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Malapropisms
by Marshall Dean



I have another story at USADEEPSOUTH about SPOONERISMS. In that one, I explained that a Spoonerism is what happens when your tongue gets twisted and the sounds that come out are not what you tried to say. Spoonerisms are phrases, sentences or words where the sounds get swapped. Several folks, including fellow columnist Grace Bishop, told me they enjoyed the column because they were long-time Spoonerism fans.

Spoonerisms were named for an actual person--Reverend W.A. Spooner, Dean of New College in Oxford, England. Malapropisms, the subject of this column, were named after a fictional character. Miss Malaprop was a character in a comedic play, The Rivals, by Richard B. Sheridan. This play was written is 1775 and became popular because of the way Miss Malaprop mangled the English language. She was charming but fond of confusing her words. Here are a few of her lines from the play:

"Promise to forget this fellow--to illiterate him, I say . . ."

"He is the very pineapple of politeness."

"She's as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile."

These lines were not spoken accidentally. They were cleverly inserted in the dialogue of the play by the dramatist, Sheridan, for the amusement of the audience.

Most Malapropisms today are unintentional. They pop up in political speeches, television and radio broadcasts, and in everyday conversation. People often become well-known for their Malapropisms. For instance, Allan Lamport, who served as the mayor of Toronto in the early 1960's, became famous for his frequent Malapropisms. Here are a few examples:

“We shall reach greater and greater platitudes of achievement.”
“We've got to act wisely and otherwisely.”
“Let's jump off that bridge when we come to it.”
“We have to choose between collapse and ruin.”
“What you're telling me is a matter of major insignificance.”
“I am a man of sound prejudice.”
“This is the crutch of the problem.”

Anyone in the public eye gets scrutinized for Malapropisms. Yogi Berra is rightfully famous for his baseball expertise. However, he became well-known to the general public for the phrases he concocted. Here are a few of Yogi's Malapropisms:

“It's like déjà vu all over again.”
“If you can't imitate him, don't copy him.”


You may not realize it, but you are constantly bombarded by both Spoonerisms and Malapropisms. You'll read them in newspapers and magazines, and you'll hear them in the electronic media, at the local café or on street corners.

They are the quirks of our language. When you spot them, grin and bear it!


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E-mail Marshall Dean at this address

Read Dean's story on Spoonerisms here.

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