Malapropism and Mispronunciation — NowInteractive with Embedded Links!

In English on February 12, 2011 at 6:36 pm

I read a prompt somewhere recently that solicited the moment when you realized you aren’t as smart as you think you are. That happens to me a lot because I have a personal defect that causes me to think that I am so smart. People are always saying to me, “Oh, you just think you are so smart, Dawn.” And I just shrug and nod smugly. Because it’s true. I do think that.

The Universe likes that sort of blatant cockiness because then It has the opportunity to enact Murphy’s Law. I’m often knocked off my high horse, caught eating crow or groveling over the hairy toes of someone I’ve exposed to one of my bouts of elitist know-it-all-ness. ( And believe me, there is NO founding in reality for this behavior. It’s just inherent.)

I can trace this superiority complex back to 10th grade lit class and the introduction of Sheridan’s Mrs. Malaprop. I felt immensely superior to that character because, even then, I considered the stables of my own vocabulary farm to be overflowing with pretty little ponies. I would never stop to consider an accusation that I had spouted a malapropism or mangled the pronunciation of a word. What’s more, I delighted in finding occasions in which people around me would commit these offenses. I can’t remember anybody else’s epic malapropisms right now. (Actually, I can. But I’ll get to that.) I just remember, on more than occasion, laughing with an affected British chortle. For reasons beyond my comprehension, I often act superior in British.

The Universe, with its twisted, Murphonian sense of humor, saw fit to make me the biggest, bumbling buffoon of all.

Rewind to the summer between 7th and 8th grade or so. Summer camp at the horse stable in Hopkinton. (Now it’s one of those evangelical churches.)Teeth to throat rivalry with Genevieve, (who insisted, with an affected French accent, that people pronounce her name soft j -ohn-vie-ehv instead of Jenna-Vive.)  We were both memorizing all the words to all the songs on the new Belinda Carlisle tape. We were both in competition to be the best rider ever since the day riding was invented. We were both in the process of devouring The Heavenly Horse from the Outermost West.Which, I must add, is one of the best fantasy novels ever. We were neck and neck. Then one day Gabby, (which is what my memory insists I called her despite the unlikeliness of it) launched a coup. I don’t know how she did it.  We were on our lunch break, between riding lessons and cleaning saddles, or whatever it was we did. We sat in the hot break room that smelled like a combination of old wood, leather and summer green and had the kind of wooden screen door that slammed with an angry series of creaks and crashes. I announced that I had reached the epilogue of the Heavenly Horse and thus had won the competition to see who could finish first. Gabby stopped eating her ham and cheese sandwich mid-bite, with the bread still close to her lips. Her glossy black eyebrows hit the ceiling and she choke-laughed.

“Say that word again, Dawn,” she commanded.

“What?” I asked. “Epilogue?”

She burst into a volcanic explosion of crumbs and laughter. All the other campers, nervous and unsure of their own pronunciation abilities looked between us, baffled. And then they decided she was the safer bet and began laughing. See what a bit confidence can create?

“It’s pronounced ep-ill-oh-gee you moron,” said Gabby.  (Oh, you think you are so smart, Dawn.)

I’ve mispronounced it ever since. Even when my friends and family have scoffed, laughed at and purposefully misunderstood my pronunciation. I have persevered.

Which is why I almost never let my superiority complex make a fellow mispronouncer-of-words feel bad. And I try not to point out another’s malapropisms. But here’s a list of my top six favorites:

Over the years my children have:

6. Called the dining room buffet a “buffalo.”

5. Called the kitchen the “chicken.”

4. Wanted to chew on a “Starbucks” instead of a Starburst.

3. Accused their teacher of being far too “consistent” instead of persistent in her acquisition of homework paper.  (Not a serious switch. Either works. Funny nonetheless.)

This morning I noticed that my seven-year old has a habit of assigning flavors to memories. “This tastes like the Fresh Produce Market,” she said of her glass of sparkling water. “This tastes like the race track,” she said of her ham sandwich. “I think she’s got synesthesia,” I said to my husband. Which led to:

2. “Mom, Olivia thinks she has anesthesia!”

1. And then there’s my all time favorite. One day when I was volunteering in the school library, I overheard one of the first graders tell his teacher that he still felt a little unconscious. Alarmed, I quickly reviewed life saving steps in my head. But his teacher pulled me aside and said that he hadn’t been able to poop in a couple of days. The old constipation/unconscious malapropism. It gets me every time.

Eh -pill-oh-gee:

Despite my best efforts, I still suffer from episodes of superiority. The Universe still delights in these occasions. I’ve never heard The Universe speak. But I bet if it did it would affect a British accent.

  1. Great post. I really enjoyed the links. I think I want Gianni’s now. Keep it up love ya .

  2. I pronounced “chutzpah” with the “ch” sound. And I was in my 20s. With a group of smart people. 🙂 Did you ever call out your “friend” Gabby that she was the one who was incorrect?

    • HI Robyn, I never did tell her. It’s one of those things that nags at me too. When I do find her? I’m going to pronounce her name Jenna-Vive too.

  3. That one made me laugh (except the big hairy toe story, but you know how I hate the foot).

    I think I need to borrow your kids for a week, just for the material.

  4. My Caesar always talks with a British accent. Like Patrick Stewart.

  5. […] Malapropism and Mispronunciation — NowInteractive with Embedded Links! […]

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