Definition: Malapropism is a figure of speech in which an incorrect word is used, often resulting in a humorous or absurd effect. It occurs when a person uses a word that sounds like the word they intended to use but has a different meaning.
The term “malapropism” is derived from the character Mrs. Malaprop in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 1775 play, “The Rivals,” who frequently made this kind of error.
Malapropism is in use in literature for centuries, and it can serve a variety of purposes. In some cases, it creates humor or irony, as in the example from “The Rivals” when Mrs. Malaprop says, “He is the very pineapple of politeness!” instead of “He is the very pinnacle of politeness!”. In this case, the substitution of “pineapple” for “pinnacle” creates a comic effect by mixing up the two words.
Different Uses of Malapropism
In other cases, malapropism can highlight a character’s lack of education or intelligence. As in the character of Dogberry in William Shakespeare’s play “Much Ado About Nothing.” Dogberry is a constable who frequently misuses words, such as when he says, “Comparisons are odorous” instead of “odious.” This not only provides comic relief but also helps to establish Dogberry’s character and his role in the play.
Malapropism can also convey a sense of confusion or disorientation, as in the poem “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll. This poem includes numerous nonsensical words and phrases, such as “frabjous day” and “beamish boy,”. Which creates a surreal and dreamlike atmosphere. In this case, the use of malapropisms serves a literary purpose by helping to convey the sense of the nonsensical world the poem describes.
Malapropism can also highlight a character’s prejudices or biases. For example, in Harper Lee’s novel “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the character of Aunt Alexandra frequently makes malapropisms. That reflect her narrow-minded view of the world. For instance, she refers to the “Mrunas” instead of the “Mau Mau,” a reference to a Kenyan rebellion against British colonial rule. This not only provides insight into Aunt Alexandra’s character. But also serves to highlight the ignorance and prejudices of many of the characters in the novel.
In conclusion, malapropism is a versatile literary device that can create humor, establish character, convey disorientation, and highlight prejudices. Whether used for comic effect or to make a serious point, malapropisms is a staple of literature for centuries and will likely continue in the future. Some other notable examples of malapropisms include Yogi Berra’s famous quote, “It’s like déjà vu all over again,” and the character of Joey Tribbiani’s many malapropisms on the TV show “Friends,” such as “It’s a moo point” instead of “moot point.”