Made-Up Words: Twitter’s Favorite Family Malapropisms

Just about every family has a word that makes sense only to them. Said by children, weird uncles, or parents in the heat of the moment, these words were coined when someone goofed … and yet somehow for these families they stuck.

There’s even an official term for this phenomenon: malapropism, a noun that means “an act or habit of misusing words ridiculously, especially by the confusion of words that are similar in sound.”

So, how do these words come into being? And, how are they used? We asked Dictionary.com fans to share some of their favorite family malapropisms and explain their backstories.

Onomatopoeia

Some words enter our lexicon because they describe a sound they make. Think of words like cuckoo, meow, or boom. They sound like what they are, right? This is what lexicographers call onomatopoeia, and it’s given rise to plenty of “words” that folks use at home:

Portmanteaus

If you’ve ever combined two words together to make another, you’ve created a portmanteau, a term that means “a word made by putting together parts of other words.” Portmanteaus such as cronut (croissant and donut) and spork (spoon and fork) are sometimes added to the dictionary, while others remain family (and friend) inside jokes:

Purely nonsense (in the best way possible)

Sometimes, the words we make up make no sense at all. They’re simply fun to say. And, that’s OK—no one is judging you here!

If you’ve ever sat down and tried to pronounce a “normal” word over and over and over again, it probably started to sound pretty silly after the seventh or eighth repetition, didn’t it? Science even has a name for that—verbal satiation.

These words are all silly, and yet they do their job just as well as those with more formal constructions: They communicate a meaning, at least to those members of the family who understand them.

Check out Dictionary.com’s Twitter page for more fun malapropisms, and share your own!

Sign up for our Newsletter!
Start your day with weird words, fun quizzes, and language stories.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

The Dictionary Is More Than The Word Of The Day

Enter your email for quizzes, quotes, and word facts in your inbox every day.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.