Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Malaprops and Mondegreens, by Jess Lourey

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The Far Side cartoon to the left is one of my favorite of all time. It’s an example of a mondegreen, which is a fancy word for a misunderstanding where what you hear makes more sense (to you, anyhow) than what was actually said.

Along those same lines are malapropisms, which are the unintentional misuse of a word. The character of Joey Tribbiani in Friends used many malapropisms. A shining example from the third season: "No, a moo point. Yeah, it's like a cow's opinion. It just doesn't matter. It's moo."

As an English teacher, I’ve seen a lot of malapropisms in my day: students writing didactic essays decrying youth in Asia, heartfelt narratives about how you can’t take family for granite, historical research into the lives of feudal pee-ons. They’re good for a giggle, but they can also be annoying. I have a friend who believes that somewhere a puppy dies whenever someone says, “for all intensive purposes” instead of “for all intents and purposes.”

I’m currently outlining Oktoberfest, the sixth installment in my Murder-by-Month series, and I’ve decided to include a modern Mrs. Malaprops in the novel. Care to help me with my research by sharing your favorite malapropisms?

18 comments:

G.M. Malliet said...

Does this count? A Monk Swimming, the title of Malachy McCourt's novel. It is how a kid hears "Amongst women" in the Hail Mary prayer. I always thought that was very cute. Kids are sometimes afraid to ask for clarification on these things, I think.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I can't think of any off the top of my head. It's too early in the morning, but I'll work on it. They are always funny when you hear them. Almost like the person saying it is checking to see if you're really paying attention.

Is it just me, or do malapropisms (love that word) sneak into your manuscripts from time to time? I know the proper word, but sometimes my fingers type something else as they fly across the keyboard, which often makes editing later rather interesting.

Lisa Bork said...

I learned two new words today, Jess.

Malapropisms do sneak in my mses. I type "once and a while" instead of "once in a while". How about "my book is entitled" instead of "titled"? How about "irregardless" versus "regardless"?

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Oooo, Lisa. I'm guilty of the entitled vs. titled issue. I have to stop every time I say my "book is ..."

Stacia said...

An elderly lady used to say "power of eternity" instead of "power of attorney."

I'll keep thinking...

Stacia said...

And why do people think that "Alzheimer's disease" is "Old-Timer's disease"??

Keith Raffel said...

Jess, Can't think of any offhand, but here's a whole list of them.
http://www.fun-with-words.com/mala_famous.html My favorite is W's: "We cannot let terrorists and rogue nations hold this nation hostile."

Jen Chandler said...

I'm going to have to go with the old Jimmy Hendrix misunderstanding. The song says, "Excuse me while I kiss the sky". It's been misquoted as, "Excuse me while I kiss this guy".

jlmiksch said...

Along the same lines as G.M., my son says his Hail Mary with this line: "the fruit of GUY MOON Jesus" instead of "the fruit of thy womb, Jesus." He's six, so that's understandable, but it is still cute and I'm not ready to correct him just yet! :)

Cricket McRae said...

I have a friend who constantly misuses words. We all call her Norma Crosby, though she doesn't do it on purpose like ol' Norm did.

And just now my guy commented about a "new year's restitution." Yes, he was being funny.

Love the term mondegreen! (As well as the idea.) Great post.

Mike Dennis said...

One of the great malapropists (is that a word?) of all time was the Bowery Boys' Slip Mahoney, played by Leo Gorcey. And one of my favorites of his was his occasional referral to "private defectives".

Keith Raffel said...

Just heard one of my daughter's friends tell another to think harder, use more "brain powder."

Alan Orloff said...

I don't think these are exact malaprops, but when my son was little he called unicorns, unihorns, and he called earthquakes, earthshakes.

Actually, his words were more accurate!

Jess Lourey said...

Ha! Thanks for the contributions, all! They jiggled my memory. During my first waittressing job, in 1988, a woman asked if we carried any rose wines. She said she specifically enjoyed a good white infidel. Who doesn't? Pass the brain powder, Keith.

Julia Buckley said...

Jess, I have a MILLION of them.

I had a student who wrote about needing to address a problem by "nipping it in the butt."

My sister's college roommate, a modern Mrs. Malaprop, quoted Macbeth by saying "Out of my way, damn spot!"

My son, when listening to the song "It's a long way to Tipperary," said of the line "Farewell, Leicester Square," "Who's Lester Square?"

And I had read somewhere of a little child who heard the ol' facts of life speech in which a parent compared conception to the planting of seeds, and said, "Yeah! And that's why we grow up to be human beans."

Regarding Hail Mary: I've heard "Hail Mary, full of grapes, the Lord is a tree."

And here's one from TOY STORY that my son said when he was little. Buzz Lightyear says to the piggy bank of his cool outfit, "Thanks, slotted pig, it's a standard issue."

My son heard: "Thanks, slaughtered pig, I have standard issues."

I have more, but I've taken up too much room here. :)

Beth Groundwater said...

From a friend's Facebook status:

Here's another "Greg-ism": we were talking about going to the doctors to get our physicals done, and he said, "Yeah, I probably need to get checked for prosthetic cancer."

;-)

G.M. Malliet said...

Guy Moon Jesus sounds like a great name for a rock group.

Dana King said...

I once knew someone who would say a person was "bleeding like a stuffed pig."