Malapropism

From Academic Kids

A malapropism (from French mal propos, "ill to purpose") is an incorrect usage of a word, usually with comic effect. The term comes from the name of Mrs Malaprop, a character in Richard Brinsley Sheridan's comedy, The Rivals (1775), whose name was in turn derived from the existing English word malapropos, meaning "inappropriately". Here are some examples from her dialogue:

"He's as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile." (i.e., alligator)
"He is the very pineapple of politeness." (i.e., pinnacle)
"If I reprehend any thing in this world, it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs!" (i.e., apprehend; vernacular; arrangement; epithets)
"Then he laid prostate on the ground." (i.e., prostrate)

However, it might be more appropriate to call such confusions "Dogberryisms" after Sergeant Dogberry in William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, who was making them almost two centuries earlier, for example:

"Comparisons are odorous." (i.e. odious)
"Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two auspicious persons." (i.e. apprehended; suspicious)

A malapropism found in a student paper reads:

"Many people are morally opposed to intravenous fertilization." (i.e. in vitro)

Common malapropisms in modern English include use of:

  • Disinterested (impartial, unbiased) for uninterested ("A judge should be disinterested, but not uninterested")
  • Fortuitous (random, by chance) for fortunate
  • In the ascendancy for in the ascendant ("One has the ascendancy" vs "One is in the ascendant")
  • Barbaric for barbarous ("Barbaric" can be positive and is used of culture, "barbarous" is negative and used of behavior: "Barbaric splendor" vs "Barbarous cruelty")
  • Enormity (a heinous act) for enormousness (being very large).
  • Noisome (smelly) for noisy (very loud)

Ringo Starr was famous for his many malapropisms, some of which became Beatles songs, including:

  • Tomorrow never knows
  • It's been a hard days night
  • Eight days a week

See also

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