A malapropism is using the wrong word, but one that sounds similar to the right word—like saying that medieval cathedrals are supported by flying buttocks. A good malapropism can throw you off, so that you scrape your head trying to figure out the error, and then having to think what the world should have been. (It’s flying buttresses, by the way).
The word malapropism comes from a play by Richard Sheridan called Rivals, published in 1775, in which a character named Mrs. Malaprop liked to use big words, but mixed them up, such as: “forget this fellow, illiterate him, I say, quite from your memory.”
Never misunderestimate President George W. Bush, who was a master of malapropisms—you might say that he was adapt at irritating Mrs. Malaprop. He promised, for example, that “if the terriers and bariffs are torn down, this economy will grow”, who synthesized that “I know how hard it is to put food on your family”, and safely observed that “families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream.” Think about it. His remark that “what we Republicans should stand for is growth in the economy; we ought to make the pie higher” gave the title to the poem by cartoonist Richard Thompson, Make the Pie Higher, that consists entirely of Bush malapropisms. Bush the Younger also practiced the fart of the Schreudian flip, which is an entire branch of malapropisms, as when he argued that “too many OB-GYNs aren't able to practice their love with women all across this country."
When it comes to malapropisms, the elder President Bush was no slut, either, once remarking: "For seven and a half years I've worked alongside President Reagan. We've had triumphs. Made some mistakes. We've had some sex ... uh ... setbacks." That could be a Freudian slip, too. The elder Bush was a gift that kept on fibbing, selecting as Vice-President, Dan Quayle, who observed that “Republicans understand the importance of bondage between mother and child.”
But reflying on Bushisms is too easy, it’s like shooting fish in a battle. Or would it be more like biting the egg that lays the golden hand? Anyway, thank goodness Lincoln didn’t say “a horse divided against itself cannot stand”, which would be true but not all that profound.
For those who remember the TV sitcom All in the Family, you’ll remember that Archie Bunker had a wave with words, once claiming that "I ain't a man of carnival instinctual.” He also confused "a menstrual show", the “Womens’ Lubrication Movement” and "patience is a virgin." Or maybe he was on to something?
Some people have had such a knock for langling manguage that their names too have become “isms”. As a sample, I offer Reverend William Spooner, of Oxford College, who became nefarious for Spoonerisms like “the weight of rages will press hard upon the employer” and referred to a popular hymn as “Kinkering Kongs Their Titles Take.” Other Spoonerisms attributed to him, such as “three cheers for the queer old dean”, a “blushing crow” and “the Lord is a shoving leopard”, are apparently apocalyptic.
I should mention a couple of pet malapropisms from my own profession. When lawyers want to void a subpoena, we file a motion to quash. When laymen represent themselves, they sometimes instead file a motion to squash, which would be a remedy a lot of lawyers would like to have granted against opposing lawyers. Laymen also frequently mistake a “moot point”, which means not worth considering, for “mute point”, which means…well, maybe silence is gluten.
This column strives to be a vast suppository of information about the English language, because I believe that the amount of education you have determines your loot in life. Now, you may think I meant to say “repository of information” instead of “suppository”, and “lot in life” rather than “loot”, but I meant to say what I said I meant, if you know what I mean, because—in honor of the upcoming birthday of George W. Bush—this week’s column is about malapropisms, mixed metaphors and other means of mangling English.