Instantly enhance your writing in real-time while you type.
With LanguageTool

What Are “Malapropisms?”

powered by LanguageTool

Using one word instead of another is a mistake many of us make. It can be embarrassing, funny, or sometimes both. But did you know that there’s a term for these silly slip-ups? Below, we’ll elaborate on what “malapropism” means and provide helpful examples.

White text over gray background reads "What are malapropisms?"
Don’t know what “malapropisms” are? Don’t worry. We’ll explain below.
Quick Summary

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.”

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. 

Let’s begin! 

Quote said by Mike Tyson reads "I guess I'm gonna fade into Bolivian."
This is a famous example of malapropism.

“Malapropism” Definition

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. 

“Malapropism” Examples

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). 

Real-life Malapropisms

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.

He looked 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 martial counseling.

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.

If the thought of accidentally using a malapropism keeps you up at night, consider entrusting LanguageTool as your writing assistant. Not only will this advanced spelling, grammar, and style checker help you craft pristine texts, but it will also ensure your tone fits the intended purpose of your project. 

Try it today and start writing magnificently!

Example shows LanguageTool correcting "martial" to "marital" in this sentence: We suggested that perhaps they should try some martial therapy.
LanguageTool ensures correct word choice.

Unleash the Professional Writer in You With LanguageTool

Go well beyond grammar and spell checking. Impress with clear, precise, and stylistically flawless writing instead.

Get started for free
We Value Your Feedback

We’ve made a mistake, forgotten about an important detail, or haven’t managed to get the point across? Let’s help each other to perfect our writing.