Your Speech Blunders Defined


"Would you like some butter on your bed?" Take the margarine off the quilt! You've simply stumbled across a parapraxis.

From the Latin para meaning "beside" and the Greek praxis, for "a doing," a parapraxis is an instance in which you say one thing and mean your mother . . . er, another. The term is most commonly known as a Freudian slip and was deeply instrumental in the work of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud in determining his patients hidden intentions and desires.


She was reticent to jump in the pool.” Hmm. We get that the girl is reluctant, but using reticent means “she was reluctant to speak to jump in the pool.” Huh?

This is an example of catachresis. From the Greek word meaning “abuse” or “misuse,” catachresis happens when a speaker mistakenly uses a word that seems really similar (reticent) in place of the correct word (reluctant). Catachresis blunders aren’t necessarily humorous (like malapropisms). And don’t worry, making a catachrestic mistake doesn’t reveal anything about your psyche!

(Want to see the most common misused words? Check out our slideshow Misusing Travesty is a Tragedy.)


"And in the final round, the boxer knocked out his opponent with a blushing crow!"

Don't worry. They don't let birds in the ring. You've just been dealt the crushing blow of a spoonerism.

Named after W.A. Spooner, an English clergyman in the late 1800s famed for slips of the tongue, a spoonerism is the transposition of consonants or phonemes within a phrase. So, whether you're hushing your brat or brushing your hat, you have the dear Reverend Spooner to thank.

Sound substitutions

“The big bad bolf kicked the ball.” Uhh, not quite.

Word slip-ups happen all the time, especially when words share similar phonology. In linguistics, perseveration is when sounds of earlier words, like the b in big and bad are carried over by accident (they’re persevering!) to another word that normally doesn’t start with that sound, like bolf for wolf.

The wolf bought a rink raincoat.” Anticipation is the opposite process, where the speaker anticipates a sound coming up in a later word (like the r in raincoat) and slips it accidentally into the word right in front of it (rink raincoat instead of pink raincoat).

“The wolf is maistly a nice guy.” Lexical blends happen when the speaker inadvertently blends two words that mean the same thing, like mainly and mostly. 


"I'll never change, I is what I is!"

Whether this grammar makes you cringe or feels like an act of rebellion, you've just witnessed a solecism. From the Greek soloikos for speaking incorrectly, solecism refers to the ancient Greek city of Soloi, an Athenian colony infamous for its corrupted form of the Greek language.

Today, solecism refers to any nonstandard grammatical usage from the accidental to the absurd. Flip to the next slide for a taste of just how absurd a solecism can be.


“Excuse me while I kiss this guy.” Hendrix fans . . . a little help here.

A mondegreen is similar to a malapropism, except instead of unintentional, ridiculous misspeaking, it results from unintentional, sometimes ridiculous mishearing. The term mondegreen applies to misheard song lyrics. (Want to laugh at some other hilarious misheard lyrics you've probably been singing? Get ready to blow your mind with the real lyrics.)

Mondegreen, in fact, is a mondegreen! Sylvia Wright, the writer who coined the term, misheard laid him on the green as Lady Mondegreen. Mondegreens are sometimes confused with eggcorns. Wanna know the dif? That’s up next.


"This is unparalyzed in the state's history," said former Texas Speaker of the House Gib Lewis. Though Speaker Lewis meant to say "unparalleled in the state's history," he unknowingly created a fantastic malapropism.

Coined by Mrs. Malaprop, a character in Richard Brinsley Sheridan's 1775 play The Rivals, a malapropism is an unintentionally ludicrous word that sounds similar to the original but is completely nonsensical in context. In Sheridan's play, Mrs. Malaprop is always "the pine-apple of politeness" (pinnacle) and never "a negative affluence" (influence).

Usually, malapropisms are so funny because, like Mrs. Malaprop, the speaker tries to show “class” or “sophistication” by using big words, but bungs it up.


“We’re all going to hell in a handbag.” What’s the blunder here? Well, aside from the fact that nobody wants to go to hell . . . in a handbag or a Lamborghini, period.

The original sentence is “going to hell in a hand basket.” Over time, some people misinterpreted hand basket as handbag. But, the new sentence is still true to the original, right? That’s an example of an eggcorn: a similar-sounding misinterpretation that makes sense and usually retains the semantic gist of the original word or phrase (i.e., a handbag is basically a hand basket 2.0). That’s where eggcorns differ from mondegreens: They’re spoken phrases (not song lyrics) that usually make sense and don’t change the meaning of the original.


"Grandma thinks every man with a mustache is hiding something!" Fear not gentle reader. Your grandmother's aversion to facial hair is nothing more than a mumpsimus.

The Renaissance philosopher Desiderius Erasmus coined this sumptuous word for the determined use of a mistaken expression or practice in a story. Erasmus describes a monk who stubbornly persisted in saying mumpsimus rather than the correct "sumpsimus" while reciting the Latin liturgy. Are you holding onto a mumpsimus of your own? You might be committing our next slide.

Faux pas

Do your e's sometimes wander mistakenly in front of your i's? Have you been berated for wearing black shoes with a brown belt? If you've ever been guilty of a physical and orthographic "party foul," you've committed a faux pas.

Literally translated from the French meaning "a false step," a faux pas can be any embarrassing social blunder on the page or off. So, now that you've been introduced to all our blunders, flip to the next slide to find the word that describes them all.


From the Greek roots caco- meaning "bad" and -logy, "a speaking, discourse, doctrine or theory," a cacology is any speech that is defectively pronounced or diction that is socially unacceptable. So, let go of your mumpsimus. Forgive your significant other for their parapraxis. Write a thank you card to Mrs. Malaprop, and most importantly, cut yourself a little slack. We all commit faux pas from time to time.

The Dictionary Is More Than The Word Of The Day

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