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What is a malapropism?

This funny term takes its name from Mrs. Malaprop, a character in Richard Brinsley Sheridan's play The Rivals (London: Printed for John Wilkie, 1775), who habitually confused long words. (Sheridan patterned her name after the French mal à propos, 'inappropriate'.) Malapropism is the ludicrous but unintentional misuse of words, especially mistaking a word for another that looks or sounds much like it (also an instance of this). The sounds of the word actually used strongly resemble those of the intended word, but there is no similarity in meaning (e.g., horoscope / stethoscope, physical / fiscal, parakeet / parquet, enormity / enormousness). You will find many malapropisms pop up in the speeches of politicians and the chatter of children. Reader's Digest offers this one from a little girl saying the Pledge of Allegiance: "I pledge a lesson to the frog of the United States of America, and to the wee puppet for witches hands. One Asian, in the vestibule, with little tea and just rice for all." Charles Schulz, the creator of the Peanuts comic strip, loved to use malapropisms, especially by Charlie Brown's sister, Sally, e.g., "I'm writing a story about some cave men. They're sitting around a campfire, see, when all of a sudden they're attacked by a huge thesaurus!"

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