Mrs Malaprop Lives On

She may never die, with the way spell checkers make malapropisms easy to perpetuate. And perpetrate.

Yes, I’ve been trawling fanfic archives again. And there are so many malapropisms, ranging from hilariously bad to “oh gawd, not that one again”. Tis truly remarkable how often in fanfic a character in great pain “withers”. I’m fairly sure the intended word is “writhes”, but somehow the correct word never seems to find its way to the file. Methinks the spell check sees the collection of letters and picks the one that makes the most sense to it – and as anyone who’s ever tried to figure out why in heck the predictive word algorithm chose  that word would know, computer algorithms have a long way to go before they can come close to human interaction.

That’s probably the single most common use of the wrong word I’ve seen in fanfic once you move past the obvious there/their/they’re type issues. Misplaced grammar and stray articles are par for the course, of course, as are typos, but then I don’t expect heavily proofed works on fanfic sites.

There are of course the full range from sublime to “OMG KILL IT WITH FIRE!”, and anyone trawling fanfic will find examples of covering the entire range. I’ve yet to be courageous enough to attempt the Harry Potter fanfic with a blurb announcing that Harry has a “surprised creature inheritance”. I keep wondering whether it’s better to inherit a surprised creature than one that isn’t surprised. And how this would differ from what the author apparently intended, namely Harry Potter being surprised to discover he’s not entirely human.

Story blurbs are a really good way to find the things you’d rather not touch with a ten foot bargepole. I generally avoid anything that’s got obvious spelling and grammar errors – the kind that can’t be mistaken for typos or spellcheck artifacts without a lot of alcohol and possibly demonic influence as well. Another important sign of potential awfulness is any version of “I suck at summaries but this is really good, I promise”. I’ve yet to see one that met the promise.

Be wary of thy spellcheck function, and take care with the word suggestion feature lest they lead you into malapropism.

That said, I shall leave you with the most hilarious malapropism I ever encountered. In discussing the joys of plant ownership, “there’s nothing better for you than a nice healthy orgasm”.


  1. My mother came up with malapropisms we never let her forget, the all-time favorite being, “She didn’t have two cows to rub together.”

  2. Oh, Laura M., you should share that one with Dave at (“An unintentional blending of idioms or phrases”–it’s not rocket surgery, y’know?)

    1. Rocket surgery makes sense as being the process of integrating components, such as guidance and propulsion, that were intended for wildly different types of rocket. Especially if you have to disassemble the rockets, cut the structures apart, and weld them together.

      1. I really wonder if that malaproper was the thing behind this:

        Bones: Damn it, man, I’m a doctor, not a torpedo technician!

        Spock: The fact that your are a doctor is precisely why I need you to listen very carefully.

        (From Star Trek: Into Darkness)

        (Later, yes, he does… surgery… on a torpedo. That counts as rocket surgery, right?)

      1. I think it was from people getting tired of the Brain Surgery and Rocket Science cliches, and someone decided to splice the two together. “Brain Science” isn’t funny, so the other got taken.

        I’m guilty of (over)using the phrase “We’ll burn that bridge when we come to it.” There have been a few occasions when the phrase was all-too accurate.

        1. That’s why I made it up. Not that I’m claiming to be the first…

          Those stupid “rocket science” and “brain surgery” ads were *everywhere*, in magazines, radio, and TV. It got so I cringed to hear them. So I joined them together to annoy other people.

  3. Public/Pubic is another one that tends to produce some hilarious results, as well as being so close in how they look that it’s easy to miss. I’ve heard all kinds of stories about Departments of Health and Pubic Safety.

    1. Oh, yes! I’ve run across that one a few times and never failed to spit-take.

      Which brings one of my personal failings to mind. When I’m typing fast, I have a tendency to switch the “o” and the “c” in words like count, country, county, account etc…

    2. I’ll always remember my grandmother reading a newspaper article and laughing so hard she couldn’t read and was almost crying as she read line after line about the scourge of public lice.

      I can see her in the chair she was in, next to the sliding patio door of her apartment, the norfolk pine in the pot sitting next to it, even the particular still life that my mother had done in college hanging behind her on the wall.

