Monday, March 16, 2009


My youngest daughter Mimi was warned about the evils the city can bring. She was told to be "More absorbent". Of course Mimi knew that the speaker meant "observant".
This kind of brain fart is known as malapropism where a wrong word that sounds very much like the right word is used with comic effect. The root word is the French "malapropos" meaning "inappropriate" or "inappropriately". Richard Sheridan named one of his characters in his play "The Rivals" Mrs. Malaprop with lines like these:
"He is the very pineapple of politeness."
"as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile."

Long before "The Rivals", Shakespeare had a character called Constable Dogberry in "Much Ado About Nothing":
  • " shall comprehend all vagrom men..." (i.e., apprehend, vagrant; Act 3, Scene III)
  • "Comparisons are odorous." (i.e., odious; Act 3, Scene V)
  • "Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two auspicious persons." (i.e., apprehended, suspicious; Act 3, Scene V)
Thus another word for malapropism is dogberryism.

Malapropism is used to great effect in TV. Archie Bunker (remember him?) in "All In The Family" made many people laugh when he said:
"I've gotta consecrate myself on this newspaper."
"Patience is a virgin."
"A witness shall not bear falsies against thy neighbor."
"groin-acologist" for "gynecologist"

and more recently:
  • "Why not? Play captains against each other, create a little dysentery in the ranks."
    (Christopher Moltisanti in The Sopranos)
  • "There's no stigmata connected with going to a shrink."
    (Little Carmine in The Sopranos)
  • "The ironing is delicious." (i.e., irony) - Bart Simpson, after finding Lisa in detention
  • "Because I like you, I'll even do it pro boner." (i.e., pro bono) - Bart Simpson agreeing to help Seymour Skinner with his love life.
Of course there are unintentional malapropism in real life:
  • "Oftentimes, we live in a processed world, you know, people focus on the process and not results." (George W. Bush)
  • "Republicans understand the importance of bondage between a mother and child." (Dan Quayle)
  • "I really dig Hannibal. Hannibal had real guts. He rode elephants into Cartilage." (i.e., Carthage) — Mike Tyson

Closer to home, a popular singer when asked what was her best facial feature answered "My nipples". (She meant dimples)

My favourite is the answer a friend gave us when asked why he goes to the toilet so often:
"It's my photostat problem lah!"

Now share your favourite malapropism, dogberryism or acyrologia.