Grandma\’s Tales

October 13, 2006

Grammar 8 – Oops, did I mean that?

Filed under: Language — Rajesh @ 11:07 am

I’ve forgotten where I took this from, but this sentence should make us think:

I remembered this incidence while I was shopping with a friend in Singapore.

You know what the error is, don’t you? “Incidence” is not the word the writer should be using. The right word would be “incident”.

“Incidence” means the scope, extent or the rate of occurrence, while “incident” is the event or the episode or the occurrence itself. If the writer is recalling the extent of an occurrence, he should tell us “the incidence of what?” As in “The incidence of malaria has reached alarming proportions in the country”. The word the writer wants here is “incident”. A mistake like this is called “malapropism”.

In his 1775 comedy, The Rivals, Richard Sheridan introduced a humorous character called Mrs. Malaprop. He took the name from the French mal à propos, which means inappropriate (we also have the word malapropos in English). In the play, the self-educated Mrs. Malaprop was always substituting a similar-sounding word for the word that she actually wanted. Her sentences, as you can imagine were “hilariously nonsensical”. Examples:
[1] …promise to forget this fellow – to illiterate him, I say, quite from your memory.” [obliterate]
[2] “O, he will dissolve my mystery!”
[resolve]

Soon the word “malapropism” joined the English vocabulary. Now a malapropism is a sentence in which one word has been used incorrectly in place of another. Mrs. Malaprop has been immortalized.
Here are some current examples:
[1] “This is unparalyzed in the state’s history.” (unparalleled)
Gib Lewis, Texas Speaker of the House

[2] “Cardial – as in cardial arrest.” (cardiac)
Eve Pollard

[3] “Republicans understand the importance of bondage between a mother and child.” (bonding)
Dan Quayle, Vice President

[4] “We seem to have unleased a hornet’s nest.” (unleashed)
Valerie Singleton

[5] “We cannot let terrorists and rogue nations hold this nation hostile or hold our allies hostile.” (hostage)
George W. Bush

After the advent of “Bushisms”, Mrs. Malaprop, unfortunately, has lost her edge. She is in danger of being forgotten. Some classic Bushisms:
[1] “The law I sign today directs new funds… to the task of collecting vital intelligence… on weapons of mass production.”

[2] “Natural gas is hemispheric… because it is a product that we can find in our neighborhoods.”

[3] “I am mindful not only of preserving executive powers for myself, but for predecessors as well.”

[4] “It will take time to restore chaos and order.”

The quiz now. Here are a few malapropisms. Find the right word.

  • Flying saucers are just an optical conclusion.
  • A rolling stone gathers no moths.
  • Let’s get down to brass roots.
  • Their father was some kind of civil serpent.
  • You can lead a horse to parole but you can’t make him drink.
  • The flood damage was so bad they had to evaporate the city.                                                                                             

   Help: fun with words

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12 Comments »

  1. Conclusion……..illusion
    Moths………….Moss
    Brass………….Grass
    Serpent………..Servant
    parole…………pond
    evaporate………evacuate

    Comment by Srinivasan — October 13, 2006 @ 11:44 am | Reply

  2. Hi Srinivasan,
    Wow! That’s pretty fast! Can you please wait for everyone to respond before I give out the answers? Do tell your friends to hurry up :-)!

    Comment by Geeta Padmanabhan — October 13, 2006 @ 5:56 pm | Reply

  3. # Flying saucers are just an optical illusion.
    # A rolling stone gathers no moss.
    # Let’s get down to grass roots.
    # Their father was some kind of civil servant.
    # You can lead a horse to pond but you can’t make him drink.
    # The flood damage was so bad they had to evacuate the city.

    Comment by Varun Chablani — October 13, 2006 @ 11:02 pm | Reply

  4. conclusion – illusion
    moths – moss
    brass – grass
    serpent – servant (but serpent also makes sense if u think twice)
    parole – pond
    evaporate – evacuate

    Comment by Seshasayee Gopi — October 15, 2006 @ 7:05 pm | Reply

  5. inclusion
    moth
    grass
    servant
    pond
    evacuate

    Comment by puja — October 15, 2006 @ 9:03 pm | Reply

  6. oops!!! “COMPLETE MALAPROPISMS”
    a couple of answers of mine are wrong. was just in a hurry to complete them…

    illusion instead of inclusion
    moss instead of moss

    Comment by puja — October 15, 2006 @ 9:18 pm | Reply

  7. 1 illusion
    2 moss
    3 grass
    4 servant
    5 pond
    6 evacuate

    Comment by bhavna — October 15, 2006 @ 10:04 pm | Reply

  8. Hi Srinivasan,
    It’s “brass tacks” and the expression has several origins. The meaning here is “facts”. “Pond” is right, but “parole” is short for “the pool” (how it was heard). It really doesn’t matter. The others are totally right!Great!

    Hi Varun,
    “Grass roots” is an interesting option. And why not?
    The original version is of course, “brass tacks” which stands for “facts”. If you want to stop guessing and get down to hard facts, this is the expression you’ll want.Great!

    Hi Seshasayee,
    Please check out “brass tacks” in the comments above. As for the serpent, I couldn’t agree with you more! Good thinking!

    Hi Puja,
    “Check out “brass tacks” in the comments above, ok?

    Hi Bhavna,
    “Just check out “brass tacks”, ok? The others are fine!

    Comment by Geeta Padmanabhan — October 15, 2006 @ 11:02 pm | Reply

  9. Flying saucers are just an optical illusion.

    A rolling stone gathers no moss.

    Let’s get down to the grass roots.

    Their father was some kind of a civil servant.

    You can lead a horse to the pond but you can’t make him drink.

    The flood damage was so bad they had to evacuate the city.

    Comment by Rajaram — October 16, 2006 @ 12:42 pm | Reply

  10. Hi Rajaram,
    Good to see you here. You got them all correct except the third one. Even there this version of the phrase where you choose “grass roots” over “brass tacks” (facts) is very appealing. Great work!

    Comment by Geeta Padmanabhan — October 16, 2006 @ 7:17 pm | Reply

  11. illusion
    moss
    grass
    servant
    pond
    evacuate

    Comment by pramoditha.k — October 17, 2006 @ 4:54 pm | Reply

  12. Hi Pramoditha,
    Wow! This class really thinks alike! And why not “grassroots?” Let’s get down to grassroots, mmm…We should promote this as the Indian version. The original is of course, “brass tacks” (facts). Great work!

    Comment by Geeta Padmanabhan — October 17, 2006 @ 5:56 pm | Reply


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