Our topic for this session is Malapropism. Sounds like a disease, doesn’t it? Indeed it is a type of grammatical disease that makes the sufferers use inappropriate words in their speech and writing.

Malapropism, derived from the French expression mal a propos (inappropriate), is the “use of an incorrect word in place of a similar sounding word that results in a nonsensical and/or humorous expression”

The word comes from a character named Mrs. Malaprop in Richard Sheridan’s 18th Century comedy The Rivals. Malapropism is also referred to as Dogberryism, named after Officer Dogberry, fond of using inappropriate words in a grossly humorous way, in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. The disease is an epidemic that has spread over centuries across many nations. Fortunately, this highly contagious disease has a very simple cure. All you have to do when you are not sure whether you’ve contracted (NOT contacted) it, is to consult a good English dictionary.

Now, let’s diagnose (NOT diagonise) some cases and prescribe solutions.

  1. I hope I won’t loose all my investment in NNN. (You should tie them together with a strong rope). Loose (scattered, unfastened, free) and lose (cease to have) are pronounced the same way. The speaker hopes not to forfeit or cease to have the investment. So, the sentence should be I hope I won’t lose all my investment in NNN.
  1. Some Nigerian legislatures sleep on duty. (Which ones – federal or state legislatures?) Legislature is the branch of government empowered to make, change or repeal laws for a state or country. Legislators are members of the legislature and they are the ones who could and do sleep on duty. The correct sentence is Some Nigerian legislators sleep on duty.
  1. I taught of beating up that idiot! (Who were your students?) Taught is the past form of the verb teach and it is misused here in place of thought which is the past form of think. It should be I thought of beating up that idiot!
  1. In order words, the lesson is not over yet. (As if there are disorder words). The meaning of this sentence is twisted because of the use of order instead of other (further, additional, extra, etc.). In other words, the lesson is not over yet. is the correct sentence.
  1. May the angels guide you when you are asleep and when you are awake. (Do you sleep walk?). Guide, as a noun, is someone who shows the way to another and, as a verb, to show the way; while guard (noun) is one who protects another or the action (verb) of protecting. You can’t show the way to someone who is asleep or can you?) The intended meaning is for the angels to protect you when awake and asleep. Therefore, the correct sentence is May the angels guard you when you are awake and when you are asleep.
  1. The police arrested two auspicious students.(For what?) People are hardly arrested for being auspicious (good, fortunate, promising, etc). Only suspicious (doubtful, distrustful) characters are easily arrested by the police. This person obviously meant The police arrested two suspicious students.
  1. Don’t border us with news about the Mexico bother wall.  (Indeed Trump’s planned wall is both a bother and a border to Mexico) Bother and border sound similar though they are not pronounced exactly the same way but whereas one (bother) means to disturb, the other (border) means a boundary. What the speaker wants to say is Don’t bother (disturb) us with news about the Mexico border (boundary) wall.
  1. Mercy is a virgin. (Any proof?). What is intended here is Mercy (kindness, compassion, sympathy) is a virtue (a good thing).
  1. A man with only one wife is monotonous (True or false?) Monotonous is used instead of monogamous: A man with only one wife is monogamous. (Please, stop laughing). 
  1. Immigration officers ceased many bags of rice last Christmas. (So, the rice ceased to exist?) What the officers did was to seize (grab, snatch, confiscate, etc). The mix-up arises from the same pronunciation of both words cease and seize: Immigration officers seized many bags of rice last Christmas.
  1. You rip what you sow. (With your own hands?) To rip is to tear, break, slash or split. Why would a sane person do all that to what he/she sowed (planted)? What is intended here is You reap (harvest) what you sow (plant).
  1. Donald Trump won many electrical votes in Michigan. (No wonder many people were shocked!) Donald Trump won many electoral (not electrical) votes in Michigan.

The examples above were garnered from various sources, including Facebook. Try and write some down when you come across them. Malapropism is no respecter of persons. A former president is on record to have suffered from the condition when he uttered the following:

  • “It will take time to restore chaos and order.” (law)
  • “The law I sign today directs new funds… to the task of collecting vital intelligence… on weapons of mass production.” (destruction)
  • “I am mindful not only of preserving executive powers for myself, but for my predecessors as well.” (successors)
  • “We need an energy bill that encourages consumption.” (conservation)
  • “We cannot let terrorists and rogue nations hold this nation hostile…” (hostage)

Please, watch your words. Don’t be a victim of Malapropism.

Next, we shall be analysing some words and phrases that are commonly misused in sentences. Stay close.

Exercise 4

What is wrong with the following sentences and why?

  1. I wish you save journey.
  2. The students in this class are less than two hundred.
  3. My sister, you are bless.
  4. Thank God is Friday.

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