Joke malaprops

The 6/13 One Big Happy, in my comics feed yesterday:

Philatelist as a (classical) malapropism (CM) for fatalist — an error that might on some occasion have occurred in actual speech (though I have no occurrences in my files), but which functions here entirely as a joke.

CMs are advertent productions — the speaker is saying just what they intended to, but from the point of view of the larger speech community, the word in their memory is the wrong one for the meaning they intend; not surprisingly, one or both of the words involved are typically of low frequency.

In the memorable cases, the result is ridiculous and therefore funny. In fact, the literary source of the name malapropism, Sheridan’s Mrs. Malaprop, produced a series of absurd and unlikely misfires (“as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile”) that have to be understood as joke CMs — better than the ones in real life.

So it is in the exchange between the grotesquely smiling Avis and the cranky Miss Lucille in #1 (while Ruthie looks on).

(Note: see my 10/15/12 posting “Classical malapropisms” for links to two papers of mine on CMs.)

A cascade of joke CMs. From the Quote Investigator site on 4/12/19, “The Very First Thing They Do Is Matriculate Together”:

Dear Quote Investigator: According to a legislative legend, a naïve politician with a limited vocabulary wished to provide funding for a state college; however, an adversary wanted to spend the money on a different project. The verb “matriculate” means to enroll at a college or university, but this definition was not properly grasped by the politician. Thus, the adversary decided to cleverly besmirch the college using sexual innuendo. Here are two examples:

Students matriculate in broad daylight.
Boys and girls matriculate together.

The scandalized politician repudiated the college. Would you please explore this anecdote?

Quote Investigator: The earliest instance of this tale located by QI appeared in “The Charleston Daily Mail” of Charleston, West Virginia in 1933. The anecdote was presented by a West Virginian politician Ralph M. Hiner. He described an unnamed farmer with little experience who was elected to the New York State Senate and wished to pass a bill providing $500,000 to an educational institution. His opponents were members of the Tammany Hall political machine…

“Well, senator,” the other tried to confuse him, “don’t you know they have a curriculum at that school?”

“No, I didn’t know it.”

“And did you know that they have two semesters?”

“No, but I don’t care. I want my bill passed.”

“Senator” the pleader continued, almost desperate, “do you know that boys and girls matriculate at that school?”

“Well, I won’t stand for that!” the senator stormed “Give me my bill.” Whereupon he tore it to bits.

Brilliant researcher Bonnie Taylor-Blake has published an entertaining piece titled “Dirty Politics: Smathers, Pepper, and Quasi Malediction in American Political Folklore” presenting several humorous examples of phrases that have reportedly been used to attack politicians and their relatives, e.g., “a shameless extrovert”, “a thespian in Greenwich Village” and “a sexagenarian”…

[in another joke: “Here’s the worst thing,” the lobbyist continued. “A male professor can demand that any girl in his class show him her thesis and she has to do so.”]

Ah, some of my best friends are thespians.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: