A malapropism is the use of an incorrect word in place of a similarly sounding correct word. The name comes from the character Mrs. Malaprop, from The Rivals, a comedic play by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. The character has numerous lines that illustrate the blunder that would become her namesake. Here is some of her dialogue:
- "She's as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile."
- "He is the very pineapple of politeness."
- "Illiterate him, I say, quite from your memory."
- "If I reprehend any thing in this world, it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs!"
- "She would have a supercilious knowledge in accounts, and, as she grew up, I would have her instructed in geometry, that she might know something of the contagious countries. This . . . is what I would have a woman know; and I don't think there is a superstitious article in it."
The above malapropisms, of course, were engineered for comic effect, but inadvertent malapropisms can be just as humorous. These were taken from college essays:
- "Parents try to install these virtues in their children."
- "He became affluent in French, Italian, Latin, and Greek."
- "My parents are alike and indifferent to each other."
- "I like to play records on my pornograph."
Here's one taken from an article written by a college freshman:
- "Freshmen who inhibit the dorms see next semester as their chance to...."
A special type of malapropism is only unmasked in writing. It involves confusing one homonym with another. Consider the following:
- "The extra money is worth spending to keep my piece of mind."
- "The rooms downstairs were too cold for me to bare."