Have you ever tried to use a fancy word in a sentence but accidentally replaced it with a completely different word with a similar sound? Don’t be too embarrassed, the same thing happened to many well-known celebrities and even important politicians. These linguistic goofs even have a name: malapropism. The definition of malapropism is using an incorrect word in place of another, especially when the incorrect word sounds similar to the other one.
While most examples of malapropism, and often the funniest ones, are unintentional errors, a malapropism can also technically be a deliberate misuse of a word. In fact, the term itself originates from a play. In Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 1775 give act comedy The Rivals, there is a character called Mrs. Malaprop, who used words incorrectly as a funny quirk. An example of one of her most famous lines is “He is the very pineapple of politeness!” Pineapple is used where the word ‘pinnacle’ should have been. Mrs. Malaprop’s name went on to become the default term for misusing a word, and there are quite a few funny instances of both intentional and accidental malapropism by famous figures and literary characters. Scroll down to see some of the most memorable ones.
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The former US president George W. Bush is remembered for several malapropisms, and even making up a brand new word - “misunderestimate”. Here is one quote in which his use of the wrong word makes the meaning hilariously incorrect: "And 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.”
When boxer Mike Tyson was asked about his future right after losing to Lennox Lewis in 2002, his response was “I guess I’m gonna fade into Bolivian”. Meaning ‘oblivion’ he wasn’t too far off, yet this humorous mistake went down in history as one the funniest famous malaprops.
Being known as the master of language, it’s no surprise that Shakespeare employed quite a few funny malapropisms in his plays. In Much Ado About Nothing, the character of Constable Dogberry uses them so often that ‘Dogberryisn’ has become another name for malapropism. At one point he says “Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two auspicious persons.” In this sentence alone there are two examples of malapropism - He should have said “apprehended,” not “comprehended,” and “suspicious” rather than “auspicious.”
In another instance, the innkeeper Mistress Quickly in Henry IV says that another character was “indited to dinner” rather than “invited”.
Another beloved master of words is Mark Twain. There is a memorable malapropism from his classic novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but it isn’t Huck who makes the mistake but rather Aunt Sally, who says “I was most putrified with astonishment.”
Pop star Justin Bieber was discovered when he was only 13 years old. His rise to stardom happened so quickly and at such a young age, it’s understandable he didn’t have a traditional educational experience. Perhaps that is why he got confused during an interview in 2014 and said he was “detrimental to his own career” when he actually meant instrumental.
Another well-remembered and hilarious mix-up happened when Bieber was interviewed in David Letterman’s late-night show in 2012. Letterman commented that if the singer got any more tattoos, he’d look like the Sistine Chapel. Bieber replied, “I’m not going for the Sixteenth Chapel look.”
Thomas Menino served as the mayor of Boston from 1993 to 2014 which makes him the city’s longest-serving mayor. Being in the public eye for such a long time, one is bound to have some slip-ups of the tongue. Menino once described an unknown person as “a man of great statue in our city.” No, this man didn’t have a statue erected in his honor, Menino just confused the word ‘statue’ with the word ‘stature’.
The late comedian Norm Crosby was so good at intentional malapropisms, they became his signature act. He was even nicknamed the Master of Malaprop. He once instructed his listeners to “listen to the blabbing - instead of “babbling”-brook”.
If you’re in the mood for another typical Crosby malaprop joke, he also uttered the sentence “When my dad was explaining the facts of life to me, he drew me a big diaphragm”.
Gib Lewis served as Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives for 10 years between 1983 and 1993. On one occasion Lewis has supposedly said “This is unparalyzed in the state’s history.” We are not sure exactly what he was talking about but it's safe to assume he meant to say 'Unparalleled'.
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