Saturday, May 9, 2009

Today's Word: malapropism (or just malaprop)

malapropism: The French had a phrase, mal à propos, meaning inappropriate or in an inopportune way. That has entered the English language all scrunched up as malapropos. In his 1775 play The Rivals, Richard Sheridan introduced a character by the name of Mrs. Malaprop. Mrs. Malaprop, always trying to sound well-educated and in control, wasn't the brightest crayon in the box — she would misuse words in ridiculous and hilarious ways. For example,

"She's as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of Nile."
"I am sorry to say, Sir Anthony, that my affluence over my niece is very small."

So now a malapropism is this sort of ridiculous and often

hilarious misuse of words, often in an attempt to sound more intelligent or well-bred than one actually is.

My vote for today's Mrs. Malaprop is Michael Scott on The Office. Take a close listen next Thursday — they slip malapropisms in surreptitiously, just to see if you're paying attention.