Tuesday, 26 May 2015

The Malapropism: A word by any other name

It's my pleasure to welcome Renée Reynolds with a post on malapropisms!


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The Malpropism: A word by any other name

Comic Relief via Malapropism

For some reason, two things always show up whenever I write a new book: Shakespeare and humor.  Having an English teacher grandmother and librarian aunt, and descending from a long line of sarcastic savants, likely made manifestation of these traits inevitable.  I select a line or two from the Bard's works as introductions to each chapter in my novels, to (hopefully) help set the scene for the coming action.  I also infuse my stories with humor; if you are supposed to write what you know, then my laughter, teasing, and joke-filled life makes this inevitable.  As such, my lead characters tend to be wry observers, situational comics, and able practitioners of bon mots.

While conceiving the general outline for my Lords of Oxford Series, I knew book three, Earl Crazy, would be a bit different from the others.  The heroine is the sister of the series-arcing villain, and has had a sadly difficult, even abusive life.  Lady Margaret Stansbury needed a hero, but she also needed to find strength within herself to let go of the past and let her wounds heal.  I decided her hero, the Earl of Aylesford, would find the solution to his difficulties in Lady Margaret.  He is completely put upon - swamped by his duties as a peer,  his duties to his family, and his duties to the future of the earldom.  He needed a heroine.

But lest the story be all melodrama and difficulty, some Shakespearean comic relief was necessary, and what better form could comedy take than that of the Earl's great-aunt.  A great-aunt that refused to act her age or station at the most inconvenient of times, making it harder and harder to have patience with, and care for her, both as a lady and his elder.

To inject levity and just the right level of absurdity, the Earl's great-aunt required some endearing quirks.  Not only does Lady Hester Prendergast have a penchant for brandishing weapons at social events – only when she needs to slice her cheese or trim a dragging string, mind you – she also has a tendency to ask others for escort to tobacconists and brewers, despite her nephew's decree to the contrary.  To give her that extra je ne sais quoi, Lady Hester also speaks sincerely and earnestly the most ludicrous – and sometimes inappropriate – things.  Her speech is as eccentric as her dress.  She is an expert wielder of the malapropism.


Malpropism (noun, 1826), from Mrs. Malaprop, a character in Richard Sheridan's play “The Rivals” (1775).  Mrs. Malaprop was noted for her ridiculous misuse of large words; her name was coined from the French mal à propos, meaning badly suited to the purpose.

For example (emphases mine):

“Sir, you overpower me with good breeding.  He is the very pine-apple of politeness!”  (Act III, Scene iii)

“I hope you will represent her to the captain as an object not altogether illegible.” (Act I)

“Why, murder's the matter!  Slaughter's the matter!  Killing's the matter!  But he can tell you the perpendiculars.”  (Act V, Scene i)


In other words, Mrs. Malaprop said one thing while meaning another.  But she was not the first literary icon to skewer the King's English with malapropism.  Although the term arose from the Sheridan play, its practice had been in use long before.  For inspiration I turned to my favored Shakespeare, and a favored play: Much Ado About Nothing.  In fact, malapropism can be referred to as a Dogberryism, in honor of that most supreme of loveable fools, the Chief of Police of Messina, Dogberry.


“Marry, sir, I would have some confidence with you that decerns you dearly.”  (Act III, Scene iv)

“It pleases your worship to say so, but we are the poor duke's officers; but truly, for mine own part, if I were as tedious as a king, I could find it in my heart to bestow it all of your worship.”  (Act III, Scene v)

“One word, sir: our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two auspicious persons, and we would have them this morning examined before your worship.”  (Act III, Scene v)

With such rich examples to emulate, it's no wonder I felt compelled that great-aunt Hester should wander into this method of speech.  Her usually unintentional misuse of a word or phrase brings amusement, and usually smothered laughs, to each conversation she attends. Her malapropisms come at just the right time in the story, a touch of frivolity whenever the situation seems far too serious to be borne.

Some of her memorable pronouncements:

“My dearest girl, you must cease allowing yourself to be used as a prawn by your brother.”

“Allow me to play the devil's addle-wit for a moment and examine this problem from all sides.”

“Surely it is time for the gong.  I am positively ravishing!”

“Let me state the oblivious and say this man – nay, this vermin – must needs be dealt with once and for all!”

So while the main theme of Earl Crazy is the mutual redemption of two struggling souls who find strength and succor in each other, the difficulties faced by Lady Margaret do provide inspiration for my lovely Dogberry to make her laughable declarations.  It is my hope that Lady Hester provides just the right amount of silliness with a touch of folly to be a lovely edition (wink-wink) to the story.

About the Book
What Tobias Kitteridge knows about women could fit into the tip of a thimble.  His life since the age of sixteen has been a steady stream of lessons toward becoming the Earl of Aylesford; ten years on, he finds himself standing on the precipice of losing his mind over solving his most pressing problems of a chaotic house and amok relatives.  His closest friends vow the answer to all his problems can be found in the acquisition of a wife.  But when women are the biggest mystery of all, just how is he to acquire one of his own?

