drop that ‘h’ and little do they know they are actually using an older expression.

  2. It’s really interesting to see how pronunciation’s changed over the years, adding and dropping H’s and whatnot. It seems to me that English in its long history actually quit pronouncing initial H’s and then picked it up again in recent years. Reading the King James translation of the Bible you’ll find all kinds of interesting phrases like ‘an hungered’ or ‘an holy priesthood’.

    I wonder why English hasn’t dropped initial H’s altogether, seeing as how Spanish has forsaken the letter H in all their pronunciation.

  3. James says:

    well of course we still have H in loan words, and it tends to be pronounced the same way as “ge” or “j”. Also there is a fairly strong aspiriation in many “s” dropping accents. So in Chile word final S which is followed by a word initial vowel actually turns into a fairly strong aspiration, that´s to say:

    “Dios ama” becomes “Dio (h)ama”

    I had heard that “orange” came from “norange” which is similar to Spanish “naranja” (which was borrowed from Arabic like a lot of the odder Spanish vocab) and that the modern form was generated in the “a norange” -“an orange” manner. But i feel a bit unsure if that is true. the first part is fine, but why is orange “orange” in french in that case? it´s not a loan from English.

    A very obvious hyper correction of pronouns is “if you want you can leave that to Lee and I, we´d be very happy to bring the wine” But we´d never “leave it to I” but “leave it to me” so we´ll leave it to Tracy and Lee to bring the wine, which should be “Lee and me” (or, if Tracy has any sense of what sounds good in english, would become “leave it to us”)

    Hertford, Hereford hand Hampshire hurricanes hardly hever happen


  4. BG says:

    The English word “humerus” (upper arm bone) is a result of hypercorrection. In Latin it was originally “umerus” (shoulder), but then the “h” was added when h’s stopped being pronounced in the medieval times. This is also reflected in the Spanish “hombro” (shoulder).

    Is this the reason the Boston accent adds r’s in some places and drops them in others. As in my caa (my car) and Warshington (Washington).

    People still write “an history” which seems kind of affected to me.

  5. John says:

    I’m not convinced that something like “leave that to Lee and I” is hypercorrection, at least all the time. Shakespeare used “between you and I”, and this could not have been hypercorrection, since English grammar was not taught in schools until the 1800s.

  6. James says:

    well, and you´ll have to excuse the confused terminology as the proper stuff is buried too deep in my brain, the only place that the older germanic case system is still clear in English is in the pronouns:

    I- me – mine
    you – you – yours
    he – him – his
    she- her-hers
    we – us – ours
    they -them – theirs

    try these in this sentence:

    [I] want that, give it to [me], it´s [mine]

    the first is “nominative” or the subject, the second “prepositional” (or maybe accusative-dative, though I am not really sure that´s the best way of describing it), the third “possesional” (genitive)

    the simple rule is if you would not say
    *leave it to I

    then you cannot not say “leave it to Lee and I” which is a genteel hypercorrection

    If you replace the phrase [Lee and me] you say “us”, not “leave it to we” (though I have a vague feeling that there is dialectical variation in the NE)

    where is the shakespeare example from. I´d be interested to see it

  7. James says:

    oh, I forgot “myself, yourself, himself, ourselves, themselves”

    and this is from tinternet so it must be right (I should look these things up before posting hey!)

    between you and me

    Between you and me is acceptable in standard English; between you and I isn’t. This is because between is a preposition, and pronouns that come after prepositions are in the accusative case (here, me), not the nominative case (not I).

    The same applies to a pair of pronouns that is the object of a verb: They’ve invited you and me to dinner is acceptable, They’ve invited you and I to dinner isn’t.

    The reason why expressions like between you and I have become so common is that people are aware that the accustive case is not correct for the subject of a verb ( You and I have been invited is acceptable; You and me have been invited is not), so they make the mistake of thinking it is not correct anywhere, and always use the nominative case.

    If you are in any doubt, try leaving out the first pronoun of the pair. That will show you what case the second one should be: between I and they’ve invited I are clearly ungrammatical.

    © From the Hutchinson Encyclopaedia.

  8. BG says:


    “I” would be called nominative or subject
    “me”, oblique or objective
    “mine”, possessive or genetive
    “myself”, intensive, this can be thought of as a pronoun or adjective
    Also “my”, the adjective form of “mine”

    You had it right, I’m just adding a bit of info.

  9. Kerry says:

    To BG: I thought that “myself” is a reflexive, and “intensive” actually means something different altogether?

  10. James says:

    i learnt two setsof categories: trad latin derived terms and then contemporary linguistic ones and they have merged and decayed 😉

  11. BG says:

    Kerry: Thanks for noticing that. “myself” can be intensive or reflexive, I was just thinking about intensive for some reason.

    Intensive: I will go myself.
    Reflexive: He hid himself.

    James: I know what you mean. The words “subject” and “object” are actually from Latin even though “nominative” is the Latin derived term.

  12. gimel armeias says:

    good day! i just want to share in your section my new alphabet symbols and it is purely alphabet in nature but with a gist of syllabic expression.it is based in aramaic and greek and brahmik in nature.pls reply if it is ok if i send the list of these symbols i termed as TALIS GRAFOIS for tagalog language and other true sound languages like greek ,hebrew,arab and related dialects.it has more than 39 symbols and it is funto use cause it is realistic in nature! elektrois

  13. Jake says:

    I don’t think that this is “hypercorrection”, but it’s fun to look at language families and look at the variation in spelling for the same root phrase. Go to the Phrases page on omniglot and compare the word “welcome” in German, Swedish, Danish, ect.
    It gives a better perspective on the history of the peoples.
    It’s great

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