The unintentional use of incorrect or similar sounding words.
Usually with an amusing effect.
Example: The cannon balls ate the missionaries (cannibals).
A good way to describe a malapropism is a slip of the tongue.
Malapropism belongs to the section of English called figures of speech. We use figures of speech to enrich language. They create images in the mind and we use them to express ourselves imaginatively.
As our knowledge of a language increases and we gain confidence in speaking it, our use of figures of speech will become more advanced and refined. This applies to learners as well as native speakers of any language.
Some types of simple figures of speech you are probably already very comfortable using are the basic comparative ones of similes and metaphors. As you progress in your English language learning you will start to be more familiar with the nuance of the language. You may already be proficient in the use of advanced figures of speech such as the contradictions inherent in the use of irony.
Now that we’ve set the stage, let’s get back to the topic at hand – malapropism.
The word malapropism comes from Mrs. Malaprop - a character in Sheridan's comedy The Rivals.
Mrs Malaprop has a habit of replacing words incorrectly, producing a humorous effect.
Here are a few examples of Mrs. Malaprop's wit and wisdom:
"We will not anticipate the past, our retrospection will now be all to the future."
"The pineapple of politeness" (Instead of "pinnacle of politeness.")
"She's as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile" (Instead of "alligator on the banks of the Nile.")
The word also has origins in the French phrase mal à propos, which means inappropriate or incorrect.
How to use Malapropism in your writing
This is of course , an easy way to get a laugh! When a writer uses this technique to create an impression of the personality of a character it is usually for comedic effect. We all love to laugh with those characters who trip over their own tongues!
There is, however, a more subtle purpose to the use of malapropism for characterisation. Characters who mispronounce or misuse common words or phrases are either unintelligent or uneducated or both. Malapropism is used to instantly lower credibility.
One example of this technique is in the movie Head of State. The Vice President in the movie is shown to be sleazy. In one scene he mispronounces the word "facade" (fah-sahd), saying "fakade" instead. This shows the audience that the character is not the educated and intelligent man he pretends to be.
Some more examples of malapropism
"For all intents and purposes” is often turned into the malapropism “for all intensive purposes".
Baseball player Yogi Berra, "Texas has a lot of electrical votes", rather than "electoral votes"
Have you come across any uses of malapropism? I would love to hear from you in the comments section.