Hypercorrection, hypocorrection

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The incorrect application of a (perceived) rule, often leading to unusual use of language.

Often: when the wish to be correct leads to being incorrect (typically when mixed with too little perspective or research).

Tends to be most visible when someone incorrectly corrects someone else. This happens most recognizably from people wishing to seem educated or formal.

There are subtler instances.

Some examples:

  • Archaic forms without knowing the rules (or even meaning) because it often means that we use it with our own rules
    • Many people using whom - use of 'who' is now completely accepted in most any use. Most English speakers only use whom for its formal/archaic flavour, but most of us don't know the rules that come with it, so while it can technically help referent resolution, it often doesn't. And when we use it incorrectly without knowing we just sound like dorks to the few who still do know the rules.
    • For example, insisting that wherefore means where (it actually means why), e.g. in "wherefore art thou Romeo"
    • Thy, thou, thee, and the forms like it - most of us use our own observed patterns, which often aren't quite right.
  • Insisting (possibly implicitly) that the cleaned version of the language that is in books is the only proper use of language.
There are (arguably) decent arguments towards this, but most people who do this couldn't name them.
  • More focus on the rule than on long-standing exceptions (or vise versa)
    • The 'no proposition at the end of a word' idea - which came purely from prescriptivist preferences, and was never actually an agreed-on thing
    • Being corrected from "you and me" to "you and I" so often that you use 'I' even when it is wrong (you can usually check by expanding the cases into separate sentences)
  • mispronouncing words of foreign origin according to too-modest knowledge of that language (to the point that the pronunciation sometimes doesn't fit either language's spoken or written form)
    • For example, over-elision in pronunciation of French, based on the observation that you don't often hear the last few letters. Decent as a rule of thumb, but also frequently wrong.
    • bad phonetic estimations (happens between many languages)

Some are quite understandable, as some errors can only be explained, say, by linguists who have recently studied Latin well.


Intentional (and often tactical) use of language use that purposefully makes something seem less formal or less assertive.

Frequently slang.

Some hypocorrection spreads quickly and can play in language change.

Does not refer to behaviour such as hesitation.