4 Exasperating Malapropisms

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Malapropisms can be funny, but only if one understands both the misused word and the word appropriate in the context.

Here are four malapropisms that left one reader scratching his head:

1.The butler entered the drawing room bearing the visitor’s name card on a silver sliver.

The word wanted here is salver, not sliver.
A salver is a tray;
A sliver is a very narrow splinter of some substance.
A “silver sliver” would not be large enough to hold a visitor’s card.

2. Mrs Jones earned the reputation of a vertigo because her poor husband’s head was always in a spin from her constant nagging and scolding.

The word wanted in this context is virago, not vertigo.

Vertigo is dizziness;
A virago, in this context, is a loud, obnoxious woman who nags and scolds and doesn’t behave as a “proper woman” should. (The word virago has an interesting history that deserves a post of its own.)

3. The teacher commented that Jane’s essay on D. H. Lawrence was extremely erotic; although certain parts were commendable, others left much to be desired.

Yes, D.H. Lawrence is noted for erotic content, but the appropriate word here is erratic. The clue is “certain parts were commendable, others left much to be desired.”

erotic – “relating to sexual desire.”
erratic – “irregular, inconsistent, eccentric.”

4. Unfortunately, all efforts to pacify the furious tourists only served to exasperate the situation.

Many native English speakers might miss the malapropism in this one because the words exasperate and exacerbate are often used as if they meant the same thing.

For example, here’s an exchange at Wiki Answers.com:

Q: Can you use “exasperate” in a sentence?

A: The 20 mph winds really exasperated the already 20 degree weather, making it feel like 0 degrees.

exasperate – to cause irritation or annoyance in a person.
exacerbate – to make a situation worse.

The Wiki winds, therefore, would exacerbate the weather and the efforts to pacify the tourists in Example 4 would exacerbate the situation.

Thanks to Jayanthi K for suggesting this post.

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11 thoughts on “4 Exasperating Malapropisms”

  1. I’ll throw in two that I have seen.

    “Everyone makes mystics.” (I’ve never made a mystic, but, yes, as this author demonstrates, everyone makes mistakes. This was as amusing to me as being asked to take a “speling test.”)

    “It’s erotic how some people will say one thing Sunday morning but then act differently during the rest of the week.” [Perhaps this author has a different definition for “erotic.” His definition of “ironic” also needs examination.)

    Microsoft Word’s spelling/grammar checker didn’t flag either of these. There’s no substitute (yet) for a live editor.

  2. My father used to tell me he knew who the “Pet Shop Boys” were and how they played sympathizers. In some countries – that is a crime! Actually, if you had to listen to the Pet Shop Boys – that would be a crime in some countries too!

  3. My favorite malapropism: A friend told me he got a ticket for “exhibition of exhilaration.” I threw my hands up in the air and shouted “Whee!” He didn’t get it. I had to tell him he got a ticket in his Corvette for speeding up too fast—for “exhibition of acceleration.”

  4. I think a lot of this stems from a limited vocabulary in daily use. Many of the misused words are not common in speech. That, combined with a general lack of reading these days, means a great many people either don’t know what some of these words are at all or are going on having heard them used but never seen them written.
    Although not quite in the same league, but one that annoys me endlessly, is when people write ‘should of’ instead of ‘should have’.

  5. In a sermon I heard this morning, the priest kept repeating “preservere” for persevere. I think he used the mispronunciation 8 – 10 times. It was an otherwise good sermon, but “preservere” was distracting. I guess a case could be made that one who perseveres is preserving his resoluteness to continue in a struggle or effort — pressing on.

    I hope to submit comments on other issues regarding misuse of words.

  6. 1. Years ago a school principal, who was a nun (a very intelligent lady, by the way) looked at some paper sculptures that hung from a classroom ceiling, and commented: “Those are interesting motels the children made.”

    Making mobiles in elementary art education was an innovation at the time, and I guess the Sister hadn’t stayed at many motels.

    2. My mother was intelligent in many ways, but her highest skills were not in English usage and vocabulary. One evening she thought my father’s making himself a large sandwich between supper and bedtime amounted to gluttony. “Don, you’re so gullible!” she scolded.

    Maybe “gullible” sounds too much like “gobble.”

  7. A radio announcer made me crazy one day by repeatedly asking people to call in and answer the question: “Is Justin Trudeau the epitome of his father Pierre Trudeau?” When I heard it the first time, I thought that someone would rush in and correct him as it was the question of the day and bound to be repeated. But no … it went on and on for the full half-hour.

    I have also heard a newsreader on TV say someone was a “child protegee”

  8. My favorite aunt always talks about far she walked on her threadmill. Don’t have the heart to correct her and I chuckle everytime I hear her say threadmill.

  9. My favorite was when a student in a class on law and the courts told us that picking the cases they would or would not hear was the purgative of the Supreme Court.

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