Malapropisms, Spoonerisms and Oxymorons

Lovely words, aren’t they? They’re names for rather lively and entertaining word usages. Let’s just have a look at their origins and what they mean.


Malapropisms are named after Mrs Malaprop, a much-loved character in Richard Sheridan’s comedy play, The Rivals, written in 1775. She’s the play’s heroine’s aunt. She’s moralistic, pedantic and somewhat prejudiced, but she’s best known for her misuse of words: a trait of which she is completely unaware. Her quirk became known as Malapropisms. Here are some examples of her entertaining blunders:

“She’s as headstrong as an allegory (alligator) on the banks of the Nile.”

“I’m quite analysed (paralysed) for my part.”

“Oh! It gives me the hydrostatics (hysterics) to such a degree!”

“The pineapple (pinnacle) of politeness.”

“I am sorry to say, Sir Anthony, that my affluence (influence) over my niece is very small.”

“I am sure I have done everything in my power since I exploded (exposed) the affair.”

Malapropisms have stood the test of time, it would appear:

“And then he [Mike Tyson] will have only channel vision.” – Frank Bruno, boxer

“We cannot let terrorists and rogue nations hold this nation hostile or hold our allies hostile.” – George W. Bush

“The police are not here to create disorder, they’re here to preserve disorder.” -Richard Daley, former Chicago mayor

“He was a man of great statue.” – Thomas Menino, Boston mayor


I think everyone knows Spoonerisms. Named after Reverend William Archibald Spooner, who was prone to switch the consonant or vowel or a part of a word, sometimes with hilarious results. The examples are endless, and you can have a whole heap of fun with the infinite possibilities. The following are some alleged Spoonerisms by the man himself:

Fighting a liar  (lighting a fire)

You hissed my mystery lecture (you missed my history lecture)

Cattle ships and bruisers (battle ships and cruisers)

A blushing crow (a crushing blow)

Our queer old Dean (our dear old Queen)

But look what you can do:

Nicking your pose (picking your nose)

You have very mad banners (you have very bad manners)

Sealing the hick (healing the sick)

Pit-nicking (nit-picking)

This is the pun fart (this is the fun part)

Flutterby (butterfly)

Under the affluence of incohol (under the influence of alcohol)

Jober as a sudge (sober as a judge)

A shroe! A shroe! My dingkome for a shroe (Monty Python)

But nobody does it better than Ronnie Barker.  This is just pure genius:


An oxymoron is a figure of speech containing contradictory elements.

Deafening silence

Forward retreat

Original copy

Open secret

Living dead

Sweet sorrow

Busy doing nothing

“I can resist anything, except temptation.” – Oscar Wilde

“The best cure for insomnia is to get a lot of sleep.” – W.C. Fields

“beggarly riches” – John Donne

“Modern dancing is so old-fashioned.” – Samuel Goldwyn

“I am a deeply superficial person.” – Andy Warhol

“I always avoid prophesying beforehand because it is much better to prophesy after the event has already taken place.”Winston Churchill

“Always be sincere, even though you do not necessarily mean it.” – Irene Peter

“melancholy merriment” – Lord Byron

As for their use in your writing, I guess they’ll embellish it with dramatic effect, humour, and a bit of flavour; however, I doubt you would use a Malapropism or Spoonerism more than once in your whole writing career. Some of the more clichéd oxymorons have become accepted figures of speech, however.

Anyway, I’d love to hear some of your own or any of your favourites. So, you wonderfully imaginative and creative wordsmiths, give me three examples, one each of a Malapropism, Spoonerism and oxymoron…

Author: Cathy Speight

Reviewer Cathy Speight is British and lives in England. The Kindle revived her passion for reading and after stumbling on a Facebook group of independent authors, she now does her best to encourage and assist indies as much as possible. Books by indie author form the majority of her collection. Cathy shares her views on the books she has read on her blog.

20 thoughts on “Malapropisms, Spoonerisms and Oxymorons”

  1. I seem to have a natural inclination towards accidental Spoonerisms. Even now my kids tease me about the time years and years ago when I asked if they wanted some “creese and chackers.”

  2. My dad is the master of spoonerisms. I have many fond memories of the two of us bantering back and forth through dinner driving everybody at the bable tonkers.

  3. Actually, I use malaprops and oxymorons a lot. They’re fun. It’s all about having the right character. These are from Jaxi, the ingenue groupie in my rock&rollThat timeless stuff is so passé. story, “Raptor’s Golden Hits”
    I’d suggest another term. Stengelism or Caseyism or something. Named after the guy who said “It was deja vu all over again.”

    –I’ve been around. I’ve done things I’m proud to be ashamed of.
    –The altar… the way… I’ve been looking for something as long as I can remember. As soon as I lost it, I knew I’d found it.
    –If you’ve seen one déjà vu, you’ve seen them all.
    –When you’re on the radio if you don’t turn them on, they just turn you off.
    –If she’d slow down a little, she wouldn’t be in such a hurry.
    –That’s not the problem. It’s the stuff you have to believe that’s just unbelievable.
    –It’s like infinity just goes on forever. In fact, there’s no end of things that go on forever.
    –It’s too late to sell out after you’re Sold Out.
    –Not the buffet. I’m can’t really eat all I can eat.
    –Being on the charts is just off the charts. Everybody hates you if you’re too popular.
    –I’m no teenager. I’ll be twenty in March.
    –I’d appreciate it if y’all wouldn’t talk behind my back right in front of my face.
    –Anything you don’t want me to hear, you can tell me yourself.
    If this is all so unheard of, why haven’t I ever heard about it?
    –Anytime I can’t talk, I’ll say so. If it didn’t hurt I wouldn’t even feel it.
    –I just can’t communicate with you, if you see what I’m saying.
    –Ah, tonight I’m too out of it to get into it.
    –It’s so sensual, it wouldn’t make sense to make sense.
    –Hey, if it wasn’t for progress, we’d never get anywhere.
    –God, if it was any louder I couldn’t hear it at all.
    –That timeless stuff is so passé.
    –If you’re serious, you’d better be kidding.
    –What can I say to somebody I’m not speaking to?
    –You couldn’t survive if your life depended on it.
    –If you got nothing to say, say so.
    –I’m sick of always talking about the stuff we can’t talk about.
    –He’s forgotten more than he ever knew.
    –Our happy ending’s just getting started.
    –You think everything I say is a figure of speech.

      1. I think that’s called a Twainism or Rogerism, Lois. Attributing a well known quote to the wrong person, usually Mark Twain or Will Rogers.

        1. No, Stengel said that. I mentioned it in my post. He said a lot of such things, which is why I think he should get his own “term” along with the less prolific Malaprop and Spooner, and whoever that Moron guy was.

          1. That’s amazing. If you google casey stengel deja vu you get many, many sources of him saying that. Along with many arguing whether it was Yogi Berra (who has stated he didn’t say it). Although it might have been Winston Churchill

  4. My mother created Spoonerisms on a regular basis, usually to describe food. Two that the family still use fondly are ‘chipped snives’ and ‘joist with mooses’. 🙂

    1. Well, not quite the same, but Bush senior has a Japanese word coined for his exploit: “Bushuru” means to throw up on somebody else. In GHB’s case, he tossed his cookies on the premier of Japan.

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