• malapropism •
mæ-lê-prahp-i-zêm • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A homophone or near homophone (word that sounds like another) of the word intended, curiously out of place in the sentence in which it occurs.
Notes: As you might expect, someone given to committing malapropisms is a malapropist because of their malapropistic (the adjective) expressions. Composer Leonard Bernstein was speaking malapropistically (the adverb) when he claimed to be suffering from a 'psychosemitic' illness.
In Play: Let us begin at the source, Mrs. Malaprop's malapropisms (see Word History):
"[P]romise to forget this fellow—to illiterate him, I say, quite from your memory."
"I would have her instructed in geometry, that she might know something of the contagious countries."
Here are a few others from various fictional and nonfictional characters: ". . .Vito's passing, and all that that entrails." —Tony Soprano
"We cannot let terrorists and rogue nations hold this nation hostile or hold our allies hostile." —George W. Bush
"Republicans understand the importance of the bondage between a mother and child." —Dan Quayle, former US Vice President
"Marlow quickly plummeted to the top and now is at the very pineapple of his career." —Source unknown
Word History: Today's Good Word is a commonization of the surname of Mrs. Malaprop, a character in Richard Sheridan's comedy "The Rivals". Mrs. Malaprop was noted for using wrong words, but words that made sense in a humorous way. Sheridan, who was wonderful at creating funny but appropriate names, derived her name from the French phrase mal à propos "inappropriate". Mrs. Malaprop thus is the eponym of malapropism. (I would not speak mal à propos myself in saying that we owe a debt of gratitude to Daniel Cross for suggesting today's humorously Good Word.)
Credits: Mary Louise Wilson as Ms. Malaprop in Huntington Theater Company's 'The Rivals'. Photo: T. Charles Erickson.