Have you ever mistakenly used the completely wrong word while speaking, causing weird looks or perhaps laughter? Well, you’re not alone – celebrities, politicians and well-known fictional characters do it too. And in case you didn’t know, there’s a name for these linguistic goofs: “malapropisms.”
What is a malapropism?
A malapropism is the use of an incorrect word in place of another, especially when the incorrect word sounds similar to the correct one. While most malapropism examples, and often the best funny malapropisms, are unintentional errors, a malapropism can technically be a deliberate misuse of a word, too. Here are our favourite examples of famous, funny malapropisms.
For more linguistic fun, check out these words you didn’t know were palindromes.
The mother of malapropisms
The term “malapropism” itself actually comes from a character called Mrs. Malaprop, from The Rivals, a 1775 five-act comedy by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Mrs. Malaprop did, in fact, use words incorrectly as a funny quirk of her character. Her name became the default term for misusing a word. Her name, in turn, comes from the French mal à propos, or “inappropriate.” Here are a couple of Mrs. Malaprop’s malapropism examples:
“He is the very pineapple of politeness!” Pineapple?! She subbed in this fruit name for “pinnacle.”
“She’s as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile.” As far as we know, allegories don’t spend time around rivers – she was going for “alligator.”