Malapropisms for a Monday Morning

A malapropism is the (usually) unintentionally humorous misuse or distortion of a word or phrase. It includes the use of a word which sounds somewhat like the one intended but very wrong in the context. This is one of the funniest vehicles to portray a character who is clueless or misinformed.

The terms malapropism and the earlier variant malaprop come from Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 1775 play The Rivals, and in particular the character Mrs. Malaprop. Sheridan presumably named his character Mrs. Malaprop, who frequently misspoke (to great comic effect), in joking reference to the word malapropos.

The alternative term “Dogberryism” comes from the 1598 Shakespearean play Much Ado About Nothing in which the character Dogberry produces many malapropisms with humorous effect.

So the malapropism has been around for a few hundred years or so, and is still as populace as ever!

Here are some by famous (sort of) people:

  • “Republicans understand the importance of bondage between a mother and child.” (Dan Quayle)
  • “We cannot let terrorists and rogue nations hold this nation hostile or hold our allies hostile.” (George W. Bush)
  • “It is beyond my apprehension.” (Danny Ozark, baseball team manager)
  • “This is unparalyzed in our state’s history.” (Gib Lewis, Texas Speaker of the House)
  • “Gentlemen, get this straight once and for all—the policeman isn’t there to create disorder, the policeman is there to preserve disorder.” (Richard Daley, former Chicago mayor)
  • “He was a man of great statue.” (Thomas Menino, Boston mayor)

Ringo Starr was famous for his malapropisms which became Beatle’s songs:

  • “Tomorrow never knows”
  • “It’s Been a Hard Days Night”
  • “Eight Days a Week”

 Archie Bunker was known for malapropisms of all kinds:

  • “A witness shall not bear falsies against thy neighbor.”
  • “The hookeries and massageries…the whole world is turning into a regular Sodom and Glocca Morra.”
  • “Off-the-docks Jews.”
  • “A woman doctor is only good for women’s problems…like your groinocology.”
  • “I ain’t a man of carnival instinctuals like you.”
  • “All girls go cockeyed during pooberescency.”
  • “A menstrual show.” (minstrel)
  • “Irene Lorenzo, Queen of the Women’s Lubrication Movement.”
  • “Buy one of them battery operated transvestite radios.”
  • “In her elastic stockings, next to her very close veins.”
  • “Last will and tentacle…”
  • “Patience is a virgin.”
  • “A Polack art exhibit!” (Jackson Pollock)
  • “As youse people say, Sh-boom.” (Shalom)
  • “A kuzeeknee.” (zucchini)
  • “In closing, I’d like to say Molotov!” (Mazel Tov)

The Sopranos:

  • “He was prostate with grief.” (Tony Soprano)
  • “Create a little dysentery among the ranks.” (Christopher Moltisanti) 
  • “He could technically not have penisary contact with her volvo.” (Tony Soprano to Jennifer Melfi)
  • “There’s no stigmata connected with going to a shrink.” (Carmine Lupertazzi Jr.) 

Ricky (Robb Wells) from Trailer Park Boys has many well known malapropisms, known by fans of the show as “Rickyisms”. Here are a few:

  • “Get two birds stoned at once.”
  • “Worst case ontario.”
  • “I’m not a pessimist, I’m an optometrist.”
  • “Survival of the fitness.”
  • “Passed with flying carpets.”
  • What comes around, is all around.”
  • “It’s clear to see who makes the pants here.”
  • “Tempus fuck it.” (Tempus fugit)
  • “It doesn’t take rocket appliances…”

Of unknown origin:

  • “He had to use a fire distinguisher.”
  • “Dad says the monster is just a pigment of my imagination.”
  • “That looks like an expensive pendulum around that man’s neck.”
  • “Good punctuation means not to be late.”
  • “He’s a wolf in cheap clothing.”
  • “Michelangelo painted the Sixteenth Chapel.”
  • “My sister has extra-century perception.”
  • “’Don’t’ is a contraption.”
  • “Flying saucers are just an optical conclusion.”
  • “A rolling stone gathers no moths.”
  • “Their father was some kind of civil serpent.”
  • “The flood damage was so bad they had to evaporate the city.”
  • “Well, that was a cliff-dweller!”

As coined by various members of my family:

  • “He must be rich, he lives in a high-rise condom.”
  • “She went to an ivy-covered college.”
  • “He plays the cello in the Philharmonica.”
  • “He has to have surgery on his coroded artery.”

Got a favorite malapropism to contribute?







11 thoughts on “Malapropisms for a Monday Morning

  1. What an interesting and fun post. I’m not surprised to find George Bush accidentally using a malapropism. 😉 You highlighted one of my favorites: I’m surprised by how many people confuse “prostrate” with “prostate.” Quite a big difference between the two! Also, in keeping with my medical side, I often hear “pneumonia” replaced by “ammonia.”

  2. Lynn, these are great. Yes I have a favorite. I don’t like to admit to this because it’s so embarrassing, but hey…nothing like throwing yourself under a bus.
    I was in a meeting with the big boss (not the little one) and I was turning over my position as Staff Support Committee Chair person after two years of service. My boss asked me what my favorite part of being on the committee was, and without skipping a beat I said, “I like how it brought staff together. Sometimes we’d just sit around and cut the cheese.”

    As soon as it came out of my mouth I knew it was wrong. Needless to say, the big boss and I both enjoyed a good laugh. I also threatened to have him offed if he ever repeated what I said;)

    • Leah, that’s so funny. The best way to recover from something like that which slips out is to just laugh about it. Sometimes we’d like to take some words and stuff them back in our mouths, but sounds like you had a good enough relationship with the big boss to just enjoy it.

    • One can only assume what the definition of “ovaryacting” is! It might be a malapropism while reading the word, when you see the spelling, but actually sounds the same as the word it replaces when spoken. I hadn’t heard this before.

  3. I love deliberate malapropisms. I often invent them, though couldn’t come up with one now if my life defended upon it.

    I really enjoy watching the evolution of the vernacular-becomes-language as it is happening. My mom used to use the old-timers saying to diffuse what I in my turn now call a brain cramp and we always laughed along with her – and then laughed again and always used the phrase to describe her condition when she got the dreaded condition. Nonsense can keep us sane through the tough tines of a fork in the road.

    • Hi Sharon. I think malapropisms are a high form of comedy, when the person saying it is intended to come off as clueless. The “tough tines”? That’s great! Thanks for commenting. .

  4. Pingback: Stop Pulling Your Hair Out – Steps to Easy E-formatting | Lynn Schneider Books

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