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From Nana and Nano to You and Who

Copyright © 2002-2011 by David E. Ross

In the following list, definitions in the right-hand column relate to the context in which the malaprop was found. Where the meaning of the words is quite clear, the definitions might be omitted.

I have also seen some of the malaprops listed above reversed. That is, sometimes a word from the right-hand column was used when a word from the left-hand column was meant.

From Absolution and Ablution to Must and Mussed

What Was WrittenWhat Was Meant
nana: nickname for grandmother nano: prefix meaning one-billionth (1/1,000,000,000)

A nano-second is an extremely brief amount of time (as intended by the author who wrote nana second).

natural: not artificial
(used in natural ground)
neutral: unbiased, not part of either side in a dispute
naturalist: a scientist who studies nature naturist: a nudist
necked: descriptive of a neck (e.g., a long-necked swannaked: unclothed, nude
neckless: without a necknecklace: jewelry worn around the neck
nerves: more than one nervenervous: anxious, "on edge", emotionally tense
nest: a bird's homenext: nearest in a sequence
nigh: nearnight: not day
no body: the corpse is missingnobody: no one, no person

These would be homonyms except that a shift of accent causes them to be pronounced differently.

noise: unstructured soundnose: in the middle of your face, for smelling
Norris: a family nameNorse: Scandinavian
obit: obituary, a written tribute to someone who has recently diedbit: a small amount
oblation: a religious offering or sacrificeablution: washing of the body
of (used in would of) have (should be would have)

This error is caused by mispronouncing the contraction would've.

of, off

[Using one of these for the other is a very common typographical error and indicates a total lack of proofreading.]

on: not off one: 1

[One author consistently used on when he meant one.]

organism: an animal or plant considered as a totality of interdependent parts orgasm: sexual climax
our, out

[As with of and off, using one of these for the other is a very common typographical error.]

out: not inought: should
out door: exit door (compared with in door: entrance door)

Seen in: It was dark and took a few minutes to a gust from the out door summer brightness to the gloom of the bar.

outdoor: outside
ova: egg (usually of a mammal)

Seen in a hell ova lot.

of a (the phrase being a hell of a lot.)
overhauls: rebuilds (as in an automobile engine) overalls: loose-fitting trousers with a bib front and shoulder straps, often worn over regular clothing as protection from dirt
pact: agreementpack: package
pall: a covering (usually black cloth) used to cover a coffin or tombpal: a friend
parameter: a constant that characterizes the variables in a formula or equation (sometimes indicated symbolically, which causes it to be confused with a variable)

Parameter is one of the most abused words in modern English. If you are not discussing mathematics, avoid using this word.

perimeter: the boundary of an area, the length of such a boundary
passed: moved onpast: beyond
pasted on: used paste to stick onpassed on: euphamism for died
pate: a bald headplate: on which food is placed
perked: recovered one's spirits or vigor; made in a percolator piqued: provoked, stimulated

See also the homonyms peaked, peeked, and piqued.

perspective: a method of depicting solids and spatial relationships on a flat surface

Seen in perspective buyers. Since the context was about an art show, this was an unintentional pun.

prospective: expected, likely to happen, future
petals: showy parts of a flowerpedals [of an airplane]: controls operated by the feet
physiatrist: a medical doctor who specializes in physical therapy psychiatrist: a medical doctor who specializes in emotional disorders and diseases of the mind
physic: laxative (not the science physics, which has an s)physique: the appearance of a person's body
pictures: paintings or photographspitcher: a large container for liquid

The expression is Little pitchers have big ears. This is a pun based on the term ear used for the handle on a pitcher, even small pitchers tend to have large handles or ears. The expression is a metaphor for how small children eavesdrop on adult conversations.

pilled: formed little balls of fluff on a knit fabricpiled: stacked in a haphazard manner
ping: a sharp sound like that of a small object striking a sheet of metal

Seen in ball ping hammer

peen: the end of a hammer's head opposite the normal striking face

A ball-peen hammer has a ball-shaped peen used to make dimples in decorative metal work or to spread the end of a rivet thus securing it in place.

pints: units of liquid measure, 2 cups = 1 pint, 2 pints = 1 quart

Seen in one of the key pints of the investigation

points: issues, concepts
piqued [peekt]: excited or aroused (e.g., interest, curiosity)peaked [PEEked]: ailing, indisposed, poorly, sickly
plagues: widespread, deadly diseases; specifically, diseases caused by the bacillus Pastueurella pestisplaques: flat pieces of hard material (e.g., wood, metal), ornately finished for use as wall decorations, often presented to persons to honor their accomplishments
plaintiff: the complainant in a civil lawsuitplaintive: whining, mournful, sad
pleased: made happypled: made a plea
plumb: vertically straight, as determined by the use of a weight (plumb bob) at the end of a string (plumb line) plum: a fruit, usually purple, with a pit

In Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker, one of the dances is "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" (not "Sugar Plumb").

plutonic: (geology) a crystallized mineral of a subterranean, igneous originplatonic: (of a relationship) spiritual, without sensual feeling
portion: a part of the whole (whether separated from the whole or not); the quantity of food served to one person

Seen in love portion

potion: a liquid medicine or a large dose thereof
posture: the way a person holds his or her bodyposter: a graphic (e.g., photo, drawing, lithograph) on a very large piece of paper
pound: a weight; to beatpond: a small pool of water
predatory: characterized by plundering, living by pillaging

Seen in the name of a school without humorous intent.

preparatory: (of a school) private for preparing students for college
prefer: favorrefer: cite, describe
presents: giftspresence: being here
primp: to dress up with excess attention to detailprim: extremely precise and proper
privet: a shrub in the genus Ligustrumprivate: not public
prodigal: a spendthrift, someone who is recklessly extravagantprodigy: a young person having extraordinary talent or ability
proficient: skilled, expertsufficient: enough
prosperity: material well-being, the state of being prosperousposterity: future generations (taken collectively)
protean [pro TEE un]: versatile; changeable in shape or form, highly variable protein [PRO teen]: one of a large number of organic molecules composed of various amino acids
prosperous: affluent, wealthy preposterous: ridiculous, absurd
pumpkin: a vegetable in the squash and grourd familybumpkin: a rustic, unsophisticated person
quart: two pints (1/4 gallon)court: plaza
racking: placing items on a rack; arranging pool balls in the triangleraking: using a rake to gather leaves or grass cuttings or to prepare a seed bed
raff: rabble, riffraff, a disorderly collectionwrath: anger
rage: angerrag: a piece of cloth
rapport: harmony of relationship, agreement, accordreport: a sharp sound (as from a gun shot)
rations: gives in limited amountsreasons: thinks
ravens: large, black birdsravines: small, narrow canyons
re-access: enter again reassess: evaluate again
ream: 500 sheets (of paper)bolt: board with a large quantity of cloth wound about it (the way cloth is distributed for selling)
reclined: sat in a slouching position that was almost lying downdeclined: refused to accept
recon: reconnoiter, survey (often in the military sense)reckon: calculate; take into consideration
refuse: trashrefuge: shelter
regiment: a unit of military forces, consisting of two or more battalions or battle groups; to form into an organized group, including through the use of strict discipline, usually for the purpose of rigid or complete control regimen: a regulated system, as of diet, therapy, or exercise; a course of intense physical training
rescinded: cancelledreceded: drew back, deflated
resent: sent again (RE-cent); be indignant (re-ZENT) recent: near past
resided: lived (often in reference to a location) subsided: sank to a lower level; became quiet, less active, or less violent
residency: the training during which doctor learns a specialtyresidence: home
rick: a rounded stack with the top thatched to protect it from the weather (e.g., stacked hay)rich: wealthy
rickrack (misspelled as ricrac): a flat braid in a zigzag pattern, used to trim clothingbricabrac: decorative objects, knickknacks
ridged: characterized by ridgesrigid: stiff
rift raft: a juryrigged boat (raft) for navigating over a seismic valley (rift)riffraff: rabble, the common populace
road: street

Seen in tough road to hoe

row: a series of things in a straight line

The phrase tough row to hoe refers to hoeing between rows of vegetables in a garden where the soil, roots, or closeness of the rows makes the work difficult. Metaphorically, this phrase refers to any difficult, ongoing task.

rot [rot]: decay, mold

Seen in rot iron.

wrought [rawt]: shaped by beating with a hammer
rout: a disorderly, overwhelming defeat route: a path or road taken when traveling from one place to another
row: a number of things arranged in a straight line, the line of such things

Seen in row call

roll: a list containing the names of the persons belonging to a company, class, society, etc.
ruck stack [two words]:
  • ruck: great mass of undistinguished or inferior persons or things
  • stack: orderly pile or heap

Thus, an orderly pile of inferior persons.

rucksack [one word]: knapsack; backpack carried by hikers, bicyclists
saccade: series of small, jerky movements of the eyes when changing focus from one point to another; halting a horse quickly with a single strong pull of the reins cicada: an insect noted for a long larval period (11-17 years) and the high-pitched drone made by adults rubbing their wings together (called 17-year locust but not a true locust)
sacred: entitled to religious respect by association with divinity

scarred: marked with a scar

scared: frightened

I once read a story in which the author used both sacred and scarred where he obviously meant scared.

sanctity sanctuary
saver: one who saves (generally, with reference to saving money)

savoir: (French) know, as in savoir faire (literally: to know how to act; idiomatically: to know how to do or say exactly the right thing without any effort)

sever: cut off

savior: one who saves (generally, with reference to saving someone else's life)

savor: enjoy with pleasure

scrapes: scratchesscraps: remnants, left-overs
searing: using high heat to cook the outside of food to seal in moisturesearching: seeking
seeded: planted from seeds seated: based

The phrase is deep seated, not deep seeded

severally: individually, separatelyseverely: seriously, harshly
sexton: an employee or officer of a church who is responsible the maintenance of the facilitiessextant: a device used in navigation to determine latitude by measuring the angular elevation above the horizon of stars, the sun, or other celestial bodies
shredded: cut or tore into small pieces (often in short thin strips)shed: removed (often, skin, clothing, or an outer coating)
shilling: a British monetary unit before that currency was made decimal, 12 pence or 1/20 of a poundshingle: a flat roofing material
shinny: climb upwards using the legs [usually with reference to climbing a rope or pole, using the shins]shiny: polished, glistening (i.e., to a bright shine)
shudders: shakesshutters: wood or metal coverings for windows
signed: wrote a signaturesighed
sigh: inhale and exhale audibly (often to express sadness, pain, or frustration) sight: view, that which is seen

Obviously, this is a typo — one of those that no spell-checker could catch.

similes: figures of speech in which explicit comparisons are made with unlike things

So are you to my thoughts as food to life


smiles: facial expressions indicating happiness or pleasure, usually involving the corners of the lips being higher on the face than the centers of the lips
sire: parent (usually father)offspring: child
sir name [two words]: name of a knight surname [one word]: last name, family name
skittles: a game of nine-pins in which a flattened ball or thick disc is thrown at the pins to knock them downskillets: frying pans
  • pronounced sloo: a bog (In this case, the error was a homonym, not a malaprop.)
  • pronounced sluff: to shed or cast off (e.g., a snake's old skin)
slew: killed
smeltering (fancy misconstruction of smelting): the operation of a smelter (where ore is melted to obtain metal)sweltering: oppressively hot (as near a smelter)
snake: a legless reptilesnack: a very light meal
snooping: spyingstooping: bending very low
sorted: put into ordersordid: filthy, dirty, vile
source: originsauce: a flavored liquid (often thickened) used on food
soured: past tense of sour soared: flew high
speed spread
specie: coined metal (often precious metal where the value of the metal creates the value of the money) species: a category of plant or animal subordinate to a genus, agreeing in some set of characteristics and fully fertile when bred within the category
spell: give the letters of a wordspill: pour out
spin: rotate rapidlyspine: backbone
sprite: elf, fairy, or goblinspirit: mood
spurned: rejected, turned awayspurred: prompted, caused
squinting: narrowing the eyes (e.g., to focus better in bright light) squirting: shooting a liquid (e.g., from a hose or squeeze-bottle)
stained: marked with a stain stand: a piece of furniture of various forms, on or in which to put articles

You will often find a nightstand next to a bed. (one word, not two; not night stained)

starched: (of laundry) slightly stiffened by the addition of starchscratched: cut by sharp fingernails
stared: looked intently [see below]started: began
starred: was the main actor in a play, movie, or TV show; marked with a starstared: looked intently [see above]
starts: begins stars: luminous astronomical bodies, suns
steaming: any process that uses steam; giving off steam

Seen in the sunlight was steaming into the room

streaming: flowing
stint: be stingystent: a thin tube used in medicine to keep a duct or vessel open
stretching: making longer by pulling the ends apartsketching: making a quick drawing
strike: take apart or pull down set: set up

In a story's chapter on camping, the phrase strike camp was used in a context that clearly meant set camp. In this case strike was the exact opposite of what was meant.

Stuart: the royal family of Scotland, succeeding the Tudors as the royal family of England (before the Hanoverians) steward [not capitalized]: an attendant on a passenger boat or airline
stuffed: filled to capacity

See in bleed like a stuffed pig.

stuck: pierced with a sharp object

Obviously, if you pierce a pig with a sharp object, it will bleed like a stuck pig.

suburb: an outlying community adjacent to a larger citysuperb: excellent
suet: hard fatty tissue from the abdominal cavity of beef and sheep from which tallow is made soot: fine carbon particles resulting from the incomplete burning of a fuel

Soot might result from burning suet.

suite: a group of rooms (i.e., bedroom, sitting room, bathroom) in a hotelsuit: an outfit of clothes; one of the four classes of playing cards (spades, hearts, diamonds, clubs)

The idiomatic expression I followed suit [not suite], which means I did the same, derives from playing a card of the same suit as the previous card that was played.

surety: guarantee, performance bondsureness
surly [sirly]: cross, rude, gruffsurely [shoorly]: certainly; safely
swapped: exchanged swamped: overwhelmed (as in swamped with work)
swear sweat
synched: slang for synchronized cinched: fastened a saddle girth (i.e., around a horse); [loosly] tightened a belt or strap
tact: skill in avoiding what would disturb or offend someone else

Thus, in tact refers to in that skill.

tactic: a military maneuver to gain an advantage
intact: unbroken, together [the word itself is unbroken, without a space]
tagging: adding or marking with a tagtugging: pulling
tail: what a dog wagstrail: a path
tasseled: decorated with tasselstousled: disarranged, disordered
taunt: maliciously teasetaut: tight
(See also taut and taught under Homonyms
tenancies: the periods during which tenants (renters) occupy properties tendencies: predispositions to think, act, behave, or proceed in a particular way
terse: brief, short (possibly abrupt)tense: stretched tight, strained
thou: familiar form of you (now considered mostly archaic)'though: contraction for although

though is sometimes abbreviated as tho, but not in serious writing.

though thought
through: in one end and out the other throw: toss, fling
trough: a long, narrow, open receptacle, usually boxlike in shape, used chiefly to hold water or food for animals; a channel for conveying water; the long, low area between two consecutive ocean waves
(See also troths below.)
thrush: a bird; a fungus disease of the mouth and throatthrust: push
thumb: the short, thick finger next to the index finger thump: a dull thud
tickled: lightly touched in a manner to cause laughtertinkled: made the sound of a small bell
tole: enameled tinwaretold: said to
tome: booktone: a way in which a voice sounds
(" …mother said in a gentle tone.")
tong: long tool used for grasping (usually plural tongs because they are often used in pairs) tongue: organ in the mouth, used for taste and speech

(often seen misspelled tounge)

tote: carry
Seen in tote the line
toe: one of those little things at the end of your foot
(see toe under Homonyms)
tough: not tendertouch
tract: a division of land; a religious pamphlettrack: path
trebles: triples, multiplies by 3trembles: shakes involuntarily
tresses: hair (generally referring to a woman's hair)trusses: (in the context where I saw tresses) structural members designed to hold a weight over an open space (e.g., roof trusses)
trimmer: something used to trim a treetremor: a shaking motion
troths (trawths): fidelities, truthstroughs (trawfs): long, narrow channels
tube: a pipetub: a basin for washing
trusting: having confidence in the integrity of someonethrusting: pushing
tuff: a fragmentary volcanic rockstuff
tuft: a clump or bunch of flexible parts or strands held together at the base
tuft: a clump or bunch of flexible parts or strands held together at the basetough: difficult
vale: valleyvalet: servant
valley: a relatively flat, low area bounded by hills and mountainsvolley: simultaneous firing of several guns, a similar burst of events
verses [VERS-is]: poems

(These are not pronounced exactly the same and thus are not homonyms.)

versus [VER-sus]: against, opposed to, in contrast with
vesicle: a small sac or cyst, a blister

Seen in blood vesicle

vessel: a tube or duct within a body, such as an artery or vein
vile: wicked bile: a liver secretion that helps to digest fats (the green fluid that is brought up during "dry heaves")
viscous: thick (usually said about a fluid)vicious: mean, evil, malicious
vitals: (medical slang) vital signsvittles: (slang) food
wander: roam (often without a specific destination)wonder: think with curiosity
wearingly: causing wearinesswearily: acting as if already weary
weary: tiredwary: cautious
week: seven dayswork: effort, task
wench: young girl; more specifically, a serving maid winch: a crank and winding device used for hoisting
were: past tense of arewear: what you do with clothes
whelp: a young offspring of a mammal, such as a dog or wolf; a child [sometimes derogatory] welt: a ridge on the skin, as from a blow of a stick or whip
where: in what place?
were: past tense of are
we're: we are

[Using one of these for another is a very common typographical error and indicates a total lack of proofreading.]

whelp: the young of various carnivorous mammalswelt: a raised bruise from a sharp blow (e.g., from being hit with a belt or stick)
whiteness: the characteristic of being white (e.g., the whiteness of the snow)witness: spectator
wittiness: being witty, clever witness: someone who, having personally observed an incident, can testify in court about it
wonown (a typographical error, a very common transposition of two letters)
work week
(an example of sloppy writing coupled with a total lack of proofreading)
worm: a small, limbless invertebrate with an elongated, soft body

Seen in the phrase worm handshake

warm: (in this context) friendly
worriers: those who worry or fret

Seen in Spartans? Isn't that the group of Greece [sic for Greek] worriers …

warriors: those who fight in wars
wraith [wrayth]: ghostwrath [rath]: anger
wretched [RE ched]: dejected, contemptibleretched [rech'd]: vomited
writing: creating textwrithing: squirming like a snake
yawn: a wide-mouthed gasp, usually indicating sleepinessyarn: a thick, loosely spun thread
yielding: surrenderingwielding: carrying (as a weapon)

Last updated 2 January 2011

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