I like coming across new words and I am now taking upon myself to try and learn a new word every day. I can’t stand it when someone uses a word that I don’t fully understand but more so I absolutely hate it when people use words they do not understand particularly if the word is used in the wrong context.
I once had a friend who had a fondness for the word ‘specific’. Everything he spoke of would be specific this and specific that to the point that it grated on me. This poor chap, in the hope of sounding profound, had not been educated in the difference between the Pacific Ocean and the word ‘specific’. I jest you not. We would go shopping and he would be looking for a ‘Pacific’ tee-shirt. We would go to a restaurant and he would browse the menu looking for a ‘Pacific’ fish dish he adored. I just hadn’t the bottle to correct the poor boy on what is defined in the English language as a malapropism.
A malapropism (also called a Dogberryism) is the substitution of an incorrect word for a word with a similar sound, usually to comic effect. It is not the same as an eggcorn, which is a similar substitution in which the new phrase makes sense on some level.
An instance of mis-speech is called a malapropism when:
1. The word that is used means something different from the word the speaker or writer intended to use.
2. The word that is used sounds similar to the word that was apparently meant or intended. Using obtuse (wide or dull) instead of acute (narrow or sharp) is not a malapropism; using obtuse (stupid or slow-witted) when one means abstruse (esoteric or difficult to understand) would be.
3. The word that is used has a recognized meaning in the speaker’s or writer’s language.
These characteristics set malapropisms apart from other speaking or writing mistakes, such as an eggcorns or spoonerisms.
Here are some of my favourite Malapropisms:
“It’s not the heat, it’s the humility” Yogi Berra
Selections from a rich malapropism culture of The Sopranos:
“Revenge is like serving cold cuts.”
“…my knight in white satin armor.”
“…prostate with grief.”
“Quasimodo predicted this”
**”Create a little dysentery among the ranks.”
“I want to be effluent mum!” “You are effluent Kimi…” (i.e., affluent) — Kath and Kim
“Because I like you, I’ll even do it pro boner.” (i.e., pro bono) – Bart Simpson agreeing to help Seymour Skinner with his love life.
It was reported in New Scientist that an office worker described a colleague as “a vast suppository of information”. (i.e., “repository”)
New Scientist also reported the first-ever malapropism for “malapropism”, when, having become aware of his error, the office worker apologised, saying he had committed a “Miss Marple-ism.”
Time reported Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern as warning his country against “upsetting the apple tart” (ie., “apple cart”) of his country’s economic success.
Alanis Morissette unintentionally misused the term ‘malapropism’ when she commented on her unintentional misuse of the term ‘ironic’ within her song “Ironic”.
A contestant on ego trip’s Miss Rap Supreme claimed that “alcohol, as they say, helps you let down your prohibitions.” (i.e., “inhibitions)
* “It’s great to be back on terra cotta!” (i.e., Terra firma) — John Prescott, former British politician.
* “However, they delineate—quotas, I think, vulcanize society.” (i.e., balkanize or vulgarize or polarize) – George W. Bush, US President.
* An instructor for a children’s law course described statutory rape as “When an adult age 16 or older has sex with a statue.”