A Slip Of The Lip

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It’s easy to trip up when speaking or writing, but what do you call the results when you do?  A few weeks ago, I wrote about eggcorns. These are errors in which people guess wrongly the meaning, origin and spelling of certain expressions. An example would be writing or saying ‘flaw in the ointment’ instead of ‘fly in the ointment’.

Another error, made famous by Sheridan’s Mrs Malaprop, is the malapropism. If you mean to say one thing, but use a similar sounding word that means something completely different, then that’s what you’ve done. Example: A rolling stone gathers no moths. (moss)

Similar to an eggcorn, but usually taking place with songs and poems, is the mondegreen. In the song The Bonny Earl of Murray, the line ‘(hae laid) him on the green’ was misconstrued as ‘Lady Mondegreen’. Other examples of mondegreens, collected by journalist Jon Carroll, include:

  • Climb Every Woman (I’m Every Woman, by Chaka Khan)
  • I Was Barney Rubble (I Was Born A Rebel, by Tom Petty)
  • Falling on my head like a newt in motion (falling on my head like a new emotion, from Here Comes The Rain Again, Eurythmics)

Many more mondegreens are available here (Update: SFGate article no longer online).

Finally, spoonerisms result from transposing the initial sounds of words. Named after clergyman William Archibald Spooner, the resulting words usually provoke gales of laughter. Examples from Spooner himself include:

  • It is now kisstomary to cuss the bride. (customary to kiss the bride)
  • You have tasted two worms (wasted two terms)
  • Our Lord is a shoving leopard (loving shepherd)

Many more Spoonerisms are available on Fun with Words.

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9 thoughts on “A Slip Of The Lip”

  1. I always used to think this certain expression was:

    “If you think that, you’ve got another thing coming.”

    Then I read a Garfield comic strip many years ago that said:

    “If you think that, you’ve got another _think_ coming.”

    I’m pretty sure that I’m that wrong one and that I committed a malapropism.

  2. I am particularly prone to spoonerisms. Some are funny, some stupid; some go unnoticed when I talk to fast and some draw attention; sometimes I swear and sometimes I misspeak — all completely out of my control.

    It stopped embarrassing me years ago, though. I’m finally used to it.

  3. Sometimes when I talk my brain decides at the last minute to exchange the word with a similar word but my mouth says a combination of both because it’s too late for me to change it.

    What is it called when you mixed two similar words into one word?

    Such as stummy? (A mix between stomach and tummy)

    Or Muddle? (Mud/puddle)

  4. @ Trisha: I’m pretty sure that one’s on the list; I’ve said a few myself. 🙂

    @ JuwBagel and Liz: It’s easy to do; for me, it happens when I speak quickly, as if my mouth hasn’t caught up with my brain.

  5. With the misheard song lyrics listed, I’m reminded of a great website called “Kiss This Guy” ( ), where people write in and share the stories of their lyrical errors. Of course, the website title is a play on the Jimi Hendrix line “Kiss the sky”….

  6. Is there a term for combined “old saws”? I once heard a public figure say, “They’ll be sorry when the cows come to roost.” I loved the mental picture that produced. Then I went further and came up with a sort of corollary. “The chickens came home to roost and they’d all put on weight!”

  7. There is a very popular expression: “down to earth”. It means, a realist, but everywhere people use this word for describing someone’s humble attitude. Why is that so?

  8. A favorite malapropism from the TV show Friends: Joey is talking about a disagreement that is in the past and says, “Anyway, it’s a moo point now.” Chandler stops and asks, ” A ‘MOO’ point?” Joey nods, “Yeah, you know, it’s like a cow’s opinion; it doesn’t matter.”

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