What Lady Margaret Stansbury knows about men can be summed up in three words: Never Trust One.  Her life since the age of sixteen has been grief, disappointment, and neglect, with physical torment from her brother thrown lately into the mix.  When her brother the Viscount moves them to London, she expects only a continuation of her misery.  Instead she finds friends and a measure of freedom for the first time in her life.  Unfortunately, these friends think the answer to her problems can be found in the acquisition of a husband.  But when men are the sole source of heartache, why would she want to acquire one of her own?

When two of the unlikeliest of people form the most unlikeliest of unions, only the most unlikeliest of results can occur: true love.

Pleases watch for Earl Crazy, book three in The Lords of Oxford series, available FREE this August.


An Excerpt

“Lady Margaret!”

“My lord,” she replied with the briefest of curtsies.  He opened his mouth to reply but she continued.  “I'm afraid we have trespassed on your family's time too long.  Pray excuse us.”  Her gaze remained fixed somewhere over his left shoulder.

“No, that is, I didn't mean--” he stammered as she moved past him to the doorway.

“Lady Ashford, I will call for the carriage and await you in the hall.  Lady Hester.  Lady Aylesford,” she curtsied, and far deeper this time.  “Thank you both for a lovely afternoon.  I very much enjoyed the conversation and seed cake.”  And with that, Lady Margaret left without ever once looking his direction.

Lady Ashford turned in her seat to glare at him, lips pursed.  He received no better from his aunt and he knew the tirade was soon to erupt from his grandmother.  She rose from her chair and slowly crossed the room to stare him down despite the considerable difference in their heights.

“Tobias Wymond Kitteridge, you will go into that hall and beg forgiveness for your appalling lack of decorum and senseless blustering.”  He opened his mouth only to snap it shut as her hand shot out to pinch and twist the skin at his wrist.  This has been her method to get his attention since he was in leading strings.  It still worked.  “Not another word in this room until you have gotten yourself back into the good graces of the sweetest, kindest girl your aunt and I have ever met.  She deserved none of that philippic – none of us did – and you will remedy this immediately.”

Aylesford knew better than to open his mouth, even in apology, and she showed him her back before a look of contrition could even appear on his face.  She continued declaring her displeasure to the other side of the room.

“I should box his ears.  What a nursery-room tantrum, and from a grown man.  A peer of the realm!  An earl!  Stuff and nonsense!” she carried on as she moved to take the seat previously occupied by Lady Margaret.

Lady Margaret!

He spun on his heel and stepped quickly to the hall in time to see his butler escort the lady down the front steps.  Their carriage had yet to arrive, but from her posture and his butler's solicitude, he knew that Lady Margaret determined to put as much distance between herself and . . . him.  He glanced back toward the drawing room and made the only viable decision: retreat and regroup.  It was past time to address the root of the problem or, more likely, the roots.  He quietly moved toward the rear of the house, crossed the terrace, stole through the garden, and scaled his own wall to sneak away from further judgment awaiting him inside.

It was time to find his closest friends, the men he would hitherto have given his life for, but for now to be known as the men he would most like to kill for their bird-witted schemes and tricks.


About the Author

Renée Reynolds grew up all over the world in a family whose motto is you can never learn too much, travel too much, or talk too much.  She owns a stack of degrees that she completely ignores in favor of writing about what she cannot do: go back in time to dance at balls, and flirt with lords and scoundrels.

Renée found her HEA in Texas, where she resides with the hubs, the kiddos, and a menagerie of pets (here there be chickens!). She's since added to the family motto: you can never read too much, too often, or too late at night.


 Written content of his post copyright © Renée Reynolds, 2015.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

I love the malapropisms you've invented for the book, which sounds great fun. I'm particularly enamoured of 'devil's addle-wit'!

Sarah said...

Sounds great fun!

Renee Reynolds said...

Thank you! It's been such fun to figure out how many plays on words can be made from seemingly innocent things.

Renee Reynolds said...

I hope so, Sarah. It's been great fun to write!

Renee Reynolds said...

Thank you for allowing me a guest spot here today, Catherine. It's such an honor to visit one of my favorite blogs!

Catherine Curzon said...

I love that one too!

Catherine Curzon said...

I think so as well; I might have to try and invent a few of my own!

Regencyresearcher said...

Sounds like a book I'll want to read. Love the words you chose.

Anonymous said...

Love the article, Renee, and I have to second firstnightdesign's choice of "devil's addle-wit" for my favorite of your malapropisms. The English language - a never ending source of amusement! I look forward to your new novel :)

Renee Reynolds said...

Thank you!

Renee Reynolds said...

Thank you, Mimi! I've always love what Billy Sunday said: "When the English language gets in my way, I walk over it."