Malapropisms occur when someone uses an incorrect word instead of another similar-sounding one, resulting in a nonsensical, often humorous sentence. An example of malapropism is when someone says, “dance a flamingo” instead of “dance a flamenco.”
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Have you ever heard someone say something that sounded just a bit…off? The entire sentence was perfect, but then one word confused you into Bolivian? Whoops, we mean oblivion! These types of mistakes are called malapropisms and are as interesting as they are amusing! Below, we’ll explain what malapropisms are and how the term originated. We will also provide helpful (and funny) examples to help you get a more in-depth understanding of these quizzical mishaps.
Malapropism is the incorrect use of one word instead of another similar-sounding one, either accidentally or deliberately, for comedic effect. An example of malapropism is calling someone a wolf in cheap clothing instead of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Keep in mind that the defining characteristic of malapropism is the use of a word that sounds similar to the original and correct word but renders the phrase ridiculous or nonsensical. To clarify, saying historical (“pertaining to history”) instead of historic (“important in history) is not a malapropism. However, using the word hysterical (“extremely funny or emotional”) when you mean historical is malapropism.
Origin of “Malapropism”
In 1775, Richard Brinsley Sheridan wrote a play titled The Rivals. In it, a character named Mrs. Malaprop frequently and humorously commits verbal gaffes as she mistakenly uses one word instead of another. For example, she once described a man as the “pineapple of politeness” instead of the “pinnacle of politeness.” Sheridan took inspiration for this character’s name from the French loanword malapropos (originally “mal à propos”), which means “inappropriate or inopportune.”
Let’s break down the grammar of malapropism and its related words.
Malapropism is a noun that refers to linguistic blunders when one uses the wrong word in place of another in a phrase or sentence.
She is known for her constant use of malapropisms.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, malapropos can function as an adjective or adverb. As we stated earlier, it means “inappropriately.”
Adjective: His malapropos remarks were not well-received.
Adverb: She arrived malapropos just as the presenter started speaking.
Then there’s the word malaprop. As a noun, it means “an example of malapropism,” and as an adjective, it means “marked by the use of malapropisms.”
Noun: Sometimes, her entire repertoire of phrases seems to consist only of malaprops.
Adjective: The conversation was full of malaprop humor.
Malapropisms often occur as errors in natural speech. Put simply, people typically say malapropisms unintentionally. However, they’re sometimes purposely used in writing for comedic effects. Find some examples below.
Malapropisms in Literature
I was most putrified with astonishment when you gave me that smack.
—The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
(The correct word is petrified.)
Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two auspicious persons.
—Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
(The correct words are apprehended and suspicious, respectively.)
The Exhausted Ruler
—Sons of the Desert by Stan Laurel
(The correct word is exalted.)
The bride and glum…
—The Young Immigrunts by Ring Lardner
(The correct word is groom).
Malapropisms regularly happen in real life, too. Here are a few humorous examples:
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott once stated that no one “is the suppository of all wisdom” instead of saying repository or depository.
Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley incorrectly referred to Alcoholics Anonymous as Alcoholics Unanimous.
Yogi Berra once said, “He hits from both sides of the plate. He’s amphibious” instead of saying ambidextrous.
US congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Green mistakenly said, “fragrantly violated” instead of “flagrantly violated.”
Avoid These Potential Malapropisms
Malapropisms that occur in real life tend to be remembered. Below are a few pairs of words that you should know well to avoid embarrassing blunders.
Erratic vs. Erotic
Erratic: “Unpredictable or inconstant”
Erotic: “Relating to sexual excitement or desire”
His driving was erratic due to the icy roads.
His driving was
erotic due to the icy roads.
Incredible vs. Incredulous
Incredible: “Extraordinary or wonderful”
Incredulous: “Unable to believe something”
He looked incredible in his new suit.
incredulous in his new suit.
Martial vs. Marital
Marital: “Relating to marriage”
Martial: “Suited for war or a warrior”
It’s not uncommon for couples to undergo marital counseling.
It’s not uncommon for couples to undergo
Prosperous vs. Preposterous
Prosperous: “Marked by success or financial well-being”
Preposterous: “Absurd or contrary to reason or common sense”
It was a prosperous company that gained its financial success through hard work.
It was a
preposterous company that gained its financial success through hard work.
Stature vs. Statue
Statue: “A three-dimensional representation of someone or something”
Stature: “Natural height” or “status gained by growth or achievement”
We were looking for a statue of George Washington.
We were looking for a
stature of George Washington.
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