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Mistakes happen. Like the blue-footed booby bird, goofy things turn up once in a while. It can’t be helped. When you are learning a language, and especially if you think you know common idioms and expressions, you just might say something that isn’t quite right. Hey, even if you’re a native speaker it can happen!
The English author Richard Brinsley Sheridan once created a character named Mrs. Malaprop who frequently, and often hilariously, used the wrong word in a sentence. These words sounded like the words she wanted to use, but the meanings of these words were entirely different. Sheridan got her name from the French word malapropos, meaning inappropriate, and derived from the French phrase mal à propos (“poorly placed”). For instance, she described someone as, “The pineapple of success.” She intended to say pinnacle of success.
Mrs. Malaprop isn’t the only character to mangle the English language, of course, but her name is now a synonym for it. A malapropism is defined as the unintentional misuse of a word to create a ridiculous sentence. It’s all-too-easy for someone to make a mistake in English which would lead to a malapropism, simply because so many English words sound alike.
Don’t confuse a malapropism with a mixed metaphor. Mixed metaphors are two or more incompatible metaphors which sound ridiculous when put together. They may or may not be combined inadvertently, whereas all malapropisms are the result of a mistake. The result is still hilarious, but mixed metaphors often come from people who aren’t simply confused over a word. They have confused complete statements.
Combine “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” with “A leopard can’t change its spots” and you get “You can’t teach an old dog to change its spots.” Which, while true, sounds nonsensical. Both metaphors mean basically the same thing – You can’t get someone to change their nature. But, combined, it’s just silly.
Consider “It’s not rocket science!” and “It’s not brain surgery!” Both metaphors mean that something isn’t nearly as difficult as you might think. But, what if you combined the two, resulting in “It’s not rocket surgery!” Now THAT would be difficult!
Have you heard any funny malapropisms or mixed metaphors that you’d like to share? We’d love from you!
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