Written by: Bobbi Brandt
Malapropism n: the unintentional misuse of a word by confusion with one of similar sound that may cause and amusing affect.
At some point in your life you will hear a word used incorrectly, and may find yourself repeating it in public. This can be fun for all who hear you or a very embarrassing moment if you are the sensitive type. I was fortunate to grow up in a family that could laugh at themselves. My children made a faux news show when they were younger. We spent hours video recording and editing the show. We had five kids, all with an incredible sense of humor. The project was full of uncontrolled laughter, usually with one of them being the brunt of it by misusing or mispronouncing a word. The outtake footage was longer than the actual news show. The end credits of the outtake footage said, “If you can’t laugh at yourself, we’ll do it for you.”
Have you ever had someone drag their feet on a carpet and give you a static shock? This is how I feel when I hear a malapropism: For the next few seconds it’s all about the shock. I spend the rest of the conversation with a stupid grin on my face, repeating their mistake in my head, trying not to laugh. I really don’t know what’s wrong with me but I find word play so damned amusing.
I have a friend who is a malapropism champion. Had I known then that I would be writing these essays, I would have been taking notes during every conversation we have ever had. . The one I love most is her version of shirttail cousin. She has lived in this area as long as she has been alive. She knows everyone involved in every story she tells. She can tell you who so & so’s parents are, who is divorced, who their kids are and who they are married to. Picture Rose from golden girls. It never fails; at the end of every story she makes sure to throw in that so & so is a short tail cousin to someone. It cracks me up every time.
I also have a friend who is more like a sister. She is the Queen of committing malapropism in general, especially while trying to use aphorisms. As we have been friends for many years, we have seen many births and unfortunately, many deaths. We have been to many wakes together. If you ask her, she would say, “We have been to many awakes together.” I have tried to explain to her that if we were going to an awake, we would not need to go. She just shakes her head as though I am foolish, and doesn’t seem to understand what I am talking about. I usually just drop the subject.
Another thing that tickles me about this friend is her occasional misuse of words. I’m not sure if she hears them wrong, or is just saying them incorrectly. Either way, she’s very amusing. Just lately we had a conversation about her health. She’s on some medications that make it hard for her to function. She said that one of the medications she’s on throws off her equal-lieberman. I knew what she meant, but I couldn’t stop myself from asking, “Your what?” She said, “my equal-lieberman is off.” Again I pushed it further. I said, “I’m sorry–your what?” She said, in an irritated tone, “You know, when you stand up and you can’t get your balance!” She said it again, “My equal-lieberman!” “Ohhh!” I said, “I’m sorry to hear that.” I had to hold the phone away from my face so she wouldn’t be able to hear me laughing. At that point I just threw back at her one of the phrases she uses, “I guess you’ll just have to play it by year.” “Yup,” she said. “One day at a time.” I had to end the conversation at that point. It was just too much. As she would say, trying to explain it to her would have been a “mute point.”
The other day I was explaining to her and her husband a situation I was dealing with. I explained to them the finer points and discussed the actions I was planning to take. A few days later I was on the phone with her. Not knowing what she was doing, and without missing a beat, she slammed three aphorisms together to make one great malapropism. She told me to make sure I had my “Ts and Qs in a row.” My jaw dropped, because I have been friends with her for so many years, I knew exactly what she meant. Cross your Ts and dot your I’s, watch your Ps and Qs, and get your ducks in a row. I simply said, “Holy crap, I will.” I now use this saying all the time.
She will also tell me she is going to see the Choir practor. This is such a common one that I don’t know if it’s worth mentioning. She is definitely not the only person in the world who says it. . Phonetic spellings? It’s really a regional thing, when you think about it. Like bubbler vs. fountain, or soda vs. pop. Except that it’s not like that at all. These words have letters. Each letter has a sound. Some of the words are people’s names for crying out loud.
Alzheimer’s disease was named after Dr. Aloysius Alzheimer. He identified the first published case of pre-senile dementia. His colleague, Dr. Emil Kraepelin, actually named the disease. Do you suppose Dr. Alzheimer had problems with his name all through his high school career? Did kids in the hall yell out, “Hey, party at Old Timers house tonight!”? Can you imagine if the disease had been named after Dr. Kraepelin? I suppose instead of Old Timer’s or All Timer’s disease, it would have been a case of the kraps.
They would probably say something like this: Person 1: “How’s your grandma doing with her memory problem?” Person 2: “Doc says she’s got a case of krapeeing.” Person 1: “Ya, my grandma has the kraps too.”
One famous person we can all look at as an entertaining purveyor of sayings and words is a former President of the United States, George W. Bush. He had a way about him that I’m sure made his speech writers cringe. Although without GW’s ad libs, their speeches wouldn’t have been very funny.
Put on your best GW accent before you read these next few entries.
At a stump speech in Bentonville, Arkansas on November 6, 2000, George W. Bush was making a push for votes. He boasted that his opponent, John McCain, had misunderestimated him. I’m sure that wasn’t the case at all. John McCain probably just disunderstood that he himself wasn’t going to win the Republican vote.
I’m hoping that someday one of his speech writers will write a book about what it was like working for President George Walker Bush.
“See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.” George W Bush–Greece, NY, May 24, 2005. I’m sure his staff would have preferred he substitute the word message for propaganda. But that’s okay. We all knew what he meant. I consulted dictionary.com to be sure:
propaganda n: information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.
Hmmm . . .
This is my all-time favorite. This is the actual saying: Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. While giving a talk at the East Literature Magnet School in Nashville, Tennessee on September 17, 2000, this is what George W. Bush said: “There’s an old saying in Tennessee–I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee—that says, fool me once, shame on . . . shame on you; fool me–you can’t get fooled again.”
You can actually look this up at
Yes. The white house archives. It will forever be an archival treasure, and as long as people keep writing about him, it will always be remembered.
Another thing I’d like to bring up is slang. We Americans love our slang, and the closer the week gets to Friday the lazier we get. A phrase that stands out in my mind is, I’m going to. It seems that on Monday everyone is capable of saying, I’m going to. By Wednesday we say, I’m gonna, and by Friday all anyone can seem to manage is, I’mina. .
So, this is something we all bump up against. Tolerable and sometimes amusing, while at the same time it’s an itch we can’t scratch. I believe I have been guilty of this myself many times. I, like so many, are untrainable to a certain extent. When you have spent your entire life believing that the words to Mairzy Doats are little eify dities instead of little lambs eat ivy, what’s a person to do? Anything other than little eifie dities rolling past your lips would be too uncomfortable to say. For the man who thought those were the words to the song–keep on singing them. At least you’re singing something. For the guy who thought the fuselage was where the fuel goes in the airplane–good luck with that.