Friday, July 11, 2014

"His judgment could not be faltered"

In his INYT article on the Argentine footballer Javier Mascherano, Rob Hughes spends a lot of time talking about a key moment in the Holland-Argentina match the other day: Mascherano's tackle of Arjen Robben in the 90th minute, just before Robben was about to get a good shot on goal (his only one of the day?). He sums it up with a nice bit of understatement, but note also what he says at the beginning of this passage:
His judgment could not be faltered. His defenders had lost sight of Robben, his goalkeeper was frozen to his line, and everything depended on Mascherano’s timing that interception to perfection. A fraction either way, and he risked making contact with the Dutchman, who is known for his, shall we say, unsure footing in the penalty box.
Describing Robben's tendency to fall as dramatically as possible as "nnsure footing" made me laugh, but before I got to that, I had stopped at the first sentence here: "could not be faltered" sounds quite odd. 

First, I thought of this use of "falter" in terms of transitivity. "Falter" is usually an intransitive verb: "he faltered," but not "his opponent faltered him." As an intransitive verb, it cannot be used in the passive voice, as it is in Hughes's phrase: "be faltered." So I wondered if "falter" might be developing a transitive use: "they were unable to falter his judgment."

But then I did a search for the phrase "could not be faltered," and I found examples like this, mostly from travel websites where travel services of various kinds get evaluated: "The service, seats and leg room could not be faltered." This made me realize that I was dealing with an eggcorn, but it turns out to be one that is not listed in the Eggcorn Database. The standard expression that the eggcorn is based on is, of course, "could not be faulted."

I do wonder about the motivation for this one, though. One feature of many eggcorns is that the standard expression involves some oddity of usage, or an archaic word or image—something that a contemporary speaker may not be aware of. For example, "in cohorts with" instead of "in cahoots with": "A natural substitution for a word that only survives in frozen idiomatic usage, since one is typically in cahoots with one’s cohorts." But "faltered" for "faulted" does not seem like "a natural substitution" to me.