(Mis)understood Words

 

Have you ever heard a word used by someone who clearly didn’t understand it? Sometimes, it is the pronunciation (corpseman, obgynie), sometimes it’s totally the wrong word. And sometimes, the wrong word almost makes sense — those are my favorites.

One of my first examples was in the 6th grade when the teacher was explaining the circulatory system. He kept talking about the “Red Blood Corpsuckles.” I was in my wanting-to-be-a-doctor phase, was pretty sure that was not right, and did my best to correct him. (I’m still in my obnoxious-kid stage.)

My first boss in “the real world” was taking a weekly Dale Carnegie self-improvement course when I first started working for him. I could always tell what the lesson for the week was. For example, in the “get to know your coworkers” week, he took me to lunch. During “improve your vocabulary” week, he told me he was being “undulated” by paperwork. I thought the visual image was actually pretty good.

A co-worker used to talk about getting “to the crust” of the matter and sometimes, he would argue that an item was a “mute” point. In both cases, the wrong word sort of made sense.

At the same company, a line supervisor used to talk about someone coming up with a “good ideal.” I think she was the same one that one that once referred to the roots of her hair as “hair fossils.”

It is pretty common for one of our dogs to figure out what we are about to do before we even talk about it. At one of these times, my wife turned to me and said: “He must have ESPN.”

Sometimes, I worry that I am guilty of this mistake at times. I’ve always heard “it’s time to go to the mat” with respect to fighting a particular issue. That made sense to me; I was a wrestler in high hchool and “going to the mat” had a specific meaning. In the last two weeks, I’ve heard the phrase “go to the mattress” at least three times. I am no longer sure which is correct.

What about you — have you come across any of these? I’m particularly interested in the ones where the wrong word almost makes sense.

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  1. danok1 Member
    danok1
    @danok1

    I have a co-worker who always says “…for all intensive purposes.” Haven’t had the heart to correct him.

    • #31
  2. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Oh, while I’m at it, when I was a kid I used to wonder about “row versus wade.”

    I remember, as a teen, overhearing chitchat on talkradio one day about liberal legislators imposing a new syntax. This got me righteously PO’d. Did they imagine they could legislate the language?! The hubris! How Orwellian!!! And how hypocritical — everyone knew conservatives, not liberals, were supