A malapropism is a speech error in which a word in a phrase is accidentally replaced by one with a similar sound, usually with comic effect. The term Dogberryism is also sometimes used, after the character in Shakespeare’s “Much Ado about Nothing,” who was quite prone to making them…
Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two auspicious persons (Act III, Scene V)
They’re often used in fiction as a comedic device, but are quite common in real life too. Some notable examples:
Baseball legend Yogi Berra: Texas has a lot of electrical (electoral) votes.
Former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern: It’s all smokes and daggers, and, We shouldn’t upset the apple tart.
Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot: No-one… however smart, however well-educated, however experienced … is the suppository of all wisdom. (Hear Hear)
Closely related to the malapropism is the spoonerism, in which the initial sounds of two words are accidentally swapped around, as in belly jeans, or I shook a tower after my workout. Named after Reverend William Archibald Spooner, one-time Warden of New College, Oxford, they’re quite easy to make. Just be careful if you’re having plucked pheasant for dinner.
And then there’s the eggcorn, which is like a malapropism, but specifically involves mishearing one word of a phrase for another real word, rather than being an accidental slip. Some of the most common examples of this phenomenon are using the phrases play it by year, for all intensive purposes, and ex-patriot, instead of play it by ear, for all intents and purposes, and expatriate respectively.
And finally, there’s the Ringoism, which is basically just a malapropism, only uttered by Ringo Starr. There are a few stories about some of his legendary malapropisms, the most famous of which occurred after a gruelling concert, when he exclaimed, Phew, it’s been a hard day’s night! And thus the title of a song, album, and film was born!
And then there’s the following exchange:
Interviewer: “Now, Ringo, I hear you were manhandled at the Embassy Ball. Is this right?”
Ringo: “Not really. Someone just cut a bit of my hair, you see.”
Interviewer: “Let’s have a look. You seem to have got plenty left.”
Ringo: (turns head) “Can you see the difference? It’s longer, this side.”
Interviewer: “What happened exactly?”
Ringo: “I don’t know. I was just talking, having an interview (exaggerated voice). Just like I am NOW!”
(John and Paul begin lifting locks of his hair, pretending to cut it)
Ringo: “I was talking away and I looked ’round, and there was about 400 people just smiling. So, you know — what can you say?”
John: “What can you say?”
Ringo: “Tomorrow never knows.”
I’m loath to class this as a malapropism, as I’ve no idea what he was actually trying to say. Tomorrow never comes, perhaps, but that wouldn’t make sense in the context. But I guess that unclassifiability is what makes him unique, and deserving of his own term. It’s not quite becoming an adjective, but it’s not a bad achievement nonetheless.