16 of the Most Famous Malapropism Examples

Do you tend to masseuse (er, misuse) your words in humorous ways? You've made a malapropism—and everyone from politicians to famous literature characters is guilty of errors like these.

Have you ever mistakenly used the completely wrong word while speaking, causing weird looks or perhaps laughter? Well, you’re not alone—celebrities, politicians, and well-known fictional characters do it too. And in case you didn’t know, there’s a name for these linguistic goofs: “malapropisms.”

What is a malapropism?

A malapropism is the use of an incorrect word in place of another, especially when the incorrect word sounds similar to the correct one. While most malapropism examples, and often the best funny malapropisms, are unintentional errors, a malapropism can technically be a deliberate misuse of a word, too. Here are our favorite examples of famous, funny malapropisms. For more linguistic fun, check out these words you didn’t know were palindromes.

The mother of malapropisms

The term “malapropism” itself actually comes from a character called Mrs. Malaprop, from The Rivals, a 1775 five-act comedy by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Mrs. Malaprop did, in fact, use words incorrectly as a funny quirk of her character. Her name became the default term for misusing a word. Her name, in turn, comes from the French mal à propos, or “inappropriate.” Here are a couple of Mrs. Malaprop’s malapropism examples:

  • He is the very pineapple of politeness!” Pineapple?! She subbed in this fruit name for “pinnacle.”
  • “She’s as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile.” As far as we know, allegories don’t spend time around rivers—she was going for “alligator.”

More malapropism-happy characters

Mrs. Malaprop paved the way for plenty of other fictional characters to use funny malapropisms. Here are some malapropism examples in literature and pop culture:

  • In Much Ado About Nothing, Constable Dogberry uses multiple malapropisms—and is so known for them that “Dogberryism” has become another name for malapropism. At one point, he says, “Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two auspicious persons.” There are two malapropism examples in this line: He should have said “apprehended,” not “comprehended,” and “suspicious” rather than “auspicious.”
  • Shakespeare was quite the master of language, so it’s no surprise that his works contain numerous malapropism examples. In another instance, Henry IV, Part II‘s Mistress Quickly says that the character Falstaff was “indited to dinner” rather than “invited.”
  • You can find another malapropism in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. And, perhaps surprisingly, it’s not Huck who makes the mistake—it’s Aunt Sally, who says, “I was most putrified with astonishment.” Would that be “petrified”?
  • Another character famous for malapropisms was Archie Bunker on All in the Family. The TV character provided us with such malapropisms as, “What do I look like, an inferior decorator?” instead of “interior decorator,” and “In closing, I’d like to say Molotov!” instead of “Mazel tov.”

While these malapropism examples are intentional character choices, there are plenty of other funny typos in literature that you should check out.

Funny malapropisms from celebrities

  • As reported in a 1989 book, then-Vice President George Bush was discussing elections with baseball legend Yogi Berra. Berra reportedly said, “Texas has a lot of electrical votes,” instead of “electoral.” Hey, elections are confusing for everyone.
  • Mike Tyson came off worse in a boxing match in 2002. When a reporter asked him where he went from here, Tyson replied, “I might just fade into Bolivian.” Meaning “oblivion,” he wasn’t too far off, but the humorous mistake still went down as one of the funniest famous malapropisms.
  • In 2012, during an interview with Justin Bieber, David Letterman told the celeb that if he got any more tattoos, he’d look like the Sistine Chapel. Bieber replied, “I’m not going for the Sixteenth Chapel look.” Whoops!
  • Comedian Norm Crosby has made so many famous malapropisms (intentionally, for comedic effect!) that he was nicknamed “The Master of Malaprop.” He once directed his listeners to “listen to the blabbing”—not “babbling”—“brook.”
  • Professional baseball player Mike Smith once said that his new coat had “lots of installation,” rather than “insulation.”

Funny malapropisms from politicians

Politicians’ words are so widely seen, and already so subject to criticism, that their malapropisms go down in history. Some of the funniest are:

  • President George W. Bush was called out for several malapropisms, perhaps the funniest being 2000’s “We cannot let terrorists and rogue nations hold this nation hostile or hold our allies hostile.” Close, but we’re pretty sure he meant “hostage,” not “hostile”!
  • Boston’s longest-serving mayor, Thomas Menino, described an unknown person as “a man of great statue in our city.” Maybe this person had a statue erected in his honor, but Menino meant “stature.” We know what you were going for here.
  • Another mayoral malapropism! Former mayor of Chicago Richard J. Daley is said to have called tandem bicycles “tantrum” bicycles, and, per the Chicago Tribune, said O’Hare Airport was “the crosswords of the nation” rather than the “crossroads.”
  • Gib Lewis, the Texas Speaker of the House from 1983 to 1993, supposedly said, “This is unparalyzed in the state’s history.” We’re not sure exactly what he was talking about, but we have a feeling he meant “unparalleled.”

Next, check out 12 grammatical errors even smart people make.

Sources:

Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a Staff Writer for RD.com who has been writing since before she could write. She graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English and has been writing for Reader's Digest since 2017. In spring 2017, her creative nonfiction piece "Anticipation" was published in Angles literary magazine.