A malaprop is a mistaken use of a word in place of a similar-sounding one, often with an amusing effect. The term came from the eighteenth-century play The Rivals by Richard Sheridan. Throughout the play, Mrs. Malaprop purposely made blunders by mixing up similar sounding words for humor. From this came the new words: Malaprop and malapropism.
Over time the definition of Malaprop has been refined. A Malaprop must contain three features:
- The new word that replaces the original must have a different meaning.
- The substituted word must have a similar sound to the original word.
- The word used must be a recognized in the speaker’s native tongue.
In 1874, Knowles Shaw wrote the famous hymn “Bringing in the Sheaves.” It was inspired by a verse in Psalm 126. “Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.” Most adults know that sheaves are bundles of cereal plants such as wheat or rye. A youngster, however, has never heard the word sheaves. SO, just imagine the youngster singing this hymn in church bellowing out “Bringing in the sheets.” Smiles, chuckles, and out and out laughs can be heard in the church. This is an example of malapropism.
Activity #1 – Merriam-Webster Ask the Editor – YouTube
Peter Sokolowski explains Malaprop using examples. Showing this short video is a great hook activity for this mini-lesson.
Activity #2 – Lesson
In this mini lesson, students watch the video. The video goes over the definition and one example. Next students pause the video to complete either the digital or printable organizer. After completing the organizer, students continue watching the video to check their responses. This mini activity is a great introduction activity to a Malaprop unit. Activities in this free series are set up as individual lessons making them great to assign through Google Classroom.
Activity #3 – Blunders from Famous People
Americans enjoy a great joke. When famous people accidentally use incorrect words, the press loves to point them out. President George W. Bush was famous for his misuse of words. Because of this malaprops are often referred to as Bushisms. Here’s a selection of George W. Bushisms:
- “We cannot let terrorists and rogue nations hold this nation hostile or hold our allies hostile.”
- “We are making steadfast progress.”
- “It will take time to restore chaos and order.”
- “The law I sign today directs new funds… to the task of collecting vital intelligence… on weapons of mass production.”
Enjoy these malaprop examples from some famous people.
- “Listen to the blabbing brook.”
- “Marie Scott… has really plummeted to the top.”
- “Well, that was a cliff-dweller.”
- Wes Westrum, about a close baseball game
- “We seem to have unleased a hornet’s nest.”
- “It’s got lots of installation.”
Mike Smith, describing his new coat
- “Be sure and put some of those neutrons on it.”
Mike Smith, ordering a salad at a restaurant
- “I’m fading into Bolivian.”
Activity #4 – Correct these Malaprop.
Download the handout for this activity.
The man’s prepositions was not pleasing to me.
She minus whale go since she already bought tickets.
Grammar and Grandpa will be coming for Thanksgiving dinner.
One vegetable I love is sparrowgrass with cheese sauce.
Dad says the monster is just a pigment of my imagination.
I need a wheel barrel to carry these leaves I raked away.
Use a heap o’ tape to put your pictures in the album.
I need five more to make my quotation for the month.
My brother takes me for granite.
He had to use a fire distinguisher.
Michelangelo painted the Sixteenth Chapel.
Goat head and I’ll meet up with you later.
He’s going through an awkward phrase.
I have extract change.
My sister has extra-century perception.
She lives in an ivy tower.
“Don’t” is a contraption.
I’ll run over next store and borrow a cup of sugar.
My grandmother has old timers.
He’s a wolf in cheap clothing.
Activity #5 – Write a Malaprop
Many people use malaprops purposely to be funny. Yogi Berra, Yankees baseball legend, intended to be funny when he use these lines. They are memorable because they don’t make sense.
- I’m not going to buy my kids an encyclopedia. Let them walk to school like I did.
- He hits from both sides of the plate. He’s amphibious.
- Take it with a grin of salt.
Have students make up a malaprop.