Bill Long 12/18/04
In the first malaproprism mini-essay, I focused on what might be referred to as "meaning-rich" malapropisms, i.e., those that were not simply cute or amusing but suggestive of deeper and unexpected realities. "Your performance was abdominal," was one of them. In this essay and the next I will divide them into three categories: (1) mixed metaphor malapropisms; (2) humorous malapropisms; and (3) explicitly or implicitly suggestive malapropisms.
Beginning with a Memory
When I was in graduate school, I had an absolutely humorless professor who is now one of the leading experts on what is called Oriental Christianity--the Christianity of the ancient East (meaning East of Palestine). He used to encourage me to study various subjects and often would say, "apropos of X, Bill, you ought to check out the book by Y." I also had a professor who was the leading expert on Judaism in the ancient world. He used to criticize scholars for "making it up as they went along." But, since he is the most prolific author in the world (with probably 1000 books to his credit now), and has a remarkably creative mind, I think he did a good deal of "making it up as he went along." So, now I say, indebted to both of them, "malapropos to word combinations, let me make some things up about malapropisms as I go along."
Mixed Metaphor Malapropisms
1. "Don't bite the hand that lays the golden egg." Cute, and especially helpful if you are trying to give some advice to your child who isn't very receptive to your advice generally.
2. "He is the type that will cut your throat behind your back." Not bad. Especially to be used around political types or those who play the politician in whatever organization they are a part.
3. "Let's get down to brass roots." This was a favorite expression of a seminary professor, who often also quoted the following, which is not really a malaproprism, but deserves some reflection: "We are all ignorant, only in different areas." I like this last one because it turns the contemporary notion of teamwork on its head. That notion tells us that we can make up for each other's deficiencies and make a stronger "team effort." On the contrary, together we make up a picture of broad incompetence.
4. "He's just got too many cats in the fire." I am actually not sure this is a mixed metaphor, but it is great for those who find themselves not fond of furry felines.
This category includes historical malapropisms as well as other humorous malapropisms. I am only going to quote one or two from the beloved category of student bloopers--hastily jotted-down notes of students who really didn't know what they were saying.
1. "There are three types of Greek columns: Doric, Corinthian and Ironic." Since irony is about twisting things, and since the Ionic column is known for its curly volutes, maybe the connection is closer than on first inspection.
2. "During the Napoleonic Wars, the Crowned Heads of Europe were trembling in their shoes." We don't hear many references anymore to the "crowned heads of Europe." I like the line from the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy, before the tornado, visits Professor Marvel, who advertises that he is able to hold converse, through his magical means, with the "Crowned Heads of Europe." Dorothy inquires about his knowledge of them. He looks at her blankly, "You know any?" he inquires.
3. "William Shakespeare wrote tragedies, comedies, and hysterectomies, all in Islamic pentameter." Very cute. Ever since we thought of feet exclusively as things to cover with shoes, we haven't been able to scan a page quite as well.
4. A malapropriate translation of the first line of Caesar's Gallic Wars: "All Gaul is quartered in three halves." Generations of American students studying Latin began their second year by reading Caesar. Mercifully, he has been dropped from most high school and college curricula now. Nevertheless, if Virgil can sing of arms and a man and Homer can invoke the Muses about the anger of Achilles, Caesar can certainly describe Gaul as follows: "Omnia Gallia divisa est in tres partes."
5. "The walls of the medieval Cathedral were supported by flying buttocks." The humor arises from the unexpected last word. When you think of medieval cathedrals and the soaring naves, supported on the outside by the buttresses, your eyes and hearts are meant to be lifted to heaven. In contrast, however, we are plunged deeply back to the earth through this malapropism. It is reminiscent of the pun-joke I learned as a youth. "What happened to the girl who backed into the propeller? Disaster." That is, 'Dis-assed-her.' Even straight-laced people should be laughing by now.
6. Finally, in honor of the 2004 Summer Olympic Games, staged in Greece, the site of the ancient Olympics as well as the first of the modern games in 1896, "They crowned the Olympic victor with garlics in their hair." Instead of taking the laurel wreath, then, we might say, "he strove for the clove."
This is enough for one mini-essay. Let's continue in the next one.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long