August 8, 2013

Case File #013.08.08: MALAPROPISM

In Richard Sheridan's 1775 comedic play The Rivals, Mrs. Malaprop is a bombastic character who often ludicrously misuses words, and it is from her name that the English noun malapropism was derived. Sheridan based the character's name on the adjective malapropos, meaning “inappropriate” or “inopportune,” which had been around since the mid-seventeenth century and was itself an Anglicized borrowing of the French phrase mal à propos, meaning “bad for the purpose.” As for the coining of malapropism—which means, of course, “the mistaken and often humorous use of a word or phrase in place of a similar-sounding one, or a word or phrase so misused”—etymologists and lexicographers agree on neither when the deed occurred nor who should get the credit, but many do believe the word's first appearance in print was in Charlotte Brontë's novel Shirley in 1849.

©2013 Michael R. Gates

No comments:

Post a Comment