Learn About “Mumpsimus” And Other Embarrassing Speech Blunders

If you’ve ever hit your bunny phone (and not your funny bone) or commented that “flying saucers are an optical conclusion,” you’ve obviously made a comical speech blunder. These types of slip-ups happen when letters get switched around in your mind and your mouth. 

Well, as the dictionary, we’re here to let you know even our lapses in locution have specific names. Is it a mondegreen when you mishear a song lyric or bungle an idiom? Why does your brother say escape goat instead of scapegoat?

We’re here to help you distinguish between these mistakes and others. Get out your red pens and get ready to correct the most popular speech blunders!

parapraxis

"Would you like some butter on your bed?" Surely that isn't what you mean. Are you hungry? If so, 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 patient's hidden intentions and desires.

catachresis

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). These blunders aren’t necessarily humorous. And don’t worry, a catachresis doesn’t reveal anything about your psyche!

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

spoonerism

"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. 

solecism

 "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 sóloikos 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.

malapropism

"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 messes it up.

mondegreen

“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. 

Mondegreen, in fact, is a mondegreen! Mondegreen was coined by the US writer and humorist Sylvia Wright, who wrote in an article in Harper’s Magazine: “When I was a child, my mother used to read aloud to me from Percy’s Reliques, and one of my favorite poems began, as I remember: ‘Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands, / Oh, where hae ye been? / They hae slain the Earl Amurray, / And Lady Mondegreen,’” the last line being a child’s mishearing and consequent misunderstanding of “laid him on the green.” Ms. Wright persisted in her idiosyncratic version because the real words were less romantic than her own (mis)interpretation in which she always imagined the Bonnie Earl o’ Moray dying beside his faithful lover Lady Mondegreen.

Want to laugh at some other hilarious misheard lyrics you've probably been singing? Get ready to blow your mind with the real lyrics.

eggcorn

“We’re all going to hell in a handbag.” What’s the blunder here?

The original sentence is “going to hell in a handbasket.” Over time, some people misinterpreted handbasket as handbag. But, the new sentence is still true to the original, right?

Yup, and it'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 handbasket). 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.

mumpsimus

Speaking of eggcorns, if your spouse insists it's a "doggy-dog world" no matter what you say ... well, fear not, gentle reader. Your spouse's aversion to using the correct phrase (dog eat dog) is known as 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 sūmpsimus while reciting the Latin liturgy.

Are you holding onto a mumpsimus of your own? You might be committing our next slide.

Learn some other commonly confused idioms here!

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 or 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.

cacology

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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