Back on December 27th, Doug Harris sent me this example (crucial bit boldfaced), from that day’s Daily Beast, in the article “U.S. Health Care Is Failing My Patients: From chronic conditions to mental health, our system is failing patients and doctors alike” by Farah Khan:
(1) Substance abuse, easily one of the most widespread mental health problems in this country, has yet to be adequately addressed by the current health care system. Rehab services are far and few between for patients who are addicted to drugs and alcohol.
Formally, this looks like what’s known in the speech errors business as a word reversal (Vicky Fromkin’s preferred term), word exchange (my preferred term), word metathesis, or (more colorfully) word-level spoonerism: the conventional form of the boldfaced expression is few and far between. There’s no question that such reversals or exchanges do occur as inadvertent speech errors, but there are reasons for thinking that (1) is not in fact an inadvertent error, but is more like a classical malapropism, in which the speaker or hearer produces exactly what they intended, but their production doesn’t accord with the practices of the larger community. And there’s a third possibility: that the practices of the larger community have changed to such an extent that it can no longer be claimed that (1) is clearly not in accord with them.