- You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
- — Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride
A malapropism is what happens when someone attempts to use a word, but instead uses a similar-sounding word with a different meaning. It's the quintessential "wrong place, wrong time" of language.
Accidental malapropisms in speech are simply caused by the brain reaching into the filing cabinet next to the one it wanted. They are quite common, and although they can be embarrassing (e.g. Freudian slips), they're usually laughed off without incident. They're a little more serious in formal speeches, such as those given by politicians, where the speaker is expected to sound intelligent.
In writing, malapropisms can be caused by bad spelling, especially if the writer blindly uses a spellchecker without bothering to look up the "corrected" words in a dictionary to make sure they're right. In a Word World, using the wrong word in the wrong place can cause unintended effects ranging from the funny to the bizarre to the downright disturbing.
Examples of Malapropisms
- From "My Immortal":
- "Snap was taking a video tape of me and Loopin was masticating to it" (masticating instead of masturbating)
- From "Ring Child":
- "A hord was being blown" (hord[e] instead of horn)
- From "Blood Raining Night":
- "Sesshomaru the Vampire Lord is black" (black instead of back)
- "Your beasts are so lovely!" (beasts instead of breasts)
- "You can't beat me, I have a heart stronger than anyone's will to eat" (eat instead of beat, probably)