Malapropisms
Posted: 15 August 2007 01:18 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Just read The Rivals again, wonderful play. The most memorable character is, of course, Mrs Malaprop. Usually the word she is groping for is pretty easy to spot ("like an allegory on the banks of the Nile”, “he is the very pineapple of politeness!") but sometimes one is left groping alongside her. Take these examples.

Sir Anthony: Objection! Let him object if he dare! ........ My process was always very simple: in their younger day ‘twas ‘Jack, do this’; - if he demurred, I knocked him down - and if he grumbled at that I always sent him out of the room.

Mrs Malaprop: Aye, and the properest way, o’ my conscience! nothing is so conciliating to young people as severity. - Well, Sir Anthony, I shall give Mr Acres his discharge, and prepare Lydia to receive your son’s invocations ........

Mrs Malaprop: No! Captain Absolute is indeed a fine gentleman! ..................... Then he’s so well-bred, so full of alacrity and adulation! and has so much to say for himself: in such good language too! His physiognomy so grammatical!

Anyone care to take a stab at the words she means? (Not sure with that last one whether one or both are malapropisms).

BTW Mrs Slipslop in Henry Fielding’s novel Joseph Andrews (1742) had exactly the same propensity for getting her words wrong, as did Dogberry, the constable in Much Ado About Nothing. There’s a long comic tradition of such characters stretching back to Aristophanes and Plautus.

[ Edited: 15 August 2007 04:54 AM by aldiboronti ]
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Posted: 15 August 2007 01:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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invocations - invitations?

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Posted: 15 August 2007 04:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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flynn999 - 15 August 2007 01:35 AM

invocations - invitations?

I don’t think so. I think we need a word that’s equivalent to ‘addresses’, as in receiving your son’s addresses, in the sense of courtship, but I can’t think of a candidate that could be malapropised as ‘invocations’.

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Posted: 15 August 2007 06:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Yes, I see what you mean, can’t find anything likely in the OED definition of ‘addresses’. I wonder if ‘insinuations’ is a possibility but there’s always been a suggestion of artfulness with insinuations despite one of its definitions as a winning way of speaking.

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Posted: 15 August 2007 11:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I think it may be the wrong tack to always look for similar-sounding words that she “meant” to say.  Consider rather that Mrs. Malaprop may just misapprehend the words’ meanings--in some cases perhaps based on a misleadingly limited synonymy with other words or phrases.  For instance, the OED defines invocation as “the action or an act of invoking or calling upon (God, a deity, etc.) in prayer or attestation...”; likewise invoke is defined as “to call on (God, a deity, etc.)...”

So: Mrs. Malaprop understands that to invoke is “to call (up)on”, but doesn’t understand the distinction in meaning that makes it an inappropriate choice to describe the act of a suitor calling on a young woman.

I suspect something similar its going on with “conciliating”: to conciliate someone is to bring them (back) into good temper, to induce a friendly attitude; she seems to be using it to mean to instill good manners, a good attitude, etc.  It’s a near miss on meaning, not pronunciation.

[ Edited: 15 August 2007 11:20 AM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 15 August 2007 02:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I agree (as often) with Dr. T.

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Posted: 16 August 2007 01:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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That’s a convincing argument, doc. I think the fact that Mrs Malaprop so often does produce words with a similar sound to the original leads one to believe that she will always do so, and, as you say, it ain’t necessarily so. And yet, and yet .......... the tantalizing feeling that there is such a word, just beyond the reach of recall, is always there when I read the play, especially with that infernal invocations. Ah well, it’s the genius of Sheridan, I suppose.

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