Reader and friend Susan Hoffelt caught me after a duplicate bridge game and told me she loved words and would like for me to write about one of her many favorites. “I have been collecting words for years and do try to use them in conversation” said Susan. “I have pages more if you need them!” she continued; clearly she is a friend after my own heart.
“Malapropism” is a noun and is an amusing error that occurs when a person mistakenly uses a word that sounds like another word but that has a very different meaning. This humorous misuse or distortion of a word is usually unintentional and is often ludicrously wrong in the context.
In his 1775 restoration comedy, The Rivals, Richard Sheridan introduced the humorous character by the name Mrs. Malaprop. The name is derived from the French mal á propos, which means “inappropriate” (we also have malapropos in English), and describes the manner in which she used many words in her speech. Some she used:
“O, he will dissolve my mystery!” [resolve]
“…she’s as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of Nile.” [alligator]
“…she might reprehend the true meaning of what she is saying.” [comprehend]
If these malapropisms seem a bit outdated, you might chuckle at a few of these more recent ones.
“This is unparalyzed in the state’s history.” Gib Lewis, Texas Speaker of the House.
“It is beyond my apprehension.” Danny Ozark, baseball team manager.
“The police are not here to create disorder, they’re here to preserve disorder.” Richard Daley, Chicago mayor.
“He was a man of great statue.” Thomas Menino, Boston mayor.
“Well, that was a cliff-dweller.” Wes Westrum, about a close baseball game.
“Be sure and put some of those neutrons on it.” Mike Smith, baseball player, ordering a salad at a restaurant.
Chuckling yet? I hope so. If you’re listening and paying attention, you will notice malapropisms. Keep an ear out for them. They’re funny. Share some you have heard recently or some of your favorites. I will pass them on to our readers.
Please submit any thoughts you may have on this month’s column or any word you may like to share with our readers along with your insights and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.