Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Carroll O'Connor as Archie Bunker in the American sitcom All in the Family (1971-1979). Archie's frequent malapropisms (such as groin-acologist for gynecologist) are sometimes called Bunkerisms. (Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)


A malapropism is an absurd or humorous misuse of a word, especially by confusion with one of similar sound. Adjective: malapropian or malapropistic.

Malapropisms are sometimes called, more formally, acyrologia or phonological word substitutions.

The term malapropism comes from the character of Mrs. Malaprop in Richard Sheridan's play The Rivals (1775). One of her noteworthy similes is "as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile." Mrs. Malaprop's name derives from mal à propos, which means "inappropriate" or "out of place."

"Intentional malapropisms are sometimes used in humorous writing," note the authors of a Handbook of Technical Writing (2011). "Unintentional malapropisms can confuse readers and embarrass a writer."

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:


Examples and Observations

  • "Well I try to look at the bright side. I guess you could say I'm an internal optometrist."
    (Steve Carell as Barry in Dinner for Schmucks, 2010)
  • "A malapropism does not have to be amusing or surprising. It does not have to be based on a cliche and of course it does not have to be intentional. There need be no play on words, no hint of deliberate pun."
    (Donald Davidson, "A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs," in Philosophical Grounds of Rationality, ed. R. Grandy and R. Warner, 1986)
  • Particulars?
    "Why, murder's the matter! slaughter's the matter! killing's the matter! But he can tell you the perpendiculars."
    (Mrs. Malaprop in Richard Sheridan's The Rivals)
  • Pinnacle?
    "He is the very pineapple of politeness."
    (Mrs. Malaprop in Richard Sheridan's The Rivals)
  • False Witness?
    "A witness shall not bear falsies against thy neighbor."
    (Archie Bunker in All in the Family)
  • "groin-acologist" for "gynecologist"
    (Archie Bunker in All in the Family)
  • Dissension?
    "Why not? Play captains against each other, create a little dysentery in the ranks."
    (Christopher Moltisanti in The Sopranos)
  • Anecdotes?
    "That's another thing. I don't want to hear anymore how it was in your day. From now on, keep your antidotes to local color, like Dynoflow or the McGuire Sisters."
    (Tony Soprano to "Feech" La Manna in The Sopranos)

  • Repository?
    "No one, however smart, however well educated, however experienced, is the suppository of all wisdom."
    (Australian politician Tony Abbott, quoted by Mitchell Symons in There Are Tittles in This Title. Michael O'Mara Books, 2014) 
  • Stigma?
    "There's no stigmata connected with going to a shrink."
    (Little Carmine in The Sopranos)
  • Mnemonic?
    "An easy way to identify symptoms of a heart attack in women is by remembering the pneumonic, PULSE."
    ("Heart Attack Symptoms in Women Often Missed.", February 7, 2013)
  • Jane Ace's Malapropisms
    "[Goodman Ace's] primary comic device was putting droll, double-edged malapropisms in his wife's mouth, several per [radio] show [Easy Aces], like these jewels: 'I must have the intentional flu,' 'He's a big clog in the machinery,' 'Long face, no see,' 'A fly in the oatmeal,' 'I'm a human domino,' 'She had a face that would stop a crook,' 'Mother, you're so pessimistic--why can't you be more of an optician?' 'Make it short and sappy,' and Mrs. Ace's standard: 'You have to take the bitter with the batter.' At least one phrase, 'Time wounds all heels,' made it into Bartlett's."
    (Gerald Nachman, Raised on Radio. Random House, 1998)

  • Freudian Slips (Parapraxis)
    "Malapropisms are sometimes provoked when a character or person is under pressure and the words they utter reveal what they think as opposed to what they meant to say. Peter Simple in [Shakespeare's play] The Merry Wives of Windsor is asked by Falstaff and Host to reveal the secret questions he has been told to ask of Mistress Page. He replies 'I may not conceal them, sir' (IV.v.56), thereby betraying his instructions from Slender. If used intentionally in fiction and drama, they work to highlight the pomposity of the speaker to great comic effect."
    (Simon Toseland, The Ants Are My Friends: Misheard Lyrics, Malapropisms, Eggcorns and Other Linguistic Gaffes. Portico Books, 2007)
  • The Bathtub Effect
    "Both puns and malapropisms are found to favor word-initial and (to a lesser extent) word final positions . . ., a fact which is consistent with the higher saliency of these positions ('bathtub effect')."
    (Salvatore Attardo, Linguistic Theories of Humor. Mouton de Gruyter, 1994)


    Pronunciation: MAL-i-prop-izm

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    Your Citation
    Nordquist, Richard. "Malapropism." ThoughtCo, Oct. 23, 2017, Nordquist, Richard. (2017, October 23). Malapropism. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Malapropism." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 21, 2018).