    3. Actually, in some clinics, “Pubic Health” makes good sense…

      And the joys of teaching medical students that they *really* need to be careful in phrasing their write-ups of patient care…it doesn’t matter how much a wound is draining pus, it is *always* a “Purulent Wound,” or “Purulent Drainage,” rather than the more obvious colloquial descriptor…

  4. Hmmmm… Fanfic. I’d never thought of that as a source for examples to use in my “Writing Glitch” posts.

    Although I saw them many years ago, these are still my “favorite” written malapropisms: the young, unexpired ensign and the monasteries attack (supposed to be the young, inexperienced ensign and the monstrosity’s attack).

      1. They don’t all die in combat – especially if they don’t where red shirts. William Henry Harrison, with President George Washington’s signature still practically wet on his commission as ensign, survived the entire campaign Anthony Wayne waged against the Indians.

        1. especially if they don’t where red shirts

          The above fits in quite well with the topic. 😀

  5. I wonder if there might be a high percentage of people who transpose numbers and see words funny among writers. I do not notice most of these errors you’re talking about in my own or other people’s writing, which makes proof-reading an adventure. Good thing there’s Grammarly and other types of software to sort out the poor/porn/prawn mistakes.

    Speaking of, has anyone else noticed that its/it’s is continuously marked as a mistake in MS Word? Doesn’t matter which way you do it, the software flags it. Then you change it to the other way, and it flags it again.

    1. Could it be flagging it one way because wrong form, and the other because of subject verb agreement?

    2. That’s because it hates you and wants you to look like an idiot.

      Always wise to remember when using the grammar checker.

  6. I’m not a great writer when it comes to grammar or word use, this I admit. However, I would like to submit an alternate interpretation of the usage of the word “Withers”.

    WITHER: (of a plant) become dry and shriveled, (of a person, limb, or the skin) become shrunken or wrinkled from age or disease. Withers (Third Party Present tense).

    Source: Nameless online dictionary. I will note that I crosschecked with a few other dictionaries and not all of them list the word withers used in that way, but some do.

    1. Well, in Harry Potter fanfic, when a character is hit by a withering curse, one is likely to wither for a time. The last I heard, withering wasn’t a symptom of the cruciatus curse. Just saying.

      (And I try really hard not to think about horse withers, because then things get really strange.)

  7. Assuming that the book blurbs are written by the authors, I’ve spotted many stories to avoid, LOL! I figure if they can’t write well enough to do a good blurb, the story probably is worse!

    1. Book blurbs are not only not written by the authors, they are often written before the book is turned in.

      I heard one author recounting how his book got a blurb talking about a non-existent Cathy. . . .

    1. I do wonder if some of the odder malapropisms I see in fanfic aren’t the result of more people writing fic on their phones.

      I can’t even fathom doing such a thing (just doing short texts on my phone has me cursing Albert-the-drunken-autocarrot-gnome 8 times out of 10), but apparently it’s very popular among some fic writers…

      1. At one time my daughter was writing a book completely on her phone. She doesn’t like “big” phones, so it was one of those shrimpy-sized smart-phones. I have no idea how she managed.

        But then, I like big phones and I’m happy that there are phones out there now days like the Google Pixel XL phones. “Regular sized” phones just feel tiny to me. I’m a pretty big guy, not freakishly huge or anything, but big.

          1. Sigh, I’ve had a Note, then a Note 2. I’m currently on a Google Pixel 2 XL, and I miss the Note’s pen thing more than I expected. Don’t get me wrong, the Pixel 2 is working out for me. So far, it’s seemed to be more stable and definitely has less of the annoying bloat-ware that I absolutely did NOT use on the Notes.

      2. I do the first draft on my phone, mostly because I do a lot of my writing during downtime at work. I do my editing on my actual computer, because then I can put in things like italics and see how the words actually look on the page.

  8. I broke down laughing in an Inappropriate Space when I skimmed an NSFW story that involved “quacking thighs”. If it looks like a duck…

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