The day of my doctor’s appointment the sky was blue with just a few cumulative clouds. I left home early because I believe in good punctuation, and hate to be late. At the hospital, the guy behind me in line looked like a wolf in cheap clothing and was standing too close for so-called distancing. I decided to nip the situation in the butt and asked him to put it in obverse and back up a bit.
Once I was in the doctor’s office, I told her about my near miss with a possible COVID inflection. When she told me not to worry about it because I had been completely vacillated, and for all intensive purposes I was immune. I said, “Doc, I realize that you’re at the pineapple of your career, but you don’t have to be so blaze about the whole thing.”
“I resemble that remark,” she shot back. “I’m a good person, so don’t misundertake me. I made a constipated effort to do my taxes, but I still think the Infernal Revenue Service is after me. I’ve even switched to decapitated coffee, but I’m still about to have a nervous shakedown. Oh,” she added, “don’t forget to make an annointment for your next visit.”
As you’ve no doubt surmised, this time we’re taking a look at malapropisms, or words that are wrongly or accidentally used in place of similar-sounding correct words.
Before there were malapropisms there were dogberryisms, which are named after one Mr. Dogberry, a self-important constable in Shakespeare’s 1598 play “Much Ado About Nothing.” In the play, he tells Governor Leonato, “Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two auspicious persons.”
The term “malapropism” is derived from the name of Mrs. Malaprop, a character in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 1775 play “The Rivals.” (Her name no doubt comes from “mal a propos,” a French term meaning “poorly placed.”)
In the play, Mrs. Malaprop observes that a young woman is “as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile,” and advises her to “illiterate (a young man) quite from your memory.”
A modern master of the art of malapropism was the late comedian Norm Crosby, who sometimes urged his audience to take the time to “listen to the blabbing brook” before telling them that they were “very extinguished and have an inner flux that excretes confidence.” Of course he received a standing ovulation.
But without a doubt, the best source of great malapropisms has to be that gift that keeps on giving, our wonderful politicians, beginning with the tweet of a very recent commander-in-chief, who opined that we were living in “unpresidented times.”
And it only gets better from there. For example, former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley once talked about a “tantrum bicycle,” while former Boston Mayor Tom Menino said one fellow was “a man of great statue.”
Former Texas Speaker of the House Gib Lewis observed that something was “unparalyzed in the state’s history.” (Even baseball great and malaprop magnet Yogi Berra commented on the Lone Star State’s politics when he noted that “Texas has a lot of electrical votes.”)
But it’s the state’s own George W. Bush who probably holds the record for political malapropisms, giving us such gems as “weapons of mass production,” after he signed a bill to collect intel on the devices.
Dubya also pointed out that “We cannot let terrorists or rogue nations hold the nation hostile or hold our allies hostile.”
Jim Witherell of Lewiston is a writer and lover of words whose work includes “L.L. Bean: The Man and His Company” and “Ed Muskie: Made in Maine.”
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