Posted by: Jack Henry | January 24, 2014

Editor’s Corner: Malapropisms

Call them malapropisms, phonological word substitutions, or Dogberryisms, these amusing slips of the tongue seem like a good topic for a Friday afternoon. Here is a brief history of the malapropism from Literary Devices, followed by some examples from literature, television, and other sources.

Malapropism, from French mal a propos (inappropriate), is a use of an incorrect word in place of a similar sounding word that results in a nonsensical and humorous expression.

The word malapropism comes from “Mrs. Malaprop,” a character in Richard Sheridan’s comedy The Rivals, who has a habit of replacing words with incorrect and absurd utterances producing a humorous effect. A mis-speech is considered malapropism when it sounds similar to the word it replaces but has an entirely different meaning. For instance, replacing acute with obtuse is not a malapropism because both words have a contrasting meanings but do not sound similar. Using obtuse for abstruse, on the other hand, is a malapropism, as there is a difference in meaning and both words sound similar.

These characteristics make malapropism different from other errors in speech such as eggcorns and spoonerisms.

Note: “Dogberryism” is a synonym for malapropism. The name comes from Officer Dogberry in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, who often makes this type of error.


· "He is the very pineapple of politeness."(pinnacle) – Mrs. Malaprop in Richard Sheridan’s The Rivals)

· Officer Dogberry said, "Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two auspicious persons" (apprehended two suspicious persons)

· "The police are not here to create disorder, they’re here to preserve disorder." – Richard Daley, former mayor of Chicago

· "Texas has a lot of electrical votes." (electoral votes) – Yogi Berra

· "Well, that was a cliff-dweller." (cliff-hanger) – Wes Westrum

· "Create a little dysentery among the ranks." (dissension) – Christopher Moltisanti from "The Sopranos"

· "Last will and tentacle…" (testament) – Archie Bunker from "All in the Family"

· "In closing, I’d like to say Molotov!" (Mazel Tov) – Archie Bunker from "All in the Family"

· "It will take time to restore chaos and order." – George W. Bush

Unattributed examples:

· Rainy weather can be hard on the sciences. (sinuses)

· Alice said she couldn’t eat crabs or any other crushed Asians. (crustaceans)

· You could have knocked me over with a fender. (feather)

· Unfortunately, my affluence over my niece is very small. (influence)

· A rolling stone gathers no moths. (moss)

· Good punctuation means not to be late. (punctuality)

· The flood damage was so bad they had to evaporate the city. (evacuate)

· Dad says the monster is just a pigment of my imagination. (figment)

· Everybody in the company has their own cuticle. (cubicle)

· I remember because I have photogenic memory. (photographic)

These examples and others can be found at and Your Dictionary.

Kara Church

Senior Technical Editor

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

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