Saturday, April 14, 2018

Malapropism: what was that again?

It happens with all of us; but goes unnoticed until it's pointed out. I am referring to malapropism, use of a wrong word that sounds similar to the originally intended word.

This happens because many words sound similar or have similar spellings, but mean quite different. There are plenty of examples. Some of my favourites:
  • Defuse, Diffuse
- Timely police intervention defused the situation. (Make less tense or dangerous)
- The gas that leaked from the cylinder diffused rapidly. (Spread)
  • Discrete, Discreet
- Rainbow is made up of a set of discrete colours. (Separate)
- He is very discreet when he talks to his boss. (Careful, prudent)
  • Adapt, Adept, Adopt
- She adapted to the new place very fast. (Adjust)
- She is adept in dealing with difficult situations. (Very skilled)
- She adopted a kitten yesterday. (Take care of)
The above examples are usually found in writing, because they sound almost same.

There also spoken ones, wherein words with slightly different pronunciation are used mistakenly.
  • "After circumventing the world, the ship returned to the base yesterday."
It should be circumnavigating the world, meaning to go around. Circumvent means avoid, though one might be able to circumvent a problem (like a puddle of water on the road) by circumnavigating it.
  • "What you are saying does not jive with the evidence we have."
It should be jibe, meaning agree. Jive means to dance to music.
  • "He eludes confidence."
This is a sentence supposedly said by William Bratton, Los Angeles police chief, while making a reference to Barack Obama's second inaugural speech in 2009. What he meant was exudes confidence, to mean display. Elude means to avoid. There is also a word, illude to mean trick or delude.

Some famous ones

A well-known malapropism was by Australian Opposition Leader Tony Abbott while criticising Prime Minister Kevin Rudd during a Liberal Party function in Melbourne in August 2013. Abott said, "No one, however smart, however well-educated, however experienced, is the suppository of all wisdom." What he meant was repository. Suppository is a medicine that is kept in rectum or vagina where it gradually dissolves. Repository is a place where something is found or stored.

George W. Bush, (the eldest son of George H W Bush), was famous for the gaffes he used to make during public speeches. So much so that they came to be known as Bushisms.

During electioneering in November 2000, while referring to the advisers of his Republican rival John McCain, Bush said, "They misunderestimated me." There is no word like misunderestimate. It's either misunderstand or underestimate.

In April 2006, while there was widespread call for Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to resign, because of various issues like reports of abuse of prisoners by US military at the Abu Ghraib prison etc., President Bush said in Washington, "I'm the decider, and I decide what is best. And what's best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense." Decider is term used in sports, when a point or a goal decides the winner of the match.

There are plenty of compilations of Bushisms on Youtube. Check them out.

Watch out! Malapropism can be hilarious, embarrassing or totally misleading!

(This post is a part of the "Blogging from A to Z Challenge April 2018.")


  1. Interesting choice of topic. Now when I think of it, I can pen down a few instances too :) Fun read!

    1. Thanks, Nikita, for dropping by and for your comments.

  2. Interesting post Pradeep. I was smiling while reading your post. Here are two from President Obama. "On this Memorial Day, as our nation honors its unbroken line of fallen heroes and I see many of them in the audience here today." "The reforms we seek would bring greater competition, choice, savings and inefficiencies to our health care system."

  3. I never heard of this word! I am usually good about not mixing up words. I'm always surprised how many native English speakers have problems with words that sound the same.

  4. I once had a friend visit Australia and tell me about the kangaroos conjugating on the golf course. Of course, she meant congregating!

  5. Interesting and useful read :)

  6. Wow this was amusing and informative. I am mildly dyslexic and have problems with words. I try to be careful and Google any words that I am confused about. Sometimes I wonder how people like me managed before Google and spell check. This post was very illuminating.

  7. I love malapropisms! Well, I guess if it were a spaceship it could circumvent the world. And I know jiving is a dance, but when someone's not hip with it, I do sometimes use the word to mean jargon. And, you never know, maybe Abbott was talking about a constipation of wisdom. But I have no words to help Bush - he's on his own.

    Yes, I often enjoy a good laugh when I see a malapropism. But when the wrong word is used on purpose - that's classic. (Or is it just classy?)

    Great post! Stopping by on the #AtoZChallenge Road Trip

    1. Thank you so much, Garrett for stopping by and for your comments.

  8. This made my afternoon :-) Fun read.

    Ronel from Ronel the Mythmaker A-Z road-tripping with Everything Writerly: M is for Making

    1. Thanks, Ronel, for dropping by and for your comments.

  9. Great post! My husband likes to 'malaprop' on purpose, lol. Stopping by on the AtoZ Roadtrip!

    Jamie Lyn Weigt | Writing Dragons | AtoZ 2018: X is for Xiang the Wise

    1. Hello Weigt, that's quite interesting!
      Thanks a lot, for dropping by. Shall look up you blog.

  10. I've had this happen to me! I realize that something is wrong with my sentence by can't always figure out what the correct version should be! Stopping by from the #AtoZChallenge Road Trip

    1. Thank you, Flores, for your comments. Could you give the URL of your blog? Thanks.