Ruth Haag
Feb 18, 2014


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?



Thanks. Enjoyed it.

Your piece reminded me of the Marx Bros.' "Sanity Claus" bit.

I also used to enjoy Norm Crosby and Professor Irwin Corey.


Many years ago I was part of a parent conference with two other teachers. The young attractive teenage girl's parents were very proud of her and rightly so as she was much more advanced and insightful than others in her class. One of the teachers in our group was very prone to malapropisms. "Yes, Kate is a very promiscuous young lady!" (Of course he meant "precocious.") The parents almost fell off their chairs!


I would consider ATM machine a redundancy. Like VIN number.


ever wonder why an ATM machine at the drive up window at a bank has braille on it? That one gets me even today! The ultimate in questions. Since the blind do not drive, the braille is useless isn't it?


Pimp walks into a drugstore and asks the druggist for a dozen of the best paraplegics instead of prophylactics a then common term for condoms.


Best column ever!


Actually said at my place of work:

"He's got a mind like a steel trap door."
"I'd watch him with a ten foot pole."
"The squeaky wheel gets the worm."
"Where's the flaw in the ointment?"
"Let me remind you about something you haven't seen yet."
And my favorite, "This product comes from more than half way around the world!"


My favorite is 'The proof is in the pudding." NO, NO, NO! 'The proof OF the pudding is in the EATING.' Means basically the same as 'Don't judge a book by its cover'.


Entire books have been written about Bush's savagery of the English language. Thanks for listing a few of my favorites.


Re: "Entire (snip)"

Also a select few Obamaisms for your enjoyment:

Just get him off the teleprompter and whoa boy!

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

"Misunderestimate" is my favorite. I tend to use it for dopey but well-meaning NPCs in my D&D game.


Sure, sometimes this stuff is funny, but people who do it regularly more likely suffer from a speech disorder than ignorance. Dubya Bush can probably thank alcohol for his.

Does anyone really think the person who misuses "demise" for "devices" doesn't know what either means? It's much more likely a manifestation of speech disorder. The right word couldn't be found in time. Perhaps "cluttering." The trite advice to use simpler words won't help.

And about the guy who misused marsupial for metatarsals - probably not trying to impress anyone, just failed in his search for the only word he had, the one he was given. At least he made someone feel superior, though.

I don't see value in the condescending smugness of this columnist, in this column nor others. And BTW, the redundancy examples don't even fit her own definition of "Malapropism." She should try using smaller words she understands.


She could also stop ending sentences in prepositions.

Query: What would you call the heading of the column (For Thinking People)? Didn't Descartes say "I think therefore I am"? Thus don't all humans think?


But Hume asked: Whom is the "I" that is doing the thinking?

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

But wasn't it our local philosopher Prodigal Grand Cannis who said that the answer to that was Faux News? I believe an abbreviated summary of his numerous peer-reviewed and researched works indicated that man is incapable of his own thought, merely being an empty vessel for "the fox" (his allusions to lies) or "the ass" (referencing the truth, but we tend to use donkey in modern parlance. We must adapt since his thinking is so ancient). His hope is that as many people as possible fill their minds with the ass's contents so that it is fertilized and brimming. It is a parallel in some ways of his teacher's arguments, the great Ambulator Amore.

On a serious note and fun/poking aside (though I can make caricatures for most of the regulars here including myself), thanks for the refresher from my philosophy studies. I'll have to get my books out again and peruse them.

EDIT: I tend to use Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs as a basis of looking at society and public policy that intersects livelihoods such as safety net programs.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

"I could care less" means just that... You aren't disappointed enough to hit your bottom. "I couldn't care less" would convey your disappointment better because it's your limit.


A popular one in the Midwest:


The word is: regardless

From the Grave

Hey, if the sh%t fits, wear it.

From the Grave

SR tried to give me the sh%t end of the stick...

From the Grave

My mom told me one time that my aunt talked to her about having an organism. My aunt also talked about someone having an autopsy to check for cancer. Yeah.


Well written column and informative. Great to see something worthwhile and somewhat funny for once. Life has become all about doom and gloom so it is nice to laugh and smile once in awhile. Good going.


Used to enjoy Pres. Clinton's use of double and triple negatives.

"I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. I never told anybody to lie, not a single time; never. These allegations are false."

During the SOTU, sometimes he'd start out saying he was pro something, but by the end of the paragraph he'd sound like he was against it.

He had himself covered either way. lol

Stop It

They didn't call him "Slick Willy" for the hell of it. The guy had/has charisma by his side.