Take Five: Hello, Mrs. Malaprop, Wherever You Are

Writers love words just like chefs love food.  We spend hours tinkering with verbs, nouns and adjectives within all types of techniques and combinations to keep the eyes of our readers glued to the copy we create.

We infuse our writing with clever, pungent (for the chefs) and meaningful words and sometimes toss in a curve ball just to keep it interesting.

So here’s a bit of whimsy, a flight of fanciful fun and some malapropisms that could throw a word-man out of sync.

Mrs. Malaprop, herself, a character from a 1775 Sheridan novel, might have said, “Lead the way, and we’ll precede.”

Here’s an interesting phrase, “Include me out,” uttered by the famous Hollywood producer, Samuel Goldwyn, who knew how to make great movies (“The Best Years of Our Lives”) but couldn’t put a meaningful sentence together.  I use it all the time when I’m asked to go someplace not appealing to me.

“An oral contract is not worth the paper it’s printed on,” is another favorite as well. Less usage by me, however.

Then there is Yogi Berra, just turned 87 years old.  He, of baseball fame, is a spokesman (a malaprop if there ever was one) for AFLAC Insurance Company.

“It ain’t over ‘til it’s over”…perhaps Yogi was speaking of a baseball game, but it’s applicable to life. This phrase is clear enough even if his syntax is wrong, so who cares? Never give up, he is telling us, and any language will do.

As to his comment on a popular New York restaurant: “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.” Yes, we get that too.

All of us in our daily discoveries use idioms in our conversations.  We may not be conversant in the King’s English but what fun we can have.  The French, who are quite protective of their language, have a Society of …. whatever French people call the group that watches over American word translations. These noble patriots finally threw up their collective hands, gave in and called “it”— Le Hot Dog.

The Chicago mayor, during the infamous 1968 Democratic Convention in his city, announced, “The police are not here to create disorder. They’re here to preserve disorder.” Well intended or not, Richard Daley got what he said—chaos—created by his handling of the Chicago Seven, who rebelled against the leadership of the city. 

Danny Ozark, a baseball team manager said, “It’s beyond my apprehension”… meaning “comprehension,” but I realize his wording might work, depending on what his intention was at the time of the utterance.

It seems harder to write with humor than it is to write serious copy.  Just pick up a newspaper today (if you can find one) and let me know, other than the comic strips, if anything is funny. You can try the political cartoons but both “sides” seem to be nasty, not droll. I miss wit.

Woody Allen and Neil Simon are two great comedy writers.  A quick review does not produce any malapropisms, but mostly this word substitution may come as more of a surprise than a planned language mistake.

A Boston mayor may have made the malapropism hall of fame with his exclamation: “…he is a man of great statue.”  Presumably, he meant “stature.”  Frankly, I like “statue” better, as do the Boston pigeons.

Mixing up words is common to all of us and if Valerie Singleton said, “We seemed to have unleased a hornet’s nests”, can we leash scorn on her for not using the word “unleashed”?  Maybe she had in mind to rent space.

We all need to lighten up. It’s a tipsy world out there. See, easy to do.

And a tip of the hat to Jimmy Durante.  “Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.”

GENE PEPPER is a published author and writer. Contact him by email at gpep@aol.com or phone (818) 790-1990.

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