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Definition and Examples of Malapropism

Malapropism (also known as “malaprop” or “Dogberryism”) is a figure which consists when a speaker mistakenly says one word, that is inappropriate for the context, because the word actually sounds quite like the appropriate word.

Malapropisms usually consist in such scenarios where a speaker might want to say:

‘There’s something wrong with your eyes. I think you might consider seeing an optician.’ but only to end up saying, ‘I think you might consider seeing an optimist.’

Some malapropisms result from hearing the wrong word, others from a spelling error or even a typographical error.

The word “malapropism” (and its other variant “malaprop” ) was named after Mrs. Malaprop, a character in Richard Brinsley SheridanOpens in new window's 1775 play, The RivalsOpens in new window, whose constant inappropriate use of words, such as “a progeny of learning,” gave rise to the expression “malapropism.”

The variant term “Dogberryism”, as it is also known, is derived and coined from her name “Dogberry” on the basis she popularized Malapropism as a result of the influential character she exudes in the play.

Notable Examples

  1. “The doctor administered the anecdote” — the speaker meant to say: “The doctor administered the “antidote”.

The next example is an excerpt from ShakespeareanOpens in new window’s Romeo & JulietOpens in new window, Act II, Scene III:

  1. Nurse: ‘If you be he, sir, I desire some confidence with you.’

    Benvolio: ‘She will indite him to some supper.’

The first malapropism is the nurse’s use of confidence where she most likely meant conference. The effect this malapropism has on Benvolio is to cause him to mock her by deliberately using a malapropism: “indite” for “invite.” — (Christina Myers-Shaffer, The Principles of Literature: A Guide for Readers and Writers)

Although malapropisms are incorrect words, the effect they bring, can be humoruous but it can be embarrassing when the error in word choice is mistakenly applied depending on the context in which they are misused. In the case of Mrs. Malaprop, she was trying to display mastery of a large vocabulary.

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