Friday, February 23, 2018

Word Play for Writers—Marvelous Malaprops

by Lori Hatcher @LoriHatcher2

“You can lead a horse to manure, but you can’t make him drink.”

“We’ll burn that bridge when we get to it.”

Ahhh, the marvelous malaprop – defines it as “a verbal mistake in which a word is substituted with another word that sounds similar but means something entirely different, often to comedic effect.”

President George W. Bush was so successful at the malaprop that pundits renamed his verbal blunders “Bushisms.” Here are a few of his best:

“We need an energy bill that encourages consumption.”

“I am mindful not only of preserving executive powers for myself, but for my predecessors as well.”

“The word malapropism is taken from a character, Mrs. Malaprop, in a 1775 play called The Rivals, written by Richard Brinsley Sheridan,” Grammarist says. “It is assumed that Sheridan coined the character name from the French phrase, mal à propos, which means inappropriately.

President Bush wasn’t the only politician to master the art of malaprop. Former Chicago mayor Richard Daley once announced, “The police are not here to create disorder, they’re here to preserve disorder.”

And Vice-president Quayle once commented, “Republicans understand the importance of bondage between a mother and child.”

Malaprops turn up in the most unexpected places. Like this one heard at a church business meeting: “The Finance Chairman and the Head Deacon are diabolically opposed.”

Or this one on a neighborhood crime blotter: “Mr. Washington, of 300 South Maple Street, received a decease and desist order.”

Or this gem, overheard during a conversation between two fifth graders about their teacher: “He was watching me like I was a hawk.”

Some malaprops come about because of ignorance and a poor vocabulary, but others are born through brilliance and mastery of the English language. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes hard to distinguish the two.

Other than making us laugh, malapropos can prove quite useful in our writing. You might have a character, like the original Mrs. Malaprop, who is characterized by verbal blunders and missteps. Sprinkling well-turned malaprops into his or her dialogue can generate laughter and endear your character to your readers. 

Creating your own malaprops can also be a fun and mentally-engaging warm up writing exercise to get your creative juices going. Whether or not you use them in your writing, bending your brain to the task can make your writing flow like water off a duck’s behind.

And that’s nothing to squeeze at.

Now it’s your turn. What’s your favorite malaprop? Or, better yet, make up one of your own. Share it with us in the comments below.

Word play for writers—marvelous #malaprops - @LoriHatcher2 on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Besides begin fun, #malaprops can prove quite useful in our #writing - @LoriHatcher2 on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Lori’s the editor of Reach Out, Columbia magazine and the author of two devotional books, Hungry forGod … Starving for Time, Five-Minute Devotions for Busy Women and  Joy in the Journey – Encouragement for Homeschooling Moms. A blogger, writing instructor, and inspirational speaker, her goal is to help women connect with God in the craziness of life You’ll find her pondering the marvelous and the mundane on her blog, Hungry for God. . .Starving for Time. Connect with her on FacebookTwitter (@LoriHatcher2), or Pinterest (Hungry for God).


  1. Thanks for this, Lori. I've been wondering how to make one of my characters more memorable (and funny). Perfect way. I'm reminded of a college professor who used to respond to our dumb questions with, "Now, THAT's a horse of different garage."
    Jay Wright; Anderson, SC

    1. Hahaha, Jay, that’s a perfect example. I think a character prone to malapropism would be a great addition to your novel. Write on!

  2. I resemble those remarks. Thank you for the smile, chuckle, and lesson Ms. Lori. God's blessings ma'am...

  3. Lori, the older I get, the more I find myself at risk of turning into Mrs. Malaprop. I often have to think, "Did I say that wrong?" This is embarrassing not only because I'm a writer, but I've also been teaching English for 24 years, so I'm not allowed to make such blunders. HA! I told a story to friends at church last week about my daughter coming home for Christmas after her first semester in college and expecting me to make lunch for her, do her laundry, etc. I said, "The 'gig' is up, sister. You've been feeding yourself and doing your own laundry at college. You can do it at home, too." After I said it, I thought...jig. The jig is up. My husband is getting worse with using the right words, too. I guess it goes with the memory loss...and the hearing loss. We have some pretty humorous moments! -- But to the important thing...your post. This is a great reminder to think about those quirky things we do and use them in our characters to make them more realistic. Thanks!

    1. Oh, Karen, you're not alone! I was at a writers conference last weekend and the worship leader said she and her grandkids like to sing "Acapulco," i.e. without words. I smiled extra big and filed the malaprop away. knowing I'd be able to use it this weekend after this post. Thanks, LaTan Murphy!

  4. My sister said this high school: "I saw two deer mowing the neighbor's lawn." I had this image of their little hooves trying to grip the handle on the lawn mower.

    1. Bahaha, JPC, that's a great malaprop AND a great mental picture. THanks for sharing :)

  5. And today I learned a new word for an old observation! Never heard of a 'Malaprop', although I have hee-hawed over these for years (not that I have personal experience...wink wink)!

  6. I hear ya Charla ;) Thanks for laughing along.

  7. She is at the pineapple of success. Thanks for the blogpost. Fun.