Thursday, 14 November 2013

Mrs and Misses Malaprop

Some things run in families, like red hair, antiques, musical aptitude, cancer and money, to cite a few examples. While some tendencies can be consigned to nature, others clearly fall to nurture. Either way, there are certain characteristics that weave their way through generations in one family to become strong, identifying features.

While it has been clear from the start that our elder daughter looks very much like my mother in law, it recently occurred to me how like my mother in law she is in other ways, too. Some of these similarities are coincidental or circumstantial, perhaps even testament to the way in old age, we begin a return to childhood. But in other ways, I feel sure there must be a trickle of genes at work. While my kind, fun, much-loved mother in law was quite a beauty in her youth and to inherit her looks and light-hearted disposition is a gift not to be sniffed at, there is another characteristic which may be received with less enthusiasm. 

My mother in law is known for her unfortunate tendency to use the wrong word. Even more unfortunate is the fact the errant word is often one with sexual meaning. Some malapropisms are entirely innocent and make us chuckle, such as: ‘I’ve made up the fruton for you to sleep on’, whereas others have been known to leave company aghast. Once, she discussed a bunch of lilies she'd received as a gift. ‘There was semen everywhere!’ When she continued ‘It was all over my hands and the table, and on my nose too,’ it was clear there was some confusion. We swallowed our sniggers and nodded sympathetically, assuming that ‘semen’ had transgressed from ‘stamen’, which in turn had morphed from ‘pollen’. A sort of double-malapropism.

On another legendary occasion which I was not present to witness, my mother in law was at a gathering after a funeral. In the reflective silence of mourners, her tummy made an audible rumble. ‘That’s my stomach masturbating,’ she announced. When the silence was broken by uproarious laughter, she was certainly responsible for lightening the moment.

A few weeks ago, my husband, daughters and I visited The British Wildlife Centre for a day out. We had a marvellous time, viewing and remarking on all manner of native animal species. That evening at bedtime, our elder daughter asked her daddy a curious question. 

‘Daddy, if you touched an udder, would you die?’ My husband explained that farmers and vets touch udders every day and they do not die, but it could be possible – though unlikely – to catch a bacterial infection that could make you very ill. ‘So people really touch udders?’ she pressed, ‘I thought that they were poisonous?’ It took some time and interpretation for my husband to establish that, while consolidating the facts from our day observing British wildlife, what she had actually meant to say was ‘adder’. 

Words aside, it seems malapropisms extend to concepts in our family. While our younger daughter was playing doctors with her toys recently, she took her teddy’s temperature. Removing the thermometer from under the bear’s arm, she announced ‘It’s a quarter past two, you will have to stay in bed until you’re better.’ Our bathroom scales measure any family member to be ‘a metre’, a tape measure with a thermostat can diagnose ‘you’re very hot’ and we also own a clock which shows ‘we need some petrol’. 

Venturing outside our own family’s malaprop-territory to tread on the toes of others’ mistakes, a couple of years ago my husband and I witnessed one way in which malapropisms come to run in families. At an open-farm for family visits, a boy exclaimed of a turkey ‘Look dad, a peacock!’ His father knew his son was wrong and didn’t hesitate to correct him. ‘That’s not a peacock stupid, it’s an ostrich!’

I have undoubtedly been unkind in these revelations, and far be it from me to stand above error –  I know I’ve made a few corkers of my own over the years, particularly with regard to song lyrics. So if you should find anything mal a propos in my musings, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

1 comment:

  1. Oh I did giggle at the masturbating stomach, and also the poisonous udders!