You could have knocked me over with a 10-foot pole.
That’s not only a real life example, but also my reaction every time I hear a really good malapropism or mixed metaphor. For whatever reason, my life’s path has been graced by many a modern day Mrs. Malaprop who, God love her, utters well-intentioned phrases with a twisted tongue.
We know Mrs. Malaprop as the 18th century character in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s play, The Rivals, who personified the habit of inadvertently swapping a word for one with a similar sound, rendering the phrase nonsensical or, more often, really funny.
Everyone knows a Mrs. (or Mr.) Malaprop.
I will never forget one walking into my office distraught; she said tests showed she had fiber-optic tumors. I thought to myself, ooh, that must be painful.
The same woman once told of a colleague who gave a speech at a conference. I think what she intended to say was that, after the speech, attendees flocked around him. Instead, she said his speech was so successful the audience flogged him.
A top executive at that same company once reported that her business unit was making money hand over foot.
Recently, as I discussed this topic with my husband, he confessed to his own high profile slip. In a division memo on Safety at Sea he reported that, during a shipboard mission, a well known oceanographer was hospitalized after having lost the majority of his hand in a winch (a device used to adjust the tension of a rope or cable). What’s the malapropism, you ask? My husband reported that Dr. Smith lost his hand in a wench.
Malapropisms are also associated with mixed metaphors and nothing titillates a word nymph more than a good mixed metaphor.
I once heard “Don’t burn your bridges before they’re hatched” while trying desperately not to picture a bridge being hatched. Talk about painful.
If you have a favorite malapropism or mixed metaphor you’d like to share, I’ll be here, holding my bated breath.
Note: Also akin to malapropisms are mondegreens, phrases that are often misheard or misunderstood. But let’s save those for the next time we talk about (you guessed it!) song lyrics.