Have You Met Mrs Malaprop?

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

Think Positive

16 responses to “Have You Met Mrs Malaprop?

  1. My father speaks this way all the time. He loves to eat tuna carousel. (huh ?) I don’t for the life of me know how he does it because it seems you would really have to have a sense of humor or practice these errors but they just flow naturally from him. He also continues to call his socks “stockings”. I tried to explain that men stopped wearing stockings 200 years ago ala George Washington.


  2. This “English lesson” made me smile . . . and also give thanks that no one is following me around with a microphone and airing my malapropisms on the evening news. 😆


  3. jacquelincangro

    It’s fun to discover the play on words that authors intentionally incorporate into their works for savvy readers like you to find.
    You can always count on politicians to un-intentionally incorporate these malalpropisms into their speeches. 🙂


  4. It all goes to prove we’re only human. We tend to twist our words inadvertently when we speak and then look back and say “that’s not really what I wanted to say”. But it’s part of being a President or of notoriety to have your speeches picked apart. They have to get nervous and we all know what it’s like to try to speak in front of people and get your words to come out right. Even though they’re used to it, they still get tongue tied.


  5. Though I must confess a fair amount of guilt in this arena, I will share one of my favorites. We were sitting around a large table at a Mexican restaurant and when the server arrived with our appetizer, a friend exclaimed loudly “Oh, I love chips and Guatemala!”


  6. I had a good laugh reading this. It does happen to the best of us… sometimes! 🙂


  7. Finally, I’m working on catching up after a hectic workshop week again. 🙂


  8. I always enjoy these word-related posts, Judith. I think I’ll make some of that Guatemala for dinner! lol I love the humor in the comments so many times, and to think, people are getting paid for using words that aren’t nearly as entertaining.


  9. Thanks Patti. And just yesterday I found myself typing ‘clown class’ instead of ‘class clown’ when prepping for today’s session. There must be a name for that but I can’t remember what it is. Memory failing……


  10. Pingback: New words | I choose how I will spend the rest of my life

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