Malaprops – Humor in Mistakes (A Mini Lesson)

Malapropism - Mini-Lesson including ActivitiesIn 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 a malaprop.

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 malproposims.

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. 

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 – Blunders from Famous People

Grab these free malaprop activities for your students and enjoy having a good laugh.

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 malaprops from some famous people.

  • “Listen to the blabbing brook.”
    Norm Crosby
  • “Marie Scott… has really plummeted to the top.”
    Alan Weeks
  • “Well, that was a cliff-dweller.”
    Wes Westrum, about a close baseball game
  • “We seem to have unleased a hornet’s nest.”
    Valerie Singleton
  • “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.”
    Mike Tyson

Activity #3 – Correct these malaprops.

Grab these free malaprop activities for your students and enjoy having a good laugh.

Download the handout for this activity.

  1. The man’s prepositions was not pleasing to me.
  2. She minus whale go since she already bought tickets.
  3. Grammar and Grandpa will be coming for Thanksgiving dinner.
  4. One vegetable I love is sparrowgrass with cheese sauce. 
  5. Dad says the monster is just a pigment of my imagination.
  6. I need a wheel barrel to carry these leaves I raked away. 
  7. Use a heap o’ tape to put your pictures in the album.
  8. I need five more to make my quotation for the month. 
  9. My brother takes me for granite.
  10. He had to use a fire distinguisher. 
  11. Michelangelo painted the Sixteenth Chapel. 
  12. Goat head and I’ll meet up with you later. 
  13. He’s going through an awkward phrase. 
  14. I have extract change. 
  15. My sister has extra-century perception.  
  16. She lives in an ivy tower. 
  17. “Don’t” is a contraption. 
  18. I’ll run over next store and borrow a cup of sugar. 
  19. My grandmother has old timers. 
  20. He’s a wolf in cheap clothing. 

Free Mini Lesson on MalapropsActivity #4 –  Write Malaprops

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 malaprops.

Gay Miller

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