Thursday, February 5, 2015

What's That Word I Want to Use?

Have you ever been stuck on a word? You know what you want to say or write, but you can’t quite get it to come out of your mouth or onto the page? Or maybe you come up with a word, and it sounds almost like the word you want, but it’s not quite right? 

For example, you want to write the word, revolution, but instead you write, evolution. You know that something doesn’t seem write – oops! – right, but you don’t know how to correct yourself. 

Another example – you want to make a reservation for Howl at the Moon, but when you call, what comes out of your mouth is, “Yes, I’d like to make an application – I mean, invitation…” and the person on the other end of the line suggests, “Do you mean reservation?”

Yes! Thank you!

What is happening, you ask yourself? Have the wires in your brain crossed over into some inexplicable portion devoted solely to nonsense? No. Not really. But you have become a victim – a victim of malapropism. 

Comedian Norm Crosby made a living with the malaprop. He is still known today as The Master of Malaprop. I’ll be giving my age away here, but I used to watch him on the Ed Sullivan Show and the Dean Martin Show back in the 60s. And, at the age of 87, Norm Crosby, the master of malaprop, is still making audiences laugh.

So what is a malaprop?

A malaprop is an unintentional (or in the case of Norm Crosby, intentional) word employed when the word you want to use sounds similar to the word you intended to use but doesn’t make sense in the context of your sentence or story.

Use of the malaprop can be quite entertaining, although when you’re trying to make a point, it can be extremely frustrating! Unintentional use of a word in any setting will cause uproarious laughter when the actual meaning of the word you accidentally used is ludicrous in context. Some very famous and some not very famous people have accidentally used malapropism in their speeches and in ordinary conversation. Using malapropism can be both embarrassing and hilarious. provides several examples of the malaprop. Here is just one from their list:

New Scientist, a magazine, reports one of its employees calling his colleague “a suppository (i.e. repository) of knowledge”.

And from Your Dictionary come these examples:

A rolling stone gathers no moths. (moss)

"The police are not here to create disorder, they're here to preserve disorder." - Richard Daley, former mayor of Chicago 

"It will take time to restore chaos and order." (former President George W. Bush)

"The law I sign today directs new funds... to the task of collecting vital intelligence... on weapons of mass production." (former President George W. Bush)

More examples of malapropism: 

To pronounce your words with a specific attention (intention), use the right infection (inflection). 

End your sentences with any of the following punctuation points – periods, question marks, or ejaculation (exclamation) marks. 

She doesn’t care. She’s so intensive (insensitive).

Does the malaprop have a cure? Well, if you are speaking and one pops out of your mouth, you probably won’t realize it until you see the reaction your words have on your intended audience. A simple apology will suffice and, if you have friends like mine, somebody will supply the correct word for you. 

If you’re writing, have somebody else read through your material. It also helps to have a thesaurus nearby if you feel your face scrunch into quizzical mode. I often know immediately when something I’ve written seems a little off. Having a thesaurus allows me to look up a word close to my intended word, and there among the suggestions is usually the word I want! 

Try to come up with your own malaprop and if you are too young to remember Norm Crosby, Ed Sullivan, or Dean Martin, I invite you to watch this YouTube video:

Graphic of Columbo by Prawny on


  1. LOL. Love this. And I must be old too, I remember those cool cats. Though I'll have to refresh for Norm Crosby. But Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis movies were a staple in our house... (I'm generally a decade ahead on things because my parents were conservative about what I watched; I'm grateful today for that).

    Either way, great post about malaprops :) It happens to everyone, sometimes ;)

    1. Thank you for your comment. And yes, "it happens to everyone, sometimes," as you wrote, and to others, like me, quite often ;)




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