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:
"He is the very pineapple of politeness."
"She's as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile."
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'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
“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!
E-mail Marshall Dean at this address
Read Dean's story on Spoonerisms here.
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