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Copyright © 2002-2010 by David E. Ross

I have to assume that those writers who put their work on the Internet really want someone else to read it. Why then do they not put some effort into ensuring that simple mistakes do not distract the reader? One of the most prevalent mistakes is the malapropism, the use of the wrong word. This mistake proves that mere use of a spell-checker does not suffice to remove errors from text. After all, how is a spell-checker to know that the sentence "We will now sing." should instead be "We will not sing."?

To illustrate my complaint, I here present a growing list of malaprops (the wrong words in a malapropism) that I have found in on-line fiction. Some of these might be mere typographical errors, the result of a failure to proofread or an excessive dependence on a computer spell-checker. These might involve a mere substitution of one letter for another (e.g., bust for busy) or the transposition of two letters (e.g., angel for angle), common keyboard mistakes. There is also the misplaced space (e.g., changing them at into the mat), another keyboard mistake. Sometimes, malaprops result from hasty writing. One author often left the last letter (or letters) off words; his spell-checker could not find the mistakes when the results were still legitimate words (e.g., should instead of shoulder). I believe that some malaprops result when an author misspells a word and then allows a software spell-checker correct it; without paying sufficient attention to what is happening, the author allows the spell-checker to make an incorrect correction.

Most often, however, the words are indeed intended by the author, reflecting his or her ignorance (possibly resulting from hearing someone else mispronounce the words). (Separately, I present homonyms, words that actually sound the same but have different meanings and are spelled differently.) The author's intention goes awry when he or she attempts to use a fancy-sounding word without really understanding what it means or how to use it. The result is a malapropism.

More than merely showing ignorance, the context sometimes can be unintentionally very funny, so funny as to distract the reader from the sense of the story. In one example, two boys were eating an afternoon snake. In another, a man lathed his lover's ear with his tongue (OUCH!!).

Note: A pun also involves the use of a real but wrong word. Unlike a malaprop, however, a pun is intentional, with the purpose of being humorous (not humerus [a bone]). The appropriate reaction to a pun is a groan (not a grown).

In my gardening Web pages, I have another list of malaprops that includes misnomers (the wrong names for things) relative to plants.

Because the list of malapropisms grew so large, I have split it in two.

Last updated 28 May 2011

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