An Essay for Mrs. Malaprop

“A malapropism (also called a malaprop or Dogberryism) is the use of an incorrect word in place of a word with a similar sound, resulting in a nonsensical, often humorous utterance… The word “malapropism” (and its earlier variant “malaprop”) comes from a character named “Mrs. Malaprop” in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 1775 play The Rivals.” (Wikipedia)

Some examples of malapropisms are:

  • “illiterate him quite from your memory” (instead of “obliterate”)
  • “she’s as headstrong as an allegory” (instead of alligator).

A friend of mine recently posted this gem on Facebook; I had seen it before, but yesterday it rang a bell and I thought I’d just get it out here with its corrected version for future reference.

TRIGGER WARNING: If bad English offends you, look away now!


Ow! Ow! Ow!

In text format, the monstrosity reads:

Acyrologia is the incorrect use of words – particularly replacing one word with another word that sounds similar but has a diffident meaning – possibly fueled by a deep-seeded desire to sound more educated, witch results in an attempt to pawn off an incorrect word in place of a correct one. In academia, such flaunting of common social morays is seen as almost sorted and might result in the offender becoming a piranha, in the Monday world, after all is set and done, such a miner era will often leave normal people unphased. This is just as well sense people of that elk are unlikely to tow the line irregardless of any attempt to better educate them. A small percentage, however, suffer from severe acryrologiaphobia, and it is their upmost desire to see English used properly. Exposure may cause them symptoms that may resemble post-dramatic stress disorder and, eventually, descend into whole-scale outrage as they go star-craving mad. Eventually, they will succumb to the stings and arrows of such barrage, and suffer a complete metal breakdown , leaving them curled up in a feeble position.

The only way to stop the pain is to read the paragraph in its proper form:

Acyrologia is the incorrect use of words – particularly replacing one word with another word that sounds similar but has a different meaning – possibly fueled by a deep-seated desire to sound more educated, which results in an attempt to pawn off an incorrect word in place of a correct one. In academia, such flaunting of common social mores is seen as almost sordid and might result in the offender becoming a pariah; in the mundane world, after all is said and done, such a minor error will often leave normal people unfazed. This is just as well since people of that ilk are unlikely to toe the line, regardless of any attempt to better educate them. A small percentage, however, suffer from severe acryrologiaphobia, and it is their utmost desire to see English used properly. Exposure may cause them symptoms that may resemble post-traumatic stress disorder and, eventually, descend into full-scale outrage as they go stark-raving mad. Eventually, they will succumb to the slings and arrows of such barrage, and suffer a complete mental breakdown , leaving them curled up in a fetal position.

I’ve written before about “Word Crimes” – one of Weird Al’s best efforts ever, and that’s saying something because just about everything he does is delightful.

The Wold Floof has Broken.

Today it’s Italian’s turn: Giecche Enne Binnestocche

Cross-posted from LiveJournal

I’ve talked about Macaronics before, along with references to Mots d’Heures, Gousses, Rames and Mörder Guß Rheims, and this evening we get to poke gentle fun at Italian, the language of my ancestors.

The following dialogs must be read as though they were written in Italian, or they don’t work well. That means you need to know a bit about Italian orthography.

  • Italian vowels, like Spanish, have pretty much one value each. “ah”, “eh”, “ee,” “oh,” and “oo.” All vowels are pronounced.
  • “ci” and “ce” are pronounched “chee” and “chay”; “chi” and “che” are pronounced “kee” and “kay”.
  • “gi” and “ge” are pronounced “jee” and “jay”; “ghi” and “ghe” are pronounced “gee” and “gay”, with a hard “g”
  • “gn” is pronounced “ny”, as you hear in “lasagna.”
  • Doubled consonants are pronounced slightly longer than single ones.


Uana apanne taim uasa boi neime Giecche. Uorche anna fam – plente, plao, milche cause, fidde cicchense–itse toff laif. Uan dei ise mamma ghiveme binne in tellime: Plente binne enne ghette binnestocche. Datsa giusta uarri didde en sanemagogna, iffe binnestocche no gro uppe uan, tu; tri—fette laiche faire aidrent en itse gadde inoffe binnese tu fidde Bostone tuenti irs. Itte gro aire den olle claudese–iu nevve sin saccie bigghe binnestocche inna u laif. Una ting ua muste no issa data pipple inne Bossatun livva onna binnes anna pipple una longa aylumda livva ona da sahound.

Giecche go picchene, picchene, picchene, aire enne aire, tille pesse di claudese en i si a chesele bilonghe tu giaiant u uonse biutiful uaite gus. Alle taim disse giaiant ise singhene: Fi, Fai, Fo, Fomme, Ai smelle blodde Inglescemen (Itse only songhe i no). Batte Giecche isa Merdicane, so i don gara uorri. Uen giaiant folle slippe, snoren laiche Vesuvio, Giecche grebbe di  uaite gus enne ranne laiche eche. I ghetto omme seif a saond enn i sei tu ise papa: lucche me, i seise, lucche uar ai gatte; Gudde, seise pappa, ui gonne ev ardboil egghese for breghefeste. Neggheste dei mamma boilse egghese, en uara iu tinche? Dei uas goldene egghese, enne pappa brecche ise folse titte.

Mannaggie l’America, i seise, demme titte coste me seveni-faive dollari. Enne i ghive Giecche di bittinghe ove ise laif – i bitte im blecche n blu.

Di morrale ove disse storri ise: Iu gara inoffe trombole in iur onne beccheiard; uara iu gara go lucchen arande for morre?

Now I am a “Merdicane” too… my papa could have done this beautifully, since he was not only a native Italian speaker, but also an accomplished character actor and dialectician. But for your gratuitous benefit, here is a 3.9MB mp3 file of my own rendition of this delightful fairy tale.

Now that you know how it’s done, here are two more that you can try all by yourself:


Disse libretto ise for dose iu laiche to follo di spiccher uail ise spicche

Uans appana taim uas tre berrese. Mamma berre. Papa berre. E beibe berre. Live inne contri nire forresta. Naise ause. No mogheggia.

Uanne dei pappa, mamma e beibe go bice. Oreie. A furghette locche di door. Bai enne bai commese Goldilocchese. Sci garra nattinghe tu du batte meiche troble. Sci puschie olla fudde daon di  maute, no live cromme. Den sci gos appesterrese enne slipse inne olle beddse. Leise slobbe.

Bae enne bai commese omme di tre berrese olle sonnebrone enne send inne scius. Dei garra no fudde, de garra no beddse. En uarra dei goine du tu Goldilocchese? Tro erre aute inna strit?  Colle polissemenne? Fette cienze.

Dei uas italien berres, enne dei slippe  onna floore. Goldilocchese ste derre tre uicase. Itte aute ausenomme. En guiste bicose dei esche erre tu meiche di beddse, sci sei, “go cheise iusef,” enne ronne omme craine tu erre mama, tellenrre uat sannimagonnis di tre berrese uer. Uatiuse? Uara goine du? Go complaine sittiolle?


Uans appane taim uasa a dacche livene greite bigghe pande. Prirri sunne, sci ghettse taide suimmene olle bai erselfe, becche fort, becche fort. Sci uantse femmeli. So scise goine tu grosseri en baine effe dasene egghese. Aime goine ecci egghese, sciese spighene tu erselfe, enne reise femmeli. Sci eccie, eccie, eccie, naitendei, till di scielse breche en aute pappese sigghese ov di chiuteste dagghelinghese iu evver sin. Dirai sei sigghese? Mai mistecche. Uas onneli faive. Di siggheste uas sammetinghe aute disse uorlde. It edde tuistebicche, fleppeirs, bacchetitte, engheneilse, denderaffe, pagghenose, anciebecche, folinarciese, folingerre, crosseaise, boldelegghese, nacchenise, en piggenetose. Itte uas di agghelieste dagghelinghe inne istori ove uorlde.

Uen i traise uocche, i trippse folse. Uen i traise suim, i ollemost drannese. Lucche uara di chette dregghede inne, ise faive broddese iuste sei. enne dei leffe leffe leffe laiche bancie smarellechese. Den dei go suimmene uaile di pure aggheli dagghelinghe sitsandi eggie di pande craine is lille art aute.

Uanne dei, is pessine bai di manegiere ove di Brongghese Zoo. I sise di aggheli dagghelinghe, barri don biliv itte. Ai bin drinnghene tu maccie, i seise tu imselfe. I teichese de dagghelinghe tu di spesialistese; dei don beliv itte ider. So aut eppense? Dei bilde speciale cheigge for imme; i ghette is neime inne Deili Nuse en tausensa pippele cammene tu teiche lucche. Lestemonte, Senme Goldeuinne ghiveme Allaiuude contreggete en nao i gose naitclabbine wid Dannele Dacche en meicchese vivititausende a irre. Ise broddese stei inne pande, en uanne bai uanne dei endoppe in sambarris dinerpleite.

De morrale ove dis storri ise: ders lattse u lucche chiut inoffe tu itte; au menni arre derre so aggheli dei ghette peide for itte?

Taken from:

Storris enne pommese fram Mamma Gus.
Including Pommese, Lille Redde Raiden Udde, Giecche enne binnestocche, Di tri berrese, and Di aggheli dagghelinghe.
© Richard Irpinio Bimonte; Ic 12May48

I fount this listing in “Full text of “Catalog of Copyright Entries 1948 Dramas and Works for Oral Delivery Jan-Dec 3D Ser Vol 2 Pts 3-4,” a raw scan at; the three poems above were either typed from very old hard copy that I have had in my files for decades, or in the case of “Di Aggheli Dagghelinghe,” found on the web as an “author unknown” snippet. The subtitle makes reference to Little Red Riding Hood and some other poems, but thus far I have found no clues on the web as to where the original volume might be located. If you have a copy, or know where one lives, leave a comment here – I’d love to see the rest of it.

The Oldde Wolfe hese spochene…

A shout-out to Weird Al Yankovic – Word Crimes

I make misteaks when I’m writing. But I try not to make big ones, and I do my best to correct them when they occasionally crop up.

ten artist chirtmas list 5

These gigantic erasers have been around since I was a kid in the 50s; fortunately I have never needed one that big. Whilst typing, I can’t ever seem to spell “friend” right the first time; it’s just a quirk, I suppose.

That said, I am always gobsmacked when I see people confusing loose and lose, or their/there/they’re, or its/it’s. Maddening. I tend to be a descriptive linguist rather than a proscriptive one, knowing that languages flow like the mighty Mississippi river over time, and that usage is king – but there’s a difference between colloquialisms and ignorantisms (that last is a neologism.)

Now comes Weird Al, with his second music video in a stream of 8, released one each day. I’ve always loved his work, and this one immediately rose to the top of my favorites list because of the subject matter, near and dear to the heart of a linguist.

I’ll let Al speak for himself.

And now the Old Wolf has done spoke.

The Noun Project

Recently happened across a video promoting The Noun Project, an effort to build a global visual language. While I love linguistic innovation and would love to see either Terran Standard or a Universal Translator à la Star Trek, based on the minimal penetration of experiments like Esperanto or even the linguistic behemoth English, I’m not certain a project like this will ever have more than a niche impact.

And I’ll tell you why.

First, let me re-iterate: It’s a lovely idea. I’m not dissing it for its own sake, nor am I wishing it failure.

To illustrate what the project is up against, let’s look at an example from one of my favorite Star Trek TNG episodes, “Darmok”.

Picard and Dathon at El-Adrel

Imagine a race of people who communicates solely by metaphor. The Tamarians were just such a race; their opening dialog with the Enterprise went like this:

“Rai and Jiri at Lungha. Rai of Lowani. Lowani under two moons. Jiri of Ubaya. Ubaya of crossed roads. At Lungha. Lungha, her sky grey.”

A headscratcher, to be sure. As the episode progresses, the Enterprise team learns in various ways that the Tamarians communicate solely via metaphor, as though “Juliet on her balcony” were being used to express the concept of love, or beauty, or desire. They realize, however, that content is valueless without context; anyone unfamiliar with Romeo and Juliet would have no idea what the metaphor referred to.

Even though Picard was able to speak to the Tamarians and deflect hostilities between the two races with the few phrases he had learned, there are some logical gaps in the premise. In Tamarian you can say,

  • Temba, his arms open: “Here, take this.”
  • Sokath, his eyes uncovered: “Understanding! He gets it!”
  • Mirab, with sails unfurled: “Let’s get out of here.”
  • The river Temarc, in winter!: “Hold your tongue!”

But how do you say something like “Move that lever to the second position from the top, and then tighten that nut one-quarter turn”? This glaring plot hole doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of the episode and the delightful linguistic idea, but it illustrates that context is everything.

Symbols like this are pretty straightforward:


But even these would have little meaning in a culture not familiar with chopsticks or the red cross. The meaning and the concept would have to be taught, and thus  would, in effect, be no more valuable as an ideograph than “อาหาร” or “食” or “manĝo”. The first thing that actually came to my mind when I saw these were a portable medkit from Duke Nukem 3D, and joss sticks. The first was close, the second, not even.

Then you get into the intricacies. What would you do with a symbol like this:

Is this a banana, or some really kinky ninja sex toy?

Presented with a bewildering array of nouns like this,

I find that my lifetime of experience in the fields of linguistics and translation give me only the barest hint of what some of these mean. Certainly, I could learn them, but each symbol would have to be learned in the same way that I am learning that “חלוץ” means “pioneer” in Hebrew or that “牛肉” means “beef” in Japanese. Both a context and a precise meaning would have to be provided.

Now, the visual hooks into things from our everyday world would indeed make the process somewhat easier.

This symbol will mean “wind farm” or “green energy” to a large part of the world’s population because they have become familiar with the idea of wind energy; in the same way, a Japanese person or advanced student of Japanese who is presented with a rare or unfamiliar character (such as 醤) will at least have a shot at guessing at the meaning because of the way Kanji are constructed – he or she will automatically recognize the bits and pieces that the character is made of, and be able to make an educated guess at its meaning. In the same way, I can read the following paragraph without much difficulty…

“Erat una fria morning de Octubre und ein low fox noyabat las benches der park. Algunos laborantes magrebinos collectabant der litter singing melanconic tunes. Aan el 200th floor des Euro Tower el Chef Inspector General del Service des Bizarre Dingen, Mr What, frapped sur the tabula y said: -Dit is kein blague. Appel rapid Cabillot!” (from Eurolingua Salad)

… but only because I have a working knowledge of Latin, English, French, German, Spanish, Catalan, Dutch, and a few others spoken in and around Europe. Without that background and context, it would be as impenetrable to me as Hungarian, of whose intricacies I am blissfully ignorant.

In the final analysis, the Noun Project is constructing another artificial language, one of many that have attracted fans and adherents but made little headway in facilitating communication across linguistic boundaries. Inherent in the project are some good ideas that will have value, but if a linguist such as myself can look at the lists of icons and say “Vaff?” I suspect that most people less steeped in the intricacies of signans and signatum will approach the idea with all the enthusiasm of a high school French student confronted with the passé surcomposé for the first time. Even French people don’t go nuts over all the glorious intricacies of the Gallic tongue.

Der viejo loup has parlat.