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Jack Smith

Malaprops: Don't Jump to Contusions

June 16, 1988|Jack Smith

Malapropisms, as far as I know, are asexual; but nevertheless they tend to breed. One good malaprop begets another.

Since recalling a few from my own treasure chest the other day I have been besieged with others. As I said, a malaprop can not be contrived; it must be unconscious. Usually, it is the misuse of a word that merely sounds like the word intended. The result is comic, but if one has good manners, and self-control, one does not laugh.

Sandy Wohlgemuth makes that point in recalling a governmental official who said to a group, "First we'll get the general outlines and later we'll flush it out with specifics."

Wohlgemuth adds: "I guess it's impolite and embarrassing to correct the person in front of a group so you grin and shut up."

As for making them up, Norman Cooper alleges that Goodman Ace made up "Familiarity breeds attempt" and put it in the mouth of his wife. In any case, I would consider that a deliberate pun and not a malaprop.

Colman Andrews says he has a friend who calls herself an "avaricious reader," and said of a fair wine, "Its nothing to go head over shoulders about."

The latter is not truly a malaprop, but no matter. Robert D. Ellis notes that several of the words or phrases I included in my recent malaprop column were not malaprops, but puns, mixed metaphors, Goldwynisms and other kinds of bloopers. True enough. I simply put all my eggs under one tent.

Stephen Bellon, chairman of the department of English at Oakwood School, points out that Mrs. Malaprop did not say "Allegories live on the banks of the Nile" in Sheridan's play, "The Rivals," as I said she did.

"Allegories do not live on the banks of the Nile, and Mrs. Malaprop never said they did. What she said was that her niece was 'as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of Nile.' "

He adds: "She also said, regarding that same niece's education, that she should 'reprehend the true meaning of what she is saying.' And so, sir, should you."

(I'll bet that what Mrs. Malaprop said was "as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile." And while Prof. Bellon asserts that allegories do not live on the banks of the Nile, he must concede that Mrs. Malaprop implied that they did.

David Denziger recalls a relative who called unsightly buildings "sore eyes" and once referred to a seeing-eye dog as a "sight-seeing dog." He told of meeting a cantor who carried a "pitchfork," evidently meaning his pitch pipe and tuning fork.

Charles Ansell recalls an immigrant friend who sometimes strained cliches. Asked what Matisse might think of Jackson Pollock's work, he said, "If Matisse were sitting in that chair right now, he'd turn over in his grave."

(I have often heard people say, "If my mother (or someone else) were alive she'd turn over in her grave.") By the way, note that Ansell's friend's use of the subjunctive were was impeccable.

Joanne Gonzales of Claremont says she had a boss who told her, "Do this at your own discrepancy," and a co-worker who boasted, "My husband is proud of his articulate appearance."

Al Redack had a friend who explained why his partners and their friends rarely visited and dined together: "None of us are too much for socialism."

Mary Goode Rogan recalls one worthy of Mrs. Malaprop: When she was younger and dressed to go out, her Aunt Annie exclaimed, "Oh, Mary! You look so lovely, all dressed up in your refinery!"

Henry Bennefil claims that he actually heard the following: "He was pardoned due to excruciating circumstances," and "Their relationship was strictly plutonic."

June Maguire of Mission Viejo recalls an employee who often fell into the pitfalls of English. A field representative, he once said he had been traveling "all the way from Peoria to Ten-bucks-two."

By the way, malaprops breed vivaciously.

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