Philosophical Malapropisms


“Let me illiterate…”

A student once wrote that when he meant “let me reiterate.” It may be the apothecary of malapropisms. I was reminded of it by a malapropisms quiz at The Paris Review. I didn’t know the origin of the term:

Mrs. Malaprop is the pompous aunt in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 1775 comedy, The Rivals, and the eponym for the word malapropism. As one of her relations puts it in the play, she’s known for her use of “words so ingeniously misapplied, without being mispronounced.” 

The “ingenious misapplication” is crucial—the mistaken word has to fit unobtrusively into the phrase where the right word would, but has to change the meaning of the phrase in a funny or interesting way.

Clearly, this gives us something to do: create malapropisms out of passages of philosophy.

Here are two:

“Now if you take away from a living being action, and still more production, what is left but constipation?” – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics [“constipation” for “contemplation”]

“’The tears of the majority’ is now generally included among the evils against which society requires to be on its guard.” – Mill, On Liberty [“tears” for “tyranny”]

Your turn.

Avigdor Arikha, "Self-Portrait with Open Mouth"

Avigdor Arikha, “Self-Portrait with Open Mouth”

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