“A mother has a sick sense when it comes to her children.”

Oh, we all know what he meant: that famous SIXTH SENSE.

I suppose he often heard the expression but never saw it written down, or if he did see it written down he didn’t recognize it as that thing he had heard about. And I don’t condemn anyone who doesn’t pronounce it clearly enough for a child to picture all the letters: S-I-X-Th-Sense. Unless I’m doing some kind of diction demonstration, I don’t think I pronounce all the letters either.

As we know with Mondegreens and other such phenomena, when we hear something we don’t quite understand we often translate it into something that makes some sense to us (although not sixth sense). Clearly that’s what my student did here, and it does make sense, doesn’t it? Whether you think of that “sick sense” as being preternaturally perceptive, perversely suspicious, angst-ridden, or nauseated, it works pretty well to describe the feelings and insights that sometimes well up in the maternal brain.

That’s why I think my friend Philip will call this phrasing an eggcorn, a word substitution that has a kind of poetry to it. Only one word, but it really does say so much…

I myself could say more, but I leave it to your sixth sense to imagine what that could be!

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About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

6 responses to ““A mother has a sick sense when it comes to her children.”

  • muddledmom

    Mmm. I can only hope if this is someone in a college-level class that he was being sarcastic, using a play on words, something? But I take it that’s not the case. Honestly, as a mom, sometimes I really do have a sick sense when it comes to my kids. It’s the only way to get through the day, to chuckle at what they consider misery.

    • RAB

      It is a college-level class, but he was not being sarcastic or clever–that’s what he thought the expression was, although heaven knows what he actually thinks a “sick sense” is. I don’t think he had “sick sense of humor” in mind, since the paragraph didn’t go on to develop that. My blog is about this sort of thing, trying to figure out what goes on in the heads of students who make errors that are unintentionally funny (or unintentionally true). Thanks for adding some insight from the front lines!

  • Margie

    I think your student might have a mother who does have a ‘sick sense’.
    I had a ‘sick sense’ about my children. I always knew whether they were genuinely sick and needed to stay home from school, or whether they were faking it because they just didn’t want to go to school!

  • yearstricken

    This lends itself to all kinds of interesting ideas. Do people who delve into the paranormal have a sixth sense of humor?

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