English Literature


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Exploring the Intriguing World of Malapropisms

In spoken and written language, malapropisms - the incorrect use of a word that sounds similar to another - can result in amusing or awkward situations. But have you ever wondered why famous writers intentionally incorporate these "mistakes" into their texts?

The term "malapropism" originated from the French phrase "Mal à propos", meaning inappropriate. It gained prominence from the character Mrs. Malaprop in Richard Brinsley Sheridan's play The Rivals (1775) who constantly mixes up words, leading to comical situations. Over time, the term became synonymous with this type of wordplay.

There are two types of malapropisms - classical and temporary/accidental. Classical malapropisms occur when the speaker genuinely confuses the meaning of a word with its form. For instance, Mrs. Malaprop, a self-educated character, mistakenly uses "pineapple" instead of "pinnacle". On the other hand, temporary slips of the tongue happen due to memory glitches or associations of ideas.

Some famous examples of malapropism come from Mrs. Malaprop's speech in The Rivals. In one instance, she humorously explains to Sir Anthony how she believes young women should be educated, but her words are riddled with malapropisms. For example, she uses "supercilious" instead of "superficial", "geometry" instead of "geography", "contagious" instead of "continental", "orthodoxy" instead of "orthography", and "reprehend" instead of "comprehend". In another scene, when arranging for her niece to meet a potential suitor, Mrs. Malaprop suggests the man should view her as "not altogether illegible", confusing the word with "ineligible".

William Shakespeare, also known for his wit and clever wordplay, is another author who used malapropisms in his plays. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, the character Bottom, a weaver, makes several amusing malapropisms, such as using "obscenely" instead of "obscurely". Similarly, in Twelfth Night, Olivia's drunken uncle Sir Toby Belch mistakenly uses "lethargy" instead of "lechery". Even in his tragic play Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare incorporates this literary device through Juliet's nurse, who confuses "confidence" for "conference".

In conclusion, famous authors throughout history have utilized malapropisms to add humor and depth to their works. While these "mistakes" may bring about moments of laughter or embarrassment, their true purpose is to entertain and engage the reader through clever wordplay.

An Exploration of Malapropisms

One of the famous examples of a spoonerism is often attributed to Rev. William Archibald Spooner when he mistakenly said, "kinquering congs their titles take" instead of "conquering kings their titles take". However, many of the spoonerisms popularly associated with him can actually be traced back to an article titled "Spooneriana" published in The Strand Magazine in 1911.

The Root of Malapropisms

What causes malapropisms? It is believed that they occur when someone unintentionally uses a word with a similar sound to the intended word. This can happen due to a variety of factors, such as fatigue, speaking too quickly, or the brain momentarily confusing synonyms. In other words, the speaker may be thinking of one thing while saying something else entirely.

Understanding Malapropisms and Eggcorns

Studies suggest that malapropisms can occur due to the way the brain organizes vocabulary based on frequency of use and similarities. When someone is tired or under stress, their phonological functions may mix up form and sound, leading to a malapropism. Frequent use of malapropisms can also be indicative of anxiety.

Eggcorns, on the other hand, involve altering a part of a word or phrase to create a new, often humorous, meaning. For example, turning "social leper" into "social leopard" adds a predatory twist to the phrase. Other examples include "pass mustard" instead of "pass muster" and "old wise tale" instead of "old wives' tale."

What sets an eggcorn apart from a malapropism is that the former has a logical connection to the original word or phrase, while the latter may simply resemble another word with no logical connection. And why is it called an eggcorn? Because the word itself resembles the shape of an acorn, a nut often shaped like an egg.

The Key Takeaways of Malapropisms

  • Malapropisms occur when a word is mistakenly used instead of the intended one.
  • They can be used intentionally for comedic effect.
  • Malapropisms can result from confusion between form and meaning, fatigue, fast speech, or anxiety.
  • The term "malapropism" comes from the French phrase "Mal à propos," meaning inappropriate.
  • A malapropism differs from a spoonerism, which involves swapping the initial letters or syllables of words.

How to Properly Use Malapropisms

When using the term malapropism, it is important to keep in mind that it refers to the mistake itself and not the actual word used in place of the correct one. For example, "Barbarous monster! how have I deserved that my passion should be resulted and treated with ironing?" from Joseph Andrews by Fielding is considered a malapropism, but "ironing" is the incorrect word used, not "irony."

Here are some other famous examples of malapropisms:

  • "I do not want to run the risk of ruining what is a lovely recession" (reception) - George W. Bush
  • "Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two auspicious persons." (apprehended) - Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing
  • "I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!" (virtue) - Barry Goldwater

It is important to remember that malapropisms are not the same as spoonerisms. A spoonerism occurs when the initial letters or syllables of two or more words are swapped, resulting in a different meaning. For instance, "wedding bells" becoming "bedding wells" is a spoonerism.

In Conclusion

To sum up, malapropisms are errors that happen when one word is mistakenly used instead of another. They can be used intentionally for humor, but they can also occur unintentionally due to various factors. It is crucial to differentiate between malapropisms and spoonerisms, as they are distinct forms of wordplay. So the next time you hear a malapropism, remember to appreciate the uniqueness and humor of this linguistic phenomenon.

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