Bill Long 12/19/04
Returning to Meaning-Rich Malapropisms
I will have to stop doing this after this essay, lest I just get caught up in such an ecstatic word-state that I never return to productivity. Wouldn't that be tragic? Here are a few more malapropisms, with comment.
1. "Familiarity breeds attempt." When I taught an Employment Law class at the law school, I devoted a few classes to sexual harassment law. We not only examined some appellate cases but looked into office practices that might have a tendency to sexualize the workplace. You can't avoid, nor should you try to avoid, friendly contact between the sexes. But you know that too much familiarity will lead to various attempts. I am just giving you the facts of life.
2. "Necessity is the mother of convention." We feel lots of pressures on us as we build a career. Sometimes we have trouble distinguishing the necessities of life from our desires. We often trim our sails to fit into organizations, staying far longer than we should because of family situations or benefits or inertia. These perceived necessities of life, and our need to live according to their demands, erode some of our creative edges, I believe. We become tame, committed to ruts in our thinking, unoriginal. The "necessities" of our lives, therefore, lead to conventional thinking.
3. "The Smith family requests your presents at the celebration of their daughter's marrriage." Of course they want your presence. That goes without saying. Er, well, if you can't come, at least drop off the present. When I went to a wedding in the summer of 2004, I shopped through someone's online registry. It is just getting so easy to give ones presents/presence to newlyweds.
4. "The amount of education you have determines your loot in life." Now isn't this an utterly clever malapropism? Motivations for completing your college education have become so intertwined with financial considerations now that I sometimes think it is fruitless to engage students in consideration of ideas. But, that is all I know how to do, so I guess I will have to keep at it. Yet, this is the subliminable as well as the express message that our young people are receiving today. Maybe it is true. Maybe your loot determines your lot in life.
5. "The Congressman stayed after the town meeting and discussed the high cost of living with several women." This is really an example of amphiboly or double-meaning (ambiguity), but it is suggestive nevertheless. No doubt Congressmen, more in the past than the present, had good reason to think about the high cost of living with several women. A friend of mine tells the story of how someone she knew got divorced from her husband when she realized he was supporting several women--and not for meritorious reasons (see the previous essay under meretricious service).
6. Speaking of politics, it wouldn't be right to do a couple of pages on malapropisms and leave out Dan Quayle, the elder President Bush's Vice-President from 1989-93. He was very big on family values. One memorable family value line he used once was, "Republicans understand the importance of bondage between mother and child." Maybe we can just chalk this up to Quayle's general ignorance, but maybe he is onto something. Maybe this phrase is a window into the Republican manner of thinking. Under the guise of freedom, what they really are interested in is bondage. At least it is worth the thought.
7. "You should respect all duly constipated authorities." In the movie Shawshank Redemption, one of the inmates tries to dissuade Andy DuFresne from asking the Warden for money for a prison library. He said that when you asked for money, "His ass becomes tighter than a snare drum." A nice visual image, courtesy of Mr. Stephen King. But a snare-drum ass is consistent with constipated authorities, don't you think? One of the costs of public recognition is that your family and you live in a "fish bowl." As one judge told me, "I can't jaywalk anymore." Makes authorities a bit constipated, don't you think?
8. And then, just when you thought it was safe to read this page, I close with one that had more than one meaning, even beyond what the creator of this malapropism imagined. "That is an expensive pendulum around his neck." The Latin word "pend," meaning something that "hangs" (such as impending rain or an impending action), gives off several suggestive pictures.
I love these words and sentences so much that I was even tempted in my mind to give a lecture on malapropisms rather than holding class on my contractually-mandated subjects. Instead of teaching Article II Sales from the Uniform Commerical Code, I might want to speak on malapropisms. But, don't you think it would be malappropriate to do so?
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long