Malapropism? Wait a sec. You Said that Wrong . . .

Often used intentionally for comic relief, a malapropism occurs when the wrong word is used for a similar sounding word. One of the most famous examples of this occurred in 2002 when Mike Tyson was asked what his future held for him. He replied, “I might just fade into Bolivian.” Obviously, he meant “oblivion.” Pretty sure the slip was not intentional. Poor guy. Let’s just hope “Bolivian” has been good to him.

What is Malapropism?

Malapropism is a literary device used when the wrong word is used in place of a similar sounding word. Malapropism is also called a “dogberryism” after the character Dogberry in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing because he frequently says the wrong thing. Typically, this is done intentionally for comic effect, but it does frequently happen unintentionally as well.

How to pronounce Malapropism ?

Malapropism is pronounced ma·luh·praa·pi·zm from the mal à propos, which literally translates to “bad for the purpose.”

When do writers use Malapropism?

Writers almost always use malapropisms to introduce humor into their dialogue and story. Of course, the occasional accident does happen, and these are always the funniest examples of malapropism.

Malapropism in Literature 📚

Leave it to Shakespeare, the master of words himself, to be the one credited with the creation of the malapropism through his character Dogberry. In truth, malapropisms came into being through Richard Brinsley’s character, Mrs. Malaprop, in his 1775 comedic play, The Rivals. Some of the greatest examples of malapropism are listed below.

Richard Brinsley, Mrs. Malaprop in The Rivals

“She’s as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile.”

He is the very pineapple of politeness!”

We can only hope she meant “alligator” instead of “allegory” and “pinnacle” instead of “pineapple.”

Shakespeare, Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing – 

“Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two auspicious persons.”

In this spectacular Dogberryism, he meant to say “apprehended” and “suspicious,” but you see what happened.

Another shining literary example is Mark Twain’s, Aunt Sally in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – “I was most putrified with astonishment.” Hopefully, she meant to say “petrified.”

And in Pop Culture 🎥

Surprisingly, celebrities and politicians have gained a reputation for the accidental malapropism. I wonder how many people have called them on it? Hmmm . . .

Here some great ones:

  • Yogi Berra to George W. Bush – “Texas has a lot of electrical (electoral) votes.”
  • When David Letterman remarked to Justin Bieber if he got any more tattoos, he’d look like the Sistine Chapel, Bieber said, “I’m not going for the Sixteenth Chapel look.”
  • George W. Bush – “We cannot let terrorists and rogue nations hold this nation hostile (hostage) or hold our allies hostile (hostage).” I guess when you’re wrong, stick with it.
  • Dan Qualye – Republicans understand the importance of bondage (bonds) between mother and child.”
  • And who can forget Sarah Palin – In a Fox news interview, she said, ”I- I haven’t heard the president say that we are at war… do we use the term ‘intervention’, do we use ‘war’, do we w- use uh squirmish (skirmish), what is it? She did it again in a Twitter post when she posted, “Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate.” We’re not so sure she knew what that word meant.

Malapropism in TV and Media 📺

Johnny Soprano in The Sopranos – “She’s like an albacore (albatross) around my neck.”Archie Bunker in All in the Family – “I ain’t a man of carnival instinctuals (carnal instincts) like you.

Comedian Norm Crosby – “I always keep Natural Light Beer on hand while I watch these athletes perspiring (aspiring) to achieve victory, ’cause these sporting computations (competitions) make me so dehybernated.”

And please enjoy this bit from The Office

“It has a bit of an oaky afterbirth.” – Michael

Wait. What? And just when you think he’s done, he’s really not . . .

Similar to Malapropism 👥

  • Like malapropisms, spoonerisms can also create some funny mix-ups. Spoonerisms do not replace words like malapropisms, but they are often confused because spoonerisms hilariously mix up words. Examples are: “I apologize occifer” and “Let’s go goys and birls.”