Let me introduce you. Mrs Malaprop is a character in Richard Sheridan’s play The Rivals, described as “a comedy of manners’. It is generally thought that Sheridan devised her name from the word malapropos defined as
” malapropos is an adjective or adverb meaning “inappropriate” or “inappropriately”, derived from the French phrase mal à propos (literally “ill-suited”). The earliest English usage of the word cited in the Oxford English Dictionary is from 1630. Malaprop used in the linguistic sense was first used by Lord Byron in 1814 according to the OED.”
Malalpropisms are quite different from Spoonerisms in that the words are used in a wrong or inappropriate way. Here are some examples from Sheridan’s play:
- “…promise to forget this fellow – to illiterate him, I say, quite from your memory.” (obliterate)
- “…she might reprehend the true meaning of what she is saying.” (comprehend)
- “…she’s as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of Nile.” (alligator)
But before Sheridan and Mrs Malaprop, Shakespeare had some of his characters speak using wrong or inappropriate words:
- In Much Ado About Nothing, Constable Dogberry says
- “Comparisons are odorous” (odious) and
- “Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two auspicious persons.” (apprehended and suspicious)
- In The Merchant of Venice, Lancelot says
- “Certainly he (Shylock) is the very devil incarnal…” (incarnate)
Obviously these comments were not mistakes on Shakespeare’s part. I think they were added to lend a little levity to the play.
And there have been some wonderful malapropisms made by people in the public eye:
- “We cannot let terrorists and rogue nations hold this nation hostile or hold our allies hostile.” George W. Bush. – I wonder what he meant to say.
- And my favourite of his – “It will take time to restore chaos and order” – Well gee whiz
- “Republicans understand the importance of bondage between a mother and child.” Former Dan Quayle, Vice President – Oh really!
- Allan Lamport, former mayor of Toronto said, “Keep this up and we will have a vicious triangle” – Interesting idea a triangle rather than a circle
- “If Gower had stopped that [cricket ball] he would have decapitated his hand.”. Farokh Engineer , Indian cricketer – That would have been worth seeing.
- “And then he [Mike Tyson] will have only channel vision.” Frank Bruno, boxer – Will he see underwater then?
- “Marie Scott… has really plummeted to the top.” Alan Weeks, British television sports reporter and commentator and
- Sarah Palin posted on Twitter a call to “refudiate”
the proposal to build a mosque on the site of the World Trade Center.
Of course, we can go on and on, and George W Bush seemed to have been the absolute expert on this form of speech.
But here we will end today’s English lesson. Hope you are not bored with my sharing my love of English with you. And a thought for you