‘An allegory on the banks of the Nile’
In a letter to the editor today David McWilliams comments on the malapropism in a recent Rick Wagner column. McWilliams writes that Wagner should have used “tortuously” instead of “torturously.”
The word’s misuse is indeed a good example of standard criteria for a malapropism: 1) the word sounds close to what was meant 2) it has a meaning different than what was intended 3) the result make no sense, but does get a laugh.
The word comes from playwright Richard Sheridan, who named a character in his 1775 play, The Rivals, Mrs. Malaprop. He coined her name based on the French word malapropos. This word means “at an awkward or inappropriate time or place” or “in an inopportune or inappropriate manner,” according to Webster’s.
Mrs. Malaprop mangled the language with utterances such as "...she might reprehend the true meaning of what she is saying" and “...she's as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile." (An allegory, by the way, is writing or a picture that presents people, things or events in a way that suggests a hidden meaning.)
The English language remains replete with malapropisms. Yogi Berra said, for example, “Texas has a lot of electrical votes,” while Tony Soprano used the phrase, “prostate with grief."
I once uttered a malapropism in Norwegian that left a shipmate nearly prostrate with laughter, but I dare not translate it here. Let’s just say that malapropisms are funny in any language – and that I will have to avoid her like the
plaque plague at our ship reunions.
Program cover for 1887 revival of The Rivals
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Sheridan by Sir Joshua Reynolds
Photo of painting courtesy of Wikipedia