Words & Stuff

mm: A Nice Derangement

(29 March 1998)

[Enter Virginia and Wesley.]

Virginia: What's a malapropism?

Wesley: It's when you accidentally replete a word with another word that sounds somewhat simian, often with comic effect.

Virginia: And polarity ensues.

Wesley: Something like that. It's best when the replacement word is somehow revenant to the situation. It's named after Mrs. Malaprop, from Sheridan's The Rivals, who was always trying to sound acculturated, but always euphemized the wrong word.

Virginia: Is she one of the rivals? Let me guess, they have a context -- "duelling malapropisms"?

Wesley: No, she's just the otiose old aunt of one of the main characters, Lydia Languish.

Virginia: So named, no doubt, for her mystery of the English languish.

Wesley: Well, she's a big fan of Romans novels -- you know, the kind with the languishing heroin.

Virginia: You're saying she's a heroine addict?

Wesley: I guess a bad book is kinda like a good neurotic -- it helps you sleep.

Virginia: So, back to this Malaprop character. From mal a propos, yes? That means "out of place." --Pardon my French.

Wesley: No habla Francois. That means "Hell if I know." Pardon my Spanish.

Virginia: What kinds of things does she say?

Wesley: My favorite bit is where she explains, "If I reprehend anything in this world, it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs!"

Virginia: What other pearls of wisdom drop from her lips like lapinary gems?

Wesley: There's the part where she says someone is "[a]s headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile." Hmm, headstrong -- kinda reminds me of someone else I know--

Virginia: What a croc. Besides, I may be headstrong, but I'm arm-strong, too -- want to arm-wrestle? I bet I can make you Neil.

Wesley: Hey, calm down -- let's discuss this like rationed adulterers.

Virginia: Look out -- your Freudian slip is showing.

Wesley: Ah, yes, paradox. I saw a paradoxies once who--

Virginia: You mean parapraxis. It makes para-perfect, you know.

Wesley: I read somewhere that Freud categorized language errors as either "lapsus linguini," slips of the tongue, or "lapsus calamari," slips of the pen. ...Hmm, I'm getting hungry all of a sudden.

Virginia: And then there's "lapsus bovus," the common cowslip. There's many a slip 'twixt the tongue and the lip...

Wesley: And "lapsus pinko," the pink slip?

Virginia: And "lapsus negligee," the slip into something more comfortable.

Wesley: I guess you could consider spellchecker errors to be a sort of computer equivalent of malapropisms, a kind of lapsus binarius.

Virginia: And finally, the lapsus canis, or lap dog. An example of which is the lapsus Sirius -- the opposite of the lapsus comicus.

Wesley: A variable fuselage of paronomasia.

Virginia: A pun, by any other name, would smell as much. ...But enough of this airy persiflage. You mentioned seafood -- how about we continue this over dinner?

Wesley: Okay, but you can't have any of mine. I'm feeling kinda shellfish.

Virginia: Let's go someplace by the beach. Maybe we can go to the boardwalk afterward. Isn't there a town with a boardwalk somewhere around here?

Wesley: Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Cruz.

[Exit Wesley, pursued by Virginia.]


Jed Hartman <logophilia@kith.org>