This post is Day Five of the 5 Day 5 Photo Challenge in which I feature malapropisms.
Language has historically been a written and audio tool to distinguish social classes. Authors and playwrights – think Dickens, Shakespeare and Moliere – used malapropisms in dialogue when those from a lower class wished to appear educated while speaking to a higher-up. Their attempts to use proper words and grammar often resulted in a mangled phrase or two.
In the book, going to hell in a hen basket , a dictionary of malapropisms by Robert Alden Rubin, I learned that the term ‘malapropism‘ came from the following actor in a play:
“He is the very pineapple of politeness.”
Quote by lower class character Mrs. Malaprop
in The Rivals by Irish playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Rubin states that historically malapropisms substituted words that made no sense in the context they were used. The correct word ‘pinnacle‘ has no correlation to the malapropism ‘pineapple‘.
As social class barriers disappear and social media proliferates, a different kind of malapropism has been identified by descriptive linguists (those who study how language IS used, rather than how it SHOULD BE used).
The term ‘eggcorn’ was chosen when someone mistakenly used it instead of ‘acorn‘.
‘Eggcorn‘ is now recognized as a term for a distinct kind of malapropism.
Unlike the above ‘pineapple’ example, descriptive linguists think there is a correlation between ‘eggcorn’ and acorn‘ – that someone hearing the mumbled word ‘acorn‘, while examining one for the first time, could mistakenly hear ‘eggcorn‘ and think it is the correct word because of an acorn’s slightly egg-shaped look and its resemblance to a corn kernel. This is noted as one distinction between the type of malapropism occurring because of social class interaction and those coming from inadvertent misunderstandings.
Descriptive linguists also make a distinction between malapropisms that originated during historical times when proper English was the ultimate standard and our modern era when the pace and style of communication have significantly relaxed the language we use to communicate.
Our constant chatter in Tweets, Snapchats, talk radio, reality shows and celebrity-centric rag magazines is nonstop, unedited and unpretentious.
A literary bounty of ‘eggcorns‘ beyond Shakespeare’s wildest imagination.