Bill Long 12/18/04
Other All-purpose Humorous Malapropisms
The common characteristic of all these is that they are funny. Some of them might be suggestive of deeper realities, though that isn't a requisite.
1. "His father is a civil serpent." Well, maybe this does have a suggestively deep meaning. Those who have worked closely with various layers of government sometimes discover that these selfless civil servants pursue their own agendas.
2. "The ball was thrown so hard that it almost decapitated his hand." No comment needed.
3. "The game is a real cliff-dweller." I love this one because of its ability to take us out of one world and plunk us down in another one immediately and unexpectedly. I guess the word "cliff-hanger" to denote a "nail-biting" game came from the desperate situation of one who is hanging precariously by the hands. Yet, we all have seen those "National Geographic-type" photos of ancient (and some modern) societies where people live in cliffs. Sometimes people live there to avoid advancing armies, as the Jews did to avoid the Romans in 70 C.E. In any case, the use of two syllables "dweller," takes us immediately from the game and plunges us into our anthropology class.
4. "When I went over the requirements of the class, the students hung on every syllabus." Especially true among law students who still, to this day, are ranked in most law schools. These rankings, based on hair-splitting determinations that are anything other than "objective," often affect the options that some students have upon graduation. Thus, law students are especially attentive when I go over the requirements of the class, written and distributed in my syllabus.
5. Another law-related malapropism. "An oral contract isn't worth the paper it's printed on." Oral contracts are valid under the law.
6. For those who are trying to be more culturally literate but just happen to come up short. "Many Muslims wear turbines on their heads." No wonder Islam has taken off in the last few hundred years.
7. "The package didn't arrive for Christmas because it was sent partial post." That is reminiscent of the one-liner, now about 40 years old--"And now the sports scores. 6-4, 8-1, and, oh, here's a close one...5-4, and, we have a partial score, Cincinnati 3...."
8. And, one more classical allusion. "Socrates died from an overdose of wedlock." Or, as you might say when discussing the affairs of the Hemlock Society, "I'll drink to that..."
9. "By the time of his retirement he had almost reached the pineapple of perfection." You wonder if he was a prickly and spiky guy, too.
The following two were told me by my law partner Barnes Ellis, one of Oregon's top litigators, when I was at Stoel Rives from 2000-03. He recalled both of them from speeches he had heard.
10. In an awards ceremony. "Tom deserves this award because of his meretricious service to the organization." A "meretricious relationship" is one that was, until about 40 years ago, contrasted with a "committed" or "married" relationship. It was "just for the sex" so to speak. There are two people in such a relationship, and the traditional way of looking at it was to see it as a boon for the man and a bane for the woman [but is that true?] So, in this sentence, if Tom is the "male" and the organization is the "female," then Tom is taking advantage of the organization. If it is reversed, Tom is prostituting himself. Ah, maybe there is more truth here than might first meet the eye.
11. "She is not merely the ultimate. She is the penultimate." There is a little confusion here. I think the speaker was trying to say that she was beyond the ultimate, something like we mean when we say, "She gave 110% to the job" [I have never figured out how that was possible, but that is the way people talk]. But, the word penultimate is derived from the Greek and means "second to last." The penult is the second to last syllable in a Greek work. "You put the grave accent on the penult."
Let's conclude this page with a malapropism that came right out of the mouth of Mrs. Malaprop in 1775. She described someone in the play as "headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile." But this, for some strange reason, calls to mind the stereotypical presentation of African-Americans in movies from the 1930s. One was going to sue another. He was going to go to his lawyer. "I am going to my lawyer to give my Old Tomato in this case."
The next page returns to some more meaning-rich malapropisms.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long