• The mistaken use of a word in place of a similar-sounding one, often with an amusing effect (e.g., dance a “flamingo” instead of “flamenco”).

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Example Sentences

“She stumbled in the introduction with a malapropism, but the rest of the speech went smoothly.”

“English-language learners might use some malapropisms as they practice their skills.”

“The malapropism of ‘Mr. Granny’ instead of ‘Mr. Grantley’ was an unfortunate nickname that stuck throughout the school year.” 

Word Origin

British English, mid-19th century

Why this word?

Any old slip of the tongue — such as forgetting a word or using the wrong verb tense — can be called misspeaking. But when it’s specifically a humorous mix-up of words, that’s a malapropism. This linguistic blunder comes from the 18th-century play “The Rivals.” In it, the character Mrs. Malaprop is known for unintentionally using the wrong words in hilarious contexts. For example, she exclaims, “He is the very pine-apple [pinnacle] of politeness!” Playwright Richard Sheridan likely got his inspiration from the French term “mal à propos,” meaning “inappropriate.” The noun can refer to the linguistic effect in general, or a specific instance of malapropism.

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