Leave Feedback

no avatar


Ruth Haag • Feb 18, 2014 at 3:00 PM

Years ago, my husband Bob and I heard a health and safety trainer happily talking about steel toed boots. This person had new boots with additional protection over the top of the foot. To explain it to everyone he said, “This is a MARSUPIAL protector.” It was very difficult for us to keep listening with straight faces. We kept imagining a kangaroo (a marsupial) lying over the top bones of his foot (the METATARSALS). 


Malapropism Defined


A malapropism is the use of an incorrect word that sounds something like the correct word. The word comes from the French phrase mal à propos which means ill-suited. Malapropisms often have funny outcomes. 


A Special Case: Bushisms


“Bushisms” are malapropisms that are specifically attributed to past President George W. Bush. Some examples follow: 


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


“I am mindful not only of preserving executive powers for myself, but for my predecessors as well.” 


“Well, I think if you say you’re going to do something and don’t do it, that’s trustworthiness.” 


“[A]s you know, these are open forums, you’re able to come and listen to what I have to say.” 



Other Political Malapropisms


Here is one attributed to Richard Daley, former mayor of Chicago: “The police are not here to create disorder, they’re here to preserve disorder.” 


When you don’t know what it means….


Some malapropisms occur because a person wants to sound more educated, and so uses bigger words that they don’t really know the meaning of. Following are some examples. 


“I will leave you to your own DEMISE.” Leaving you to your own demise would be leaving you to your own death. On the other hand, leaving you to your own DEVICES would be leaving you to handle your own problems. 


“The OCCURRED total is…” This was supposed to be an accounting term but seems to be saying the total that happened or occurred. The real word is ACCRUED, which means the amount accumulated. 


“A work in PROCESS.” This incorrect usage appears to mean a work (which is an effort directed to produce or accomplish something) in process (which is a systematic series of steps directed to an end.) In other words, “a work in work.” The correct usage is “a work in PROGRESS” which means a work moving toward a goal. 


“I GREASE THE OIL and make things happen.” This really sounds like a mess to clean up: greased oil. The real term is GREASE THE SKIDS, which means to facilitate something.


“I would COMMEND you to look at this report.” This is a puzzling one, as commend means to praise, or recommend one person to another. I think the speaker really meant “I would STRONGLY URGE you to look at this report.” Alternatively “I would RECOMMEND this report to you.” 


“I have a PIT IN MY STOMACH.” This sounds like there is a large seed lodged in the speaker’s stomach. The correct phrase is “I have a BAD FEELING IN THE PIT OF MY STOMACH,” which is used to describe a queasy feeling that something isn’t right. 




The word moot has a special place in our current society; more people seem to use it incorrectly than correctly. “Mute” is often used in place of moot, producing the malapropism, “The question is mute.”


Even when spoken correctly, (The question is moot), the meaning may be a bit off. The intent of the comment is usually to say that the question no longer has any meaning because a solution has already been arrived at.


However, moot really means open for discussion or debate, disputable, disputed or unsettled; the antonym is indisputable and agreed. So, saying the question is moot really means that it is open 

to debate. 


On the other hand, as many people use the word, mute equals silent. So the question is mute would mean the question is silent. 


It’s just too complex; maybe we should all just say, “That has already been decided.” 


Other malapropisms: 


“As you ELUDED to” should be ALLUDED; eluded means to avoid or escape, allude means to refer to casually or indirectly. 


One of my favorites is ATM MACHINE. When out of its acronym, the statement is AUTOMATED TELLER MACHINE MACHINE. This, of course, is much like “SOUP DU JOUR OF THE DAY” which translated is SOUP OF THE DAY OF THE DAY. 


When in doubt…. 


When in doubt, try using the smaller word that you understand! 


I probably don’t have to ask, but would you care to transgress your favorite malapropisms?

Recommended for You