In the late 1970s, English comedian Les Dawson came up with a classic malapropism. He took advantage of the popularity of Polaroid’s instant cameras which were all the rage at the time.
Dawson had created an alter ego called Cissie who was prone to making silly comments. In a much-loved episode of his show, he had Cissie refer to “one of those paranoid cameras”.
This hilarious piece of dialogue may well have been inspired by Dawson’s signature comedic device – his piano playing.
Les Dawson was an accomplished musician but would deliberately play the wrong notes in his performances. You could say that he invented musical malapropisms!
From George Bush to………………. George Bush!
Of course, malapropisms are even funnier when they are accidental, particularly when the speaker appears not to have noticed that what they have said is ridiculous. Everyone has their favourite examples of malapropisms and these will often be mistakes made by politicians. After all, a politician making a fool of themselves is often something to savour.
Unfortunately for politicians, their malapropisms tend to be very public gaffes and are almost always preserved for posterity by the media. Perhaps that is why so many of the most celebrated malapropism are those made by politicians in general and George W. Bush in particular! Here’s our malapropism roll of honour:
“This is unparalyzed in the state’s history.” [unparalleled]
Gib Lewis, Texas Speaker of the House
“Republicans understand the importance of bondage between a mother and child.” [bond]
Dan Quayle, Vice President
“The law I sign today directs new funds… to the task of collecting vital intelligence… on weapons of mass production.” [destruction]
President George W. Bush
“We cannot let terrorists and rogue nations hold this nation hostile or our allies hostile” [hostage]
President George W. Bush – again!
“I am surprised, frankly, at the amount of distrust that exists in this town. And I’m sorry it’s the case, and I’ll work hard to try to elevate it.” [alleviate]
President George W. Bush – yet again!
“I’m fading into Bolivian.” [oblivion]
Boxer, Mike Tyson
“I don’t remember. In Paris. Somewhere over there on the Left Wing.” [Left Bank]
Film maker, Samuel Goldwyn of MGM
“It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility” [humidity]
Baseball star, Yogi Berra
“States are lavatories of innovation” [laboratories]
Texas Governor, Rick Perry
“He was a man of great statue” [stature]
Thomas Menino, Mayor of Boston
“The police are not here to create disorder, they’re here to preserve disorder.” [order]
Richard Daley, Mayor of Chicago
‘It’s not rocket fuel” [rocket science]
Scottish First Minister, Henry McLeish
On a more serious note
Malapropisms occur in every language and can be incredibly funny. They are also extremely embarrassing.
At Word Connection, we have a professional interest in this type of linguistic error. That’s because most malapropisms are not gaffs by politicians speaking without a script, they are the inevitable consequences of having a poor grasp of the language concerned.
When translating into any language, it is important to choose the right words. In order to do that, you must know what the right words are.
Sometimes the wrong words can escape anyone’s lips in their haste to make their point. Most malapropisms are errors made by those who know perfectly well what the right words are, but who couldn’t summon them at the crucial moment.
However, when words are your business, you must make the correct choices every time.