Words we love: malapropisms and other verbal bloopers
By Tara Crean, Editorial Consultant
Everyone loves a verbal slip-up or an unintentionally funny blunder. We chuckle when we remember the late BBC sports commentator David Coleman, who brought us gems like: ‘That’s the fastest time ever run, but it’s not as fast as the world record.’ And we smirk when we recall baseball ace Yogi Berra, who coined classics including: ‘It’s like déjà vu all over again.’
But my favourite has to be the malapropism: a verbal misstep in which a word is substituted with another that sounds similar but means something entirely different.
The word comes from Richard Sheridan’s grande dame, Mrs Malaprop, in his 1775 play The Rivals. When she declares another character ‘the very pineapple of politeness’, she clearly means pinnacle. It’s daft, and a rather obvious gag. But it also shines a light on her pompous nature: a know-it-all who believes she’s an authority on language, manners and diction. And it also tells us that she’s desperately trying to disguise her lack of education. So malapropisms can be very revealing.
What was ex-VP Dan Quayle really telling us when he said: “Republicans understand the importance of bondage between a mother and child.”?
Mostly, though, they’re just gently amusing. Decapitated coffee, anyone? Feel like drinking yourself into Bolivia after a tough week? Maybe you’re a desiccated follower of fashion?
But the prize goes to George Dubya. “There is distrust in Washington. I am surprised, frankly, at the amount of distrust that exists in this town. And I’m sorry it’s the case, and I’ll work hard to try to elevate it.” Or maybe that wasn’t a malapropism at all.