toll and toil


I think there is a confusion looming between toll and toil. A presenter mentioned the emotional toil endured by the people who assisted the Wild Boar group, and then played an interview conducted by another reporter who offered emotional toll.  So the correct expression was there for the taking, but the presenter nonetheless went her own way.

I suppose that these days we associate toll with the money you pay to travel on a motorway, a specific use of its basic meaning as ‘a tax or impost’, and that association is so strong that we have lost sight of its figurative meaning, particularly in the phrase to take its toll, as in Hard work will take its toll on your health. 

As usual, when we don’t understand a word, we replace it with something that seems to make more sense. We know toil as hard work requiring great effort. So emotional toil is running the emotional gamut, to use another figure of speech. It is hard work. Taxing, to get back to the notion of imposts.

I did think that the confusion would only arise in the phrase emotional toll, but no. A search produces quite a few examples such as: The pace of everyday life can often take a toil on our emotions. You can see where this is going. 

This particular confusion is an example of an eggcorn – but I will save a discussion of eggcorns for a blog.

See eggcorn.

Sue ButlerComment