Why do so many people say FoxFire instead of Firefox?
January 7, 2009 7:48 AM   Subscribe

Is there some linguistic or cultural explanation for mistakenly calling Firefox FoxFire?

I do computer support for a large number of people from various backgrounds and areas. Almost all of them mistakenly refer to the Firefox web browser as "Fox Fire" - repeatedly - even after I refer to the browser correctly while demonstrating it.

I do a majority of my support in the southeast US, but have some clients in the northeast and Washington state. I can't figure out why this is so consistent. Is there some linguistic reason why FoxFire is easier to say or remember?

Is there some existing cultural marker or event that gives Fox Fire a leg up over Firefox and I'm just not aware of it?
posted by odinsdream to Society & Culture (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Or is it ye olde Confirmation Bias?
posted by odinsdream at 7:49 AM on January 7, 2009

I've never seen this, but "foxfire" is an actual bona fide English word. It refers, as far as I can tell, to a kind of bioluminescence put out by certain forest mushrooms.
posted by Electrius at 7:59 AM on January 7, 2009

My mother does this and it drives me absolutely batshit. She doesn't realize she's doing it, and thinks she's saying "Firefox" - she does this with a number of other words as well. She's from Augusta, FWIW.
posted by sephira at 8:00 AM on January 7, 2009

In answer to your second-to-last question, 'Foxfire' is already the name of a rural-culture nonprofit (for the last forty years or more) and a Joyce Carol Oates book (and movie, with a young Angelina Jolie). That might have something to do with it.
posted by box at 8:00 AM on January 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Foxfire is a known term for a source of bioluminescence (like fireflies) for certain types of fungi that decay wood. The weather conditions in the Northwest certainly would make this type of thing a more common occurrence, and therefore known, to people who grew up there. People in the Northwest also tend to be more of the outdoorsy type and likely more educated about nature around them.

The only other thing i can think of is that perhaps an IT person is dyslexic and mistakenly calls Firefox --> Foxfire. The computer newbies don;t know that this is wrong so the verbiage sticks and with repeated use, no one realizes that it's incorrect. Unlikely, but I've seen stranger things happen.
posted by camworld at 8:03 AM on January 7, 2009

The Foxfire disambiguation page on Wikipedia may be of some help. The aforementioned Foxfire Fund is based in Georgia and might be what some of the southeasterners are thinking of.

Anecdotally, I grew up in NC and remember "Foxfire" being a not-uncommon name for planned communities, restaurants, golf courses, and the like. Prior to 2004, "Foxfire" would have seemed more natural in my head because of that.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:07 AM on January 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Like everyone else says, "foxfire" is a more common word than the neologism/product name "Firefox," but if you need a fake term to describe the mistake, consider forkerism.
posted by kittyprecious at 8:31 AM on January 7, 2009

The cause may be phonetic.

"FOXfire" may be more memorable to many people than "fahyuhr-foks" because of its strong first syllable emphasis.
posted by terranova at 8:35 AM on January 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

I was going to say it was some version of a spoonerism, but kittyprecious' answer is the more correct.
posted by eralclare at 8:48 AM on January 7, 2009

Early adopter who STILL calls it "Foxfire" from time to time, here. I blame the phenomenon, the nonprofit, the book, and the movie.
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:50 AM on January 7, 2009

Furthering box's explanation, the FireFox fund put out a series of book when I was a kid (late 70's and early 80's). Here's the collection on their website. I was growing up in rural east TN, and these books were quite popular as they detailed an older way of life in the rural South. My uncle had much of the set, and I was fascinated by them.

When I first heard about the browser Firefox, the Foxfire books were the first thing that popped into my head.
posted by kimdog at 8:55 AM on January 7, 2009

the FireFox fund put out a series of book

Heh, you did it in reverse.
posted by grouse at 9:00 AM on January 7, 2009

I think there's some cognitive language research showing how when people are confronted with new words they apply forms that are more familiar. Foxfire was certainly more familiar to me until the browser appeared - it's an English word that was not uncommon to hear, especially in my generation (because of the romances, the Foxfire books, the nonprofit, and the natural phenomenon) , and especially in the Southeast where the phenomenon has been known by that name for a long time. Whatever this language thing is, I've heard it cited about people who can't help but say "nuke-u-lar" - because there are more analogues in English for words that sound like "[whatever]-cu-lar" (molecular, spectacular) than words that sound like "[whatever]-klee-er." I'd suspect that people who call it Foxfire are reverting to the more familiar form they grew up with.

Now if you could tell me why people refer to the Martha's Vineyard town as "Oaks Bluff" I'd have a real theory going.
posted by Miko at 9:05 AM on January 7, 2009

As with numerous posters above, I am inclined to think it is because the brand name is a neologism based on an extant word; this would be no different than people who refer to the Canadian debit card/banking system Interac as "Interact."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:06 AM on January 7, 2009

I have no answer, but I will always remember from my days doing phone tech support the older southern gentleman who said, and I quote:
Yeah, I've been using this here Mazola Fox Firewall thinger...
To this day I have no idea if he was being funny or serious, but I am very glad that my phone had a mute button.
posted by jrishel at 9:32 AM on January 7, 2009 [4 favorites]

When I first met Firefox I also thought of the Foxfire series of rural-living books and had to repeatedly correct myself for awhile to keep them straight.
posted by PatoPata at 9:45 AM on January 7, 2009

Yes, my first thought was also the Foxfire series
posted by notned at 9:49 AM on January 7, 2009

I am also guilty of calling Firefox Foxfire and it drives my sons crazy. I try explaining to them that growing up in Alabama, there was a ghost story of "Cry Baby Holler" (or Hollow if you aren't southern!) that claims a woman dumped her baby off the bridge into the murky water, and if you go out there at night, shut off your headlights and yell, "I killed your baby!" weird things happen. Your car rocks, you see a light glowing light coming towards you, you hear a baby cry, etc. (YouTube has videos if you look up Cry Baby Hollow and Cry Baby Bridge)

As kids we were fascinated, and terrified of this bridge and the legend attached to it. To soothe our fears, our parents told us that the sounds you heard were nothing more than the water flowing under the bridge and that the glowing light was FOXFIRE, a plant that grows and gives off a glow. So, I grew up only knowing of Foxfire. As a teen I was a big fan of John Denver's and he had a song called FOXfire. So, sorry boys, Foxfire is indelibly imprinted on my brain! Live with it! ;-)
posted by Kam1761 at 9:52 AM on January 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

I also get the same with USB. People want to call it UBS no matter how many times I correct them. Weird.
posted by ducktape at 10:11 AM on January 7, 2009

People want to call it UBS no matter how many times I correct them

Using my analogue theory, I'd say that's because we have more familiar acronym constructions like PBS, CBS, ABS than we have [anything]SB.
posted by Miko at 10:14 AM on January 7, 2009

I do it all the time, both with Firefox and USBs.
posted by anniecat at 10:24 AM on January 7, 2009

For what it's worth, I do IT tech support in the UK (with evangalism for firefox on the side, so to speak) and I've never heard anyone British refer to it as foxfire, which is also a very uncommon term here.
posted by ArkhanJG at 12:04 PM on January 7, 2009

Yes, the Foxfire series.
posted by HotToddy at 12:10 PM on January 7, 2009

I was doing some user testing once in the UK, sitting with a user who was going through an application. For completeness I asked what other browsers she used, to which she replied "I use the crazy browser". I thought that maybe since she used IE all the time that Firefox might've been that weird, other, crazy browser. Now I know: Crazy browser exists!
posted by sub-culture at 12:24 PM on January 7, 2009

I do computer repairs in the northeast-US, and I hear "foxfire" pretty frequently, too. The one that I tend to notice more of, however, is mispronouncing "Linksys" as "lin-skeez".
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 1:13 PM on January 7, 2009

I always figured it was just a quirk of people who often make Spoonerism mistakes. I have a friend who always calls the scanning ahead feature on the DVR "forward fast." As in, "I'm going to foward fast these commercials."
posted by IndigoRain at 1:44 PM on January 7, 2009

I always call it Foxfire. I am wondering if it is an age thing. The term Foxfire was familiar to me long before I started using the browser.
posted by hworth at 3:33 PM on January 7, 2009

Maybe the kind of people who were into Foxfire (the series on how to live like pioneers) are more likely to call Firefox Foxfire by mistake.
posted by bad grammar at 4:37 PM on January 7, 2009

Thank you everyone for these explanations. It makes it much less grating to consider that there's some reasoning at work. Only slightly less.
posted by odinsdream at 7:41 PM on January 7, 2009

I asked, my mom knows nothing of the organization, the series, or even a community named Foxfire. She is dyslexic, though, I think that plays a strong part in the matter. She also calls Outlook "Look Out".
posted by sephira at 8:10 PM on January 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Same reason people say "supposibly", "could of", "Democrat Party", "Don Brumsfeld", "Don Runsfield", "Durkin/Durbin". Ignorance, laziness. Never took the time to find out what the right word was.

Or disdain- they have so little respect for the subject they refuse to even pronounce it correctly.

Or they are using language as a cultural identifier. "Look at me, I'm not [x], I pronounce their words wrong!" How many people must have adopted "new-clear" when Carter started saying "noo-kyuh-lur", who then switched back when Bush showed his pronunciation preference?

(My grandfather, up in his years, once referred to a DVD player as "that MTV machine".)
posted by gjc at 4:02 AM on January 16, 2009

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