Sheridan’s 18th century play, The Rivals, featured a hilarious character called Mrs Malaprop, who was apt to drop a verbal clanger whenever she opened her mouth. That’s where we get the word malapropism from, though its real origin is in the French phrase mal à propos, meaning inopportune or not to the purpose.
When someone uses a malapropism, it’s because:
- they’ve used a word that was not what they intended, given the context
- the word used sounds similar to the one intended
- the word used actually means something different (in other words, it’s not a made up word)
Malapropisms are often the same part of speech, begin or end in the same way or have the same rhythm when spoken.
Here are a few malapropisms. Feel free to add a few of your own in the comments thread.
From The Rivals
- “He’s as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile.” (alligator)
- “He is the very pineapple of politeness.” (pinnacle)
- “I am sorry to say, Sir Anthony, that my affluence over my niece is very small.” (influence)
- “I thought she had persisted from corresponding with him;” (desisted)
- “Make no delusions to the past.” (allusions)
From The Other Pages
- Damp weather is very hard on the sciences. (sinuses)
- Having one wife is called monotony. (monogamy)
- A rolling stone gathers no moths. (moss)