Not charged, but guilty of an eggcorn

Kings and queens reign.
Our little eight point five pounds of perfect, the girl cat, reigns.

I have free rein.
Our boy cat has to rein in his compulsive behavior before hurts himself.

Although I have not been caught (recently at least) having "free reign" or "reigning" anything in, I am sure I am guilty of having made this common error in the past. Lexicographers call these substitutions 'eggcorns.' The DH calls them 'thinkos' (not typos) and brought this example of reign/rein up last night, somewhat randomly I might add.

Ben Zimmer blogged for the Oxford University Press about tracking the usage of these and other types of misspellings and how the Oxford English Corpus is used by lexicographers to track our language and its usage and evolution. It is a great tool to have when one is writing a dictionary, but it does not mean that just because people use it, it is correct.

While the fact that writers today (in the blogosphere, press, print world, etc) may give free reign 46% of the time, it does not follow that the incorrect spelling has to be accepted as correct. At some point it might warrant a note in the dictionary, even if it is a "see free rein" note, or that there might be a note under "free rein" indicating that it might be often misspelled as "free reign." You get the idea.


Check out The Eggcorn Database for more examples of common misspellings/substitutions.

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