We all know that when someone misuses a word, the result can be very humorous, unless of course it is we who have made the blunder, in which case it can be extremely embarrassing. When an incorrect word is used like this, a malapropism is born. Also known as a Dogberryism or a Bushism in the States, the word malapropism ultimately comes from the French “mal à propos” meaning ‘inappropriate’ via “Mrs Malaprop”, a Richard Brinsley Sheridan character from his play ‘The Rivals’ (1775). His was the first fictional character to repeatedly misuse her words to a comedic effect. Later, ‘Officer Dogberry’ from Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado about Nothing’ made similar kinds of errors: “Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two auspicious persons” (i.e., apprehended two suspicious persons).
Of course, it is not just fictional characters that make errors in speech. Some real life malapropisms have attracted a lot of attention because they have been made publicly by politicians or other prominent individuals. The Beatles song titles ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ were both supposedly confused speech uttered by Ringo Starr. Some of the most well-known malapropisms, however, were said by George. W. Bush, who is not exactly known for his way with words. This is why:
1) “This is Preservation Month. I appreciate preservation. It’s what you do when you run for president. You gotta preserve.” – George W. Bush, speaking during “Perseverance Month” at Fairgrounds Elementary School in Nashua, NH, Jan. 28, 2000.
2) “We cannot let terrorists and rogue nations hold this nation hostile or hold our allies hostile.” – George W. Bush, Des Moines, IA, Aug. 21, 2000. (He, of course, was trying to say “hostage.”)
3) “Anyway, I’m so thankful, and so gracious – I’m gracious that my brother Jeb is concerned about the hemisphere as well.” – George W. Bush, June 4, 2001 (We think he was more grateful than gracious.)
4) “I want to remind you all that in order to fight and win the war, it requires an expenditure of money that is commiserate with keeping a promise to our troops to make sure that they’re well-paid, well-trained, well-equipped.” – George W. Bush, Washington, DC, Dec. 15, 2003. (Commiserate means to “sympathize with;” the word the former President was looking for was “commensurate.”)
5) “Oftentimes, we live in a processed world – you know, people focus on the process and not results.” – George W. Bush, Washington, DC, May 29, 2003.
6) “We’ve got hundreds of sites to exploit, looking for the chemical and biological weapons that we know Saddam Hussein had prior to our entrance into Iraq.” – George W. Bush, Santa Clara, CA, May 2, 2003 (He meant “explore,” of course, but apparently had exploiting on his mind.)
The internet is also littered with everyday malapropisms and here are some of the best we have found:
– Fire distinguisher (extinguisher)
– A pigment of my imagination (a figment of my imagination)
– A wolf in cheap clothing (not sheep’s clothing)
– Good punctuation – meaning not to be late
– Michelangelo painted the Sixteenth Chapel
– Minimal wage is apparently the new minimum wage
– For all intensive purposes
– Prawns – the weak pieces in a game of chess
– Turbine – the religious headwear worn by Sikhs (i.e Turbans)
On the opposite side, mondegreens are a result of something being misheard rather than missaid. This happens most often with song lyrics. Here are a few well-known and new examples:
1) “Excuse me while i kiss this guy” – Purple Haze, Jimi Hendrix
2) “There’s a bathroom on the right” – Bad Moon Rising, Creedence Clearwater Revival
3) “The girl with colitis goes by” – Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, The Beatles
4) “Crimean River” – Cry me a River
5) “Very close veins” – varicose veins