A long-time fan of Jeopardy, I have even become more interested in recent months watching popular quiz show’s championship series that pits the best against the best.

Watching it with Larry, we enjoy playing along, supplying our own questions to the clues given in numerous categories. . As was true for the two of us in our Trivial Pursuit days, I do well in the arts and entertainment areas, especially literature. Larry does well in history, geography, and sports. We don’t do as well in the sciences.

I know that I will never be a Jeopardy champion. Nor do I even have hopes to come in second. My pressing that buzzer would be similar to my pressing a self-destruct button. It’s not only because I don’t have a head for all the trivia. I would also bomb out because of my misuse of words. 

In response to the Jeopardy clue, “The French singer famous for “La Vie en Rose,” I would offer “Who is Edith Pilaf?” Poor Ken Jennings would have to fight the urge to burst out laughing before getting the correct answer—“Who is Edith Piaf?”—from another contestant. “Yes,” Ken would comment, “We were looking for a name, not a rice dish that sings.”

And maybe he would lose it when my answer to “Company created by Steve Jobs that was sold to Disney in 1986” was “What was Pixie?” Another contestant would quickly supply the correct line. “What is Pixar.” I unfortunately would have no place to hide.

I used to think my problem was mispronunciations. But it’s worse. I am guilty of using malapropisms. Malaprops, whose name come the eponymous character in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 1775 play The Rival, occur when one uses an incorrect word instead of another similar-sounding one, resulting in a nonsensical, often humorous sentence. An example of a malapropism is when someone says, “dance a flamingo” instead of “dance a flamenco.”

I come from a long line of “malapropists.” My father’s misuse of words bordered on Archie Bunker territory. And my poor mother was also guilty, The one that sticks with me was her using “orgasm” when she meant “organism.” 

My own history of mispronunciations started young. In high school, my fiery rant about the radical “Storky” Carmichael. brought my fellow classmates to hysterics when I talked about that radical “I think you meant “Stokely,” suggested Mrs. Clute when the laughter died down. I was in college before I realized that Sigmund Freud and Sigmund “Froid”were one and the same Austrian psychologist.

My most embarrassing transgression came as an adult, when I walked into a garden shop in Upstate New York and asked for a well known pest spray.

“Can you tell me where I can find the Spermicide?” I asked the clerk.“Sorry, lady,” the clerk responded. “You won’t find any spermicide here, but I do have Spectricide.” I wonder if my request has become one of their favorite stories to retell again and again. 

I join a long line of famous people whose malapropisms have become part of their history. Yogi Berra was so famous that his expressions ranked their own name, “Yogisims.” He once said, “He hits from both sides of the plate. He’s amphibious” instead of saying ambidextrous. In another instance, “Texas has a lot of electrical votes.” (electoral votes)

Yogi may have made such “errors” an art, but other legendary historical quotes were—well—hysterical. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott once stated that no one “is the suppository of all wisdom” instead of saying repository or depository. Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley incorrectly referred to Alcoholics Anonymous as Alcoholics Unanimous and called tandem bicycles “tantrum” bicycles.

More recent American politicians have faced ridicule for their public gaffes. President George W. Bush famously stated “The law I sign today directs new funds… to the task of collecting vital intelligence… on weapons of mass production” (destruction).In 2022, Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker was mocked online after claiming “this erection is about the people” (election), during an interview on Fox News. Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene has also been excoriated for her misuse of words, including references to “peach tree dish” (petri dish) and “gazpacho police”(Gestapo), and “fragrantly violated. (flagrantly), among others.

President Joe Biden also has been mocked for his verbal missteps. On March 31, 2024, he asked all his guests at the annual Easter Egg Hunt say ‘hello’ to oyster bunnies.” He famously mixed up the names of world leaders with their (deceased) predecessor, referring to French President Emmanuel Macron as Francois Mitterrand and German Chancellor Angela Merkel as Helmut Kohl. But he knows it. ”I am a gaffe machine,” admitted Biden in a 2018 speech.

And then we have Donald J. Trump. In a a research paper published in 2020, Dr. Sajid Chaudhry examined 500 viral tweets posted on Twitter by the former president. Along with the hundreds of misspellings of common homonyms (waist/waste; boarder/border; taxis/taxes; eminent/imminent; Barrack/Barak), the paper cited numerous malapropisms, including references to a “Smocking Gun” and a claim that the media said that he wanted “a Moot stuffed with alligators and snake” at the Southern border. “The way he mangles words,” states Dr. Chaudhry at the end of his report, “ it looks like the ghost of Mrs. Malaprop haunts his vocabulary.”

So, it looks like I am not the only one who may experience major failures on Jeopardy. I take solace in my limited knowledge of Yiddish and Hebrew, which means I know not to call our Passover meal a “cedar,” our beautiful braided egg bread a “CHA-lah,”and our Day of Atonement “Yam KIP-per.” 

My personal favorite malapropism was spoken by a non-Jewish friend when she asked how I met Larry. 

“We met at a Purim party,” I said.

Dead silence. Long pause.

“I can’t believe you are so open about your meeting your husband at a PORN party,” my friend said incredulously. 

I wonder how Ken Jennings would react to that!

Sources and links

“16 of the Most Famous Malapropism Examples” “Biden’s Biggest Gaffes.” “Examples of Malapropism” “Joe Biden 2020 gaffe machine” “Malapropism” Wikipedia “Mr. Malaprop: The President Donald Trump on Twitter.” “Modern-day Malapropisms: Yogiisms versus Trumpisms” “Say hello to oyster bunnies.”What Are “Malapropisms?”

Article by Author/s
Marilyn Shapiro
Marilyn Cohen Shapiro, a resident of Kissimmee, FL, is a regular contributor to the (Capital Region NY) Jewish World and the Orlando Heritage Florida Jewish News. She is the author of two compilation of her stories, There Goes My Heart (2016) and Tikkun Olam: Stories of Repairing an Unkind World. (2018). Both books available in paperback and e-book format on Amazon. You can read more of her stories on her blog, theregoesmyheart.me.

Write A Comment


Enter your email address below to subscribe to our newsletter