Malapropisms: A Comedy of Verbiage Abuses for Article Writers

Posted on May 6, 2014 by Alethea M

Address to the Nation on Immigration. Oval.

“We cannot let terrorists and rogue nations hold this nation hostile or hold our allies hostile.” – George W. Bush

We all may do it at one time or another, but when we do it’s really embarrassing. Malapropisms occur when we use a similarly sounding word in the wrong place, creating a humorous mistake that is much worse when we don’t catch it right away. We can often go years without ever realizing we are using the term incorrectly.

Malapropism Examples

You wrote: It was all an illusion.

You meant: It was all a delusion.

What you meant to say was that someone was out of touch with reality and deluded. I suppose someone seeing an illusion might also be out of touch with reality, but you weren’t trying to say it was a fake-out or a mirage. While the first implies that the subject was tricked (by a misleading situation), the second implies fault of the subject for having a wrong belief or opinion.

You wrote: Once you understand this point, please precede.

You meant: Once you understand this point, please proceed.

It would be impossible to precede as a future action; to precede is to go before. You can say that the original flavor preceded the ranch and barbecue, but when you are talking about going forward, then “proceed” is the word you are looking for.

You wrote: My affluence is really quite nominal.

You meant: My influence is really quite nominal.

It may be true that my affluence is nominal, but then this statement would be telling you I am poor. If, by chance, I really meant I didn’t have much sway over others, then I need to use the word “influence.” The mistake here can be quite amusing or confusing, depending on the context.

Tips and Tricks for Article Writers

Using a word you have even the slightest feeling of unfamiliarity with? Don’t hesitate to look it up. It only takes a second to use a thesaurus and see if the resulting words are similar, but it is embarrassing if the client is the one to catch it. I highly recommend the thesaurus first, because the dictionary may not make the problem immediately clear. I f the thesaurus words come up a little off, then check the dictionary.

For example, the thesaurus results for affluence included “abundance,” “prosperity” and “ample.” One look tells you this clearly isn’t the word that means impact or leadership. These malapropisms are often funny when discovered.

Sometimes, we have the unfortunate problem of not knowing the difference and not even realizing we should correct it. As a young child, I took a class and heard the phrase “Nation of Peace” said several times in discussing the American Constitution. I thought “Nation of Peas” was being said and honestly thought we were discussing the national vegetable. I said it wrong many times before someone caught it – which ended up being quite hilarious and embarrassing at the same time for 5-year-old me.

Apparently I’m not the only one who makes these mistakes. Popular comedy-of-errors occur when someone who is supposed to know better makes a slip – especially if they don’t catch and correct it. There are many unfortunate examples that will go down in history books, followed always by a sic erat scriptum.

“This is unparalyzed in the state’s history.” – Gib Lewis, Texas Speaker of the House

Alethea M s a corporate blogging guru and freelance writer for WriterAccess. She often uses interesting facts from her article research to impress friends at dinner parties. Her husband is her biggest fan — though this may be because her writing income allows her to share in bill-paying each month.


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