Throws of passion

A website I was reading referred to a couple in the ‘throws of passion’. It was an otherwise perfectly respectable website which just happened to feature a member’s contribution without proofreading it (if it had been buried in the comments, I probably wouldn’t have noticed it. The phrase is ‘throes of passion’, but I can easily imagine someone hearing it interpreting it as ‘throws’: ‘throws’ is a much more common word, and it kind of makes sense in the context – they were overthrown by passion, therefore they are in the throws of passion.

Google Ngram Viewer shows results for throws of passion, increasing since about 1990, no doubt as the result of the rise of un-proofread amateur writing on the internet. COCA has two results, both from movie or tv scripts.

A general Google search for ‘throws of passion’ automatically shows results for ‘throes of passion’. The results for ‘throws of passion’ show various language sites discussing the error (for example, Professor Paul Brians of Washington State University), as well as one thread on a dating website forum, in which the original poster uses the phrase ‘throws of passion’ and is corrected by another user. (I’m not sure why I could see a discussion thread on a dating website without being a member of that site, but I could – in the interests of research, mind you!)

So, what is a throe and can you have one of them? According to  dictionary.com, a throe is ‘1. a violent spasm or pang; paroxysm 2. a sharp attack of emotion’ and throes are ‘1. any violent convulsion or struggle: the throes of battle 2. the agony of death 3. the pains of childbirth’. So you can have one of them, but most people have two or more. Google Ngram Viewer shows ‘throes of passion’ massively outnumbering ‘throe of passion’. Similarly, ‘death throes’ massively outnumbers ‘death throe’.

From so few examples, it is impossible to be sure exactly where in the language chain this error happens. Do the writers genuinely believe that the phrase is ‘throws of passion’ or is it a momentary slip of the finger? It’s easy to do – ‘w’ is next to ‘e’ on the keyboard, and several times while drafting this I’ve found myself mistakenly typing the wrong word (usually ‘throw’ instead of ‘throe’). In the second example I mentioned, the original poster, when corrected, called himself ‘phonetically impaired’.

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2 thoughts on “Throws of passion

  1. I was pondering adding another paragraph about the term ‘eggcorn’. My first understanding was that an eggcorn was *phonetically different* from (but plausibly similar to) the intended word or phrase (eg acorn > eggcorn) (although in his original LL article, Mark L treats acorn and eggcorn as homonyms (I wouldn’t)). Throes/throws are homophones in (as far as I know) every variety of English and distinct only in written form – if the original contributor had *said* ‘throws’ in a presentation, no-one would be any the wiser.

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