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  • Noun




We all commit malapropisms or humorous misuse of words now and then, especially young children. My niece calls successful business people “typhoons” or storms at sea rather than “tycoons” or powerful business people, an excellent malapropism. She gets her tendency to use mixed-up words or malapropisms from her father, who insists that the government must be “physically” responsible, instead of “fiscally” or financially responsible. My favorite malapropism of my brother’s was when he stated that Winston Churchill was a man of great “statue”—instead of great “stature,” or standing.

Quiz: What is a malapropism?

  • A linguistic device that uses more than one meaning of one word.
  • A word spoken by mistake that is very close to the intended word.
  • A phrase that makes others laugh because it is clever.

Memory Hook

Mallard Propeller When the mallard kicked his feet like a boat propeller, he tried to utter "vroom," but he made a malapropism and instead bellowed "quack!"


  • Malaprop, or malapropism, is the term for misspoken words. ''Through unchartered seas'' is an example cited by Fowler's handbook. —The New York Times
  • The genre of blooper I receive most often is the malapropism. —The New York Times

Word Ingredients

mal bad, evil
prop proper, fitting
-ism distinctive trait, usually of language

Malapropism was coined from the character Mrs. “Malaprop” in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s play The Rivals; she is always making language errors as she speaks because she really doesn’t know the meanings of the words that she is using. Mrs. Malaprop is so called because she makes “bad fits” for words, such as using “allegory” in “she’s as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile”—she should have used “alligator,” not “allegory.”

Word Theater

Laurel and Hardy The words "infatuated" and "infuriated" are malapropisms--the correct word is "infested."

Word Constellation