Bill Long 12/17/04
A Pleasurable Hour in a Busy Season
After writing two serious essays today, I thought I needed a more light-hearted one, and so I decided to study some Malapropisms. The word is not a classical one, being derived from a Mrs. Malaprop in a 1775 play who was remarkable for her misuse of words. A classical synonym, if you want one, would be cacosyntheton (literally "incorrect connection" or "bad placement"), which refers both to an awkward transposition of words as well as any kind of incorrect connection of words. Some definitions suggest that malapropisms must be unintentional misuses of words, but I think that inventing malapropisms can be almost as much fun as activities people usually account as really great fun.
Before giving you six of my all-time favorite malapropisms on this page and some more on the next, I would like to comment on the "shadow side" of malapropisms. They are often used by people who do not know better and so are, like a misused "I" instead of "me," indicative of meager education or, to put it in economic terms, of educational "striving"--trying, usually unsuccessfully, to keep up with the educated Joneses. I think it would be a real challenge to develop very sophisticated malapropropisms that may be understood by very educated people to be signs that you are slipping or just not really "up there" in their stratosphere of knowledge--such as slightly misquoting Latin phrases. "Illegitimi non carburetor."
A different kind of way to use Latin cleverly is as follows: "As he punched her in the nose he said, 'that fallacy you just committed was a quid hoc ergo popter hoc fallacy." [that is, "popping" her in the nose while mistaking propter for popter]. This would be a more obvious one.
To the Malapropisms
The ones I like best are those that import a truth even as they misrepresent the supposedly correct words. That is, I really don't get a charge out of "He had to use a fire distinguisher" or "she had extra-century perception," because they don't seem to point to a deeper truth. So, let's get to some richer malapropisms.
1. "He had to give up reading the student papers as they were simply abdominal." I think that if you spend too much time reading poorly crafted books, articles or papers you can tend to become sick to your stomach. Thus, the confusion of abominable for abdominal is a great malapropism for me. I thunk this one up myself.
2. "The team really plummeted to the top of the rankings." Many sports people know that an early season (or even later season) # 1 ranking can be the kiss of death for a team. People get overconfident. They begin to read their press clippings. They think they are untouchable. Thus, being # 1, especially in a college basketball poll, is a harbinger of plummeting quite far down the list.
3. "By submitting the pleading too late, the lawyer ran afoul of the Statute of Lamentations." When I first began to practice law, I was repeatedly warned to avoid that most basic of issues facing lawyers: not submitting papers on time. By failing to be timely, you can not only lose your case but you can become subject to a malpractice action or a discipinary proceeding. Thus, the statute of limitations, which tells you how much time you have to file a claim, can become the Statute of Lamentations, where you weep and wail and gnash your teeth if you violate it.
4. "Do you mean to tell me you have a photogenic memory?" This was a line spoken to me by a secretary in Kansas when I told her I had unusual capacities with memory. She was actually making a mistake: I don't think she was trying to deliberately use a malapropism. But her mistake is suggestive, isn't it? Many people who are very bright think that their brain ought to be given to science. Then "science" can photograph it and dissect it all it wants. Maybe the brain will even be photogenic.
5. When ordering a salad, he said, "Be sure to load it up with neutrons." Of course, croutons is meant, but with the diet crazes that fill our lives today, with the special concern for how our food is "bombarded" or "injected" with all kinds of unheathful things, and when you realize that croutons are themselves not the most healthy thing you can put on a salad, then you can see this line as a sort of resigned recognition that everything you eat is probably killing you.
6. "Having one wife is called monotony." Oh, that hits a little too close to home for most people. I do not know how many people still have happy marriages after 25 years, but I imagine that of all marriages, possibly 80-90% are not happy or are stale after that time (this includes the 50% that terminate in divorce). I know several people, however, for whom their second marriages are very happy, and that is encouraging. Yet, the rule of thumb is monotony. The big question, then, is whether duty, inertia, "THE KIDS," or financial considerations keep most people together. Can we do better? Maybe I better stop here....
I will need one more page to give you the rest.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long