Malapropisms, Part 2

(Ludicrous-English Caused by Blunders and Incompetence)

Be aware of faulty speech and writing habits so you can confirm and strengthen the good ones

The problems presented in this and the other files may be surprising and some will surely be amusing; but be aware that every one of them is genuine and every one of them has at some time posed a problem. So, the purpose of presenting these confusions is to call attention to such inaccuracies and thus to correct or eliminate them.

Language blunders will result in being marked as ignorant or ludicrous by the audience, and such language mistakes will detract from the message that the communicator wants to transmit.

No attempt has been made to present exhaustive lists of usage and grammar; instead the guides treat only those problems that have traditionally been considered especially vexing by users of English. The purposes of these pages should be considered at four levels of usage: the two levels, formal and informal, each subdivided into the two categories of spoken or written language.

If a writer, or speaker, does not observe certain patterns of English, confusion will result and no one will correctly understand what the person is trying to say. Language blunders will result in being marked as ignorant or ludicrous by the audience, and such language mistakes will detract from the message that the communicator wants to transmit.

Is it possible that the writers of the headlines and ads shown below realized how confusing and ridiculous their presentations are and that they have become famous only because they convey obvious carelessness and misapplications of the language?

Nothing is quite as important to clear and accurate expression as the ability to distinguish between words of similar, but not identical, meaning. To choose wrongly is to leave the listener or reader with a fuzzy or mistaken impression. To choose well is to give both illumination and a clear understanding of what we want to convey.

The Origin of the Word Malapropism

“She’s as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile” and “He is the very pineapple of politeness” are two of the absurd pronouncements from Mrs. Malaprop that explain why her name became synonymous with the ludicrous misuse of English.

A character in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s play The Rivals (1775), Mrs. Malaprop consistently uses language malapropos, that is, inappropriately. The word malapropos comes from the French phrase mal á propos, made up of mal; "bad, badly" and á, "to" and propos, "purpose, subject"; and means "inappropriate".

The Rivals was a popular play, and Mrs. Malaprop became enshrined in a common noun, first in the form malaprop and later in malapropism; which is first recorded in 1849. Perhaps that is what Mrs. Malaprop feared when she said, "If I reprehend any thing in this world, it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs!"

Language Is Essential to Our Success in Life

Language is an integral part of our lives. It is a vehicle for growth which involves exploring beings, objects, events, ideas, and experiences. It is making sense of the world using the meaning and context of self, family, and cultural group. It is personal, socially and functionally; because it affects our perceptions, degrees of understanding, our acquisitions of and degrees of knowledge, thinking, problem-solving abilities, and social skills. It is an active process learned through its various applications and it continually evolves with improvements or lingers in a state of stagnation. It all depends on how we apply our learning skills.

Just What Does Ludicrous Mean?

Ludicrous (LOO di kruhs): Causing derisive laughter because something is so amusingly absurd, utterly ridiculous, incongruous, foolish, abnormally unreasonable, and wholly unsuitable for a situation.

Ludicrous was borrowed from Latin ludicrus, from ludicrum, "joke, amusement", and from ludere, "to play". The current sense of causing derisive laughter, ridiculous, is first recorded in English in 1782, in Frances Burney's Cecilia.

English usage is sometimes more than mere taste, judgment, and education. Sometimes it is sheer luck, like getting across the street.
—E.B. White

Ludicrous Headlines, Advertisements, and Other Malapropisms

Examples of Ludicrous-Newspaper Statements

  • Screwdrivers were made to tighten, loosen screws
  • Researchers call murder a threat to public helath
  • Police use tear gas, SWAT team, battering ram, stun gun to oust woman, 65
  • Man admits killing violated his probation
  • Our Reg. Steak SANDWICH

    2 for only $2.99

    (ingredients extra)

  • FREE

    For Qualified Senior Citizens

    and Persons With Low Income

    Spay/Neuter Service

  • Death in the ring: Most boxers are not the same afterward
  • Wisconsin bill would permit blind to hunt deer
  • Man shot, stabbed; death by natural causes ruled by medical investigators
  • City Increasing Speed Limit to Slow Down Drivers
  • MUST SELL: Health food store, due to failing health.
  • NEED BABYSITTER at my home, bring own lunch and dinner.

    Stay until I get home. 6:15 a.m. until whenever. No overtime pay.

  • NEED Plain Clothes Security. Must have shop lifting experience.
  • In the sewers, each day’s job has new allure
  • Mayor says D.C. is safe except for murders
  • No cause of death determined for beheading victim
  • Wanted: a hangman who knows the ropes

    Prison spokesman says they really need someone who knows the ropes, because precision is essential. Otherwise, the prisoner could get hurt during the procedure.

  • Blind workers eye better wages
  • Postal Service seeking ways to deliver mail more slowly
  • Helicopter powered by human flies
  • Three ambulances take blast victim to hospital
  • City wants Dead to pay for cleanup
  • Studies indicate fat intake affects obesity.
  • Experts Are Sure the Dow Will Either Rise or Decline
  • If Voters Approve, Boys Town Will Buy Orphanage With Girls
  • Jail crowding caused by increase in criminals, new study concludes
  • Blind Cabbie Forced To Abandon Driving
  • Mimes banned for abusive language
  • Ten Commandments declared obsolete by "news king" Turner TV mogul issues his own 10 rules
  • Univ. Of Michigan Mulls Neutering Its Freshmen
  • Gas chamber executions may be health hazard
  • Study finds that pupils who attend their classes score markedly better
  • Police kill youth in effort to stop his suicide attempt
  • Check with doctors before getting sick
  • Dead Man Gets Job Back SYDNEY, Australia (AP)—A man who died while going to a hearing to fight his job dismissal has been reinstated to the job.
  • Street sign: ENTRANCE ONLY


To err is human, but when the eraser wears out ahead of the pencil, you’re overdoing it.

—J. Jenkins

You may return to Malapropisms, Part 1, if you want to see it again.