A malapropism (also called a Dogberryism) is the use of an incorrect word in place of a word with a similar sound, resulting in a nonsensical, often humorous utterance. An example is Yogi Berra's statement: "Texas has a lot of electrical votes," rather than "electoral votes".
The word "malapropism" comes from the French "mal à propos" meaning "inappropriate", and was personified by Richard Brinsley Sheridan in his comedy The Rivals (1775) as "Mrs. Malaprop", a character who habitually misused her words, while Dogberryism comes from "Officer Dogberry", the name of a character in William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. These are the two best-known fictional characters who made this kind of error—there are many other examples. Malapropisms also occur as errors in natural speech. Malapropisms are often the subject of media attention, especially when made by politicians or other prominent individuals.
The philosopher Donald Davidson has noted that malapropisms show how complex the process is by which the brain translates thoughts into language.
The word "malapropism" (and its earlier variant, "malaprop") comes from a character named "Mrs. Malaprop" in Richard Brinsley Sheridan's 1775 play The Rivals who frequently misspeaks (to great comic effect) by using words which don't have the meaning she intends, but which sound similar to words that do. Sheridan presumably chose her name in humorous reference to the word malapropos, an adjective or adverb meaning "inappropriate" or "inappropriately", derived from the French phrase, mal à propos (literally "poorly placed"). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first recorded use of "malapropos" in English is from 1630, and the first person known to have used the word "malaprop" in the sense of "a speech error" is Lord Byron in 1814.
Distinguishing features 
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An instance of mis-speech is called a malapropism when:
- The word or phrase means something different from the word the speaker or writer intended to use; and
- The word or phrase sounds similar to what was intended (for example, using obtuse [wide or dull] instead of acute [narrow or sharp] is not a malapropism; using obtuse [stupid or slow-witted] when one means abstruse [esoteric or difficult to understand] is); and
- The resulting utterance is nonsense.
These characteristics set malapropisms apart from other kinds of speaking or writing mistakes, such as eggcorns or spoonerisms, and from the accidental or deliberate production of newly made-up words (neologisms).
Examples from fiction 
The fictional Mrs. Malaprop, in Sheridan's play The Rivals, utters many malapropisms. In Act III Scene 3, she declares to Captain Absolute, "Sure, if I reprehend any thing in this world it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs!" This nonsensical utterance might, for example, be 'corrected' to, "If I apprehend anything in this world, it is the use of my vernacular tongue, and a nice arrangement of epithets", although these are not the only words that can be substituted to produce an appropriately expressed thought in this context, and commentators have proposed other possible replacements that work just as well.
Other malapropisms spoken by Mrs. Malaprop include "illiterate him quite from your memory" (instead of 'obliterate')', and "she's as headstrong as an allegory" (instead of alligator).
Malapropisms appeared in many works before Sheridan created the character of Mrs. Malaprop. William Shakespeare used them in a number of his plays. For example, in Much Ado About Nothing, Constable Dogberry tells Governor Leonato, "Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two auspicious persons" (i.e., apprehended two suspicious persons) (Act 3, Scene V). And in The Merchant of Venice, Launcelot, describing Shylock, declares, "Certainly he [is the very devil incarnal..." (i.e., incarnate) (Act 2, Scene II).
Modern writers make use of malapropisms in novels, cartoons, films, television, and other media.
Malapropism was one of Stan Laurel's comic mannerisms. In Sons Of The Desert, for example, he says that Oliver Hardy is suffering a nervous "shakedown" (rather than "breakdown"), and calls the Exalted Leader of their group the "exhausted leader".
Archie Bunker, a character in the American TV sitcom All in the Family is also known for malapropisms. He calls Orthodox Jews "off-the-docks Jews" and refers to "the Women's Lubrication Movement" (rather than Liberation).
Real-life examples 
It was reported in New Scientist that an office worker had described a colleague as "a vast suppository of information" (i.e., repository or depository). The worker then apologised for his "Miss-Marple-ism" (i.e. malapropism). New Scientist noted this as possibly the first time anyone had uttered a malapropism for the word malapropism itself.
Cross-linguistic malapropisms 
The Russian word rynda for "ship's bell" comes from the English phrase "Ring the bell". The phrase was heard by Russian seamen as "Ryndu bey!", i.e., "Hit the rynda", rynda being the word for the tsar's bodyguard. Accordingly, the phrase "to hit the rynda" was used to mean "to signal time with the ship's bell", and later the bell itself has become commonly known as ship's "rynda".[better source needed]
Philosophical implications 
In his essay, "A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs", the philosopher Donald Davidson suggests that malapropisms reveal something about how people process the meanings of words. He argues that language competence must not simply involve learning a set meaning for each word, and then rigidly applying those semantic rules to decode other people's utterances. Rather, he says, people must also be continually making use of other contextual information to interpret the meaning of utterances, and then modifying their understanding of each word's meaning based on those interpretations.
See also 
|Look up malapropism in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- "Great Quotes". Retrieved 2011-09-28. "Texas has a lot of electrical votes"
- Simpson, John (ed.) 2008. Oxford English Dictionary. London: Oxford University Press.
- Berger, Harry (2005). Situated Utterances. Fordham University Press. p. 499. ISBN 0-8232-2429-5.
- Sheridan, Richard Brinsley (2008 ), The Rivals: A Comedy, retrieved 2012-07-10
- "Quotations from Richard Brinsley Sheridan". Poem Hunter. Retrieved 2012-07-10.
- Shakespeare, William (1997 ), Much Ado About Nothing, retrieved 2012-07-10
- Gehring, Wes (1990). Laurel and Hardy: A Bio-Bibliography. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-313-25172-6. Retrieved 11 December 2012.
- The Beatles (2000). The Beatles Anthology. Chronicle Books. ISBN 978-0-8118-2684-6.
- Shapiro, Marianne; Shapiro, Michael (2005). "Chapter 21: The semiotics of Archie Bunker". From The Critic's Workbench: Essays In Literature And Semiotics. Peter Lang. ISBN 978-0-8204-7915-6. Retrieved 2012-07-10.
- Fay, David; Cutler, Anne (1977). "Malapropisms and the Structure of the Mental Lexicon". Linguistic Inquiry 8 (3): 505–520.
- Mayer, Catherine (2007-04-26). "Mr. Popularity". Time. Retrieved 2010-05-12.
- Kennedy, Eugene (1978). Himself!: The Life and Times of Mayor Richard J. Daley. Viking Press. ISBN 978-0-670-37258-4. Retrieved 2012-07-10.
- "New Scientist 18 June 2005 ''Malapropism for malapropism''". Newscientist.com. 2005-06-18. Retrieved 2012-10-02.
- Лев Васильевич Успенский (Lev Uspensky) (1962). Слово о словах: Ты и твое имя (in Russian). Лениздат. Retrieved 4 October 2012.
- Max Vasmer (1950). Russisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch (in German). C. Winter. Retrieved 4 October 2012.
- Grandy, R. and Warner, R., ed. (1986). Philosophical Grounds of Rationality. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-824464-9.