Monthly Archives: March 2019

We Now Turn to Malaprops

Following in the awkward steps of Mondegreens and Spoonerisms, we meet Mrs. Malaprop, a character in Richard Sheridan’s play of 1775, The Rivals. That unfortunate woman had a strong tendency to use words that sounded quite similar to the words that were actually called for. For some more recent examples of malaprops, enjoy the following:

The magazine New Scientist claims an employee referred to a colleague as “a suppository (repository) of knowledge.”

In Huckleberry Finn, Aunt Sally declares, “I was most putrified (petrified) with astonishment.”

The late mayor of Chicago, Richard Daley, called a tandem bicycle a tantrum bicycle.

Basketball player Drew Gooden remarked, “I’ve had to overcome a lot of diversity (adversity).”

And Yogi Berra of the New York Yankees could always be counted on for a startling turn of phrase. Of another player he said, “He hits from both sides of the plate. He’s amphibious (ambidextrous).”



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Frigate bird, Galapagos  © Judi Birnberg

Now that you know what a mondegreen is, we can turn to spoonerisms, named for the Rev. William Archibald Spooner (1844-1930). Apparently, he was prone to transposing the initial consonants of two words to such an extent that his mistakes came to be named after him.

Can’t you picture him officiating at a wedding and telling the groom, “It is now kisstomary to cuss the bride”?

In England, a popular dish is chish and fips. You might want a few belly jeans for dessert. And George W. Bush, known for his verbal gaffes, once declared, “If the the terriers and bariffs are torn down, the economy will grow.”

Maybe Rev. Spooner would have recognized my illustration as a brigate fird.

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What In the World is a Mondegreen?



©  Almost Spring           Judi Birnberg

For my next few posts, I’m going to entertain you with spoonerisms, eggcorns, malaprops, and mondegreens. In fact, I wrote this particular post almost three years ago, and you may not have been a reader then or may have forgotten what a mondegreen is. They tickle me no end.

Have you ever discovered lyrics that were not what you originally thought you heard? You misinterpret a phrase that sounds very similar to the real deal, but your interpretation gives it a new meaning, one that may raise eyebrows. That, dear readers, is a mondegreen.

The name was coined in 1954 by author Sylvia Wright, who misheard the lyrics of an old Scottish ballad; she thought these were the words:

Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl o’ Moray,
And Lady Mondegreen.

In fact, the last line is And laid him on the green.

Here are some other mondegreens:

the girl with colitis goes by (the girl with kaleidoscope eyes, from “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”)

There’s a bathroom on the right (There’s a bad moon on the rise, from “Bad Moon Rising”)

Surely, good Mrs. Murphy shall follow me all the days of my life. A more common reading of the 23rd Psalm includes the line, Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.

When I was very young, a popular singer named Patti Page recorded a song called “Cross Over the Bridge.” It contains the line, Leave your fickle past behind you, and true romance will find you…. I was just discovering love songs on the radio and had no idea what “fickle” meant. To my ears, Patti Page was singing, Leave your pickle pats behind you….

I still wonder what pickle pats had to do with true romance. And what are pickle pats, anyway? Send me your own mondegreens, please! I bet you all have at least one.



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Win This Contest of Words

For many years now I have subscribed to Every weekday I am emailed a word of the day, sometimes clever, sometimes esoteric (as in, “Who knew there was a word for that?”), often having a common theme. Posts are written with humor, are often illustrated, and always show how the word is used, along with a thought for the day. It takes only a minute to read each post, and I always leave enlightened and entertained.

Here’s the special part: In celebrating 25 years of Word of the Day, the creator, Anu Garg, is running several word contests, judged by eminent wordsmiths, and promising great prizes. (Oh, how I yearn to win a trip to the UK to visit the site of the Oxford English Dictionary!)

Here is Anu’s description of the contest. See if you’re interested. At the very least, subscribe to and painlessly enlarge your vocabulary.

Next week marks 25 years of Founded on March 14, 1994, what began as a way to share my love of words and language has since grown into a community of people in 171 countries!

Thank you for being a part of this community. We love you. And we want to send you to tour the offices of Oxford English Dictionary in Oxford, UK and Merriam-Webster in Springfield, Massachusetts, USA.

To celebrate, we are organizing contests with prizes such as those tours. Also, books, dictionaries, and more.

Winners will be decided by an international panel that includes Will Shortz (The New York Times Puzzle Editor), Kory Stamper (Executive Director of the Dictionary Society of North America, author, Word by Word), Richard Lederer (author), Lauren Gawne (Dept. of Linguistics, La Trobe University, Australia), Jesse Sheidlower (former editor of the Oxford English Dictionary), Steve Kleinedler (former Executive Editor of the American Heritage Dictionary), Joan H. Hall (Chief Editor of the Dictionary of American Regional English), and others.

Are you a reporter or editor? Do you know of a local columnist, editor, or reporter in your town who’d want to cover this story? Let us know any information you need! Write to us at (see the press release).

We need your help in spreading the word. Do you have a blog? We’d love a write-up. Or you can share the contest on social media:
Share the contest on Facebook
Share the contest on Twitter
See it and tag a friend on Instagram

David Crystal, author of the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, sent this: “For 25 years, has been refreshing the linguistic parts other sites have not reached. Congratulations!” Post your own messages here.

People have met here and gotten married. Send us your stories — you don’t have to go as far as to get married (-: Share any stories you have, big or small, related to words and language. Write to us at


Take part in one or more contests, each judged by a distinguished panel of guest judges. Winners will receive exciting prizes such as word games, books, and more. Enter as many times as you want!

[Info from Judi: a pangram is a sentence that uses all the letters of the alphabet.]

Here’s to the next 25 years!

Anu Garg


Words are things; and a small drop of ink / Falling like dew upon a thought, produces / That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think. -Lord Byron, poet (1788-1824)




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Conjunction Junction



What’s your function? Remember that song from “Schoolhouse Rock” back in the Dark Ages? If you can’t remember the words, I’ll tell you what a conjunction’s function is: It joins. It creates a junction when words, or sentences, or clauses, or phrases meet.

The most common conjunctions are AND and BUT. In addition, you can use OR or NOR, YET, or SO. These are all the garden variety, but some other day I’ll torture you with coordinating, subordinating, and correlative conjunctions.

I’m willing to bet that an English teacher once told you never to begin a sentence with a conjunction. I’ll also bet you were never given a reason for that “rule”— because there isn’t one. You can start a sentence with any word in the English language. And if anyone challenges you, blame me.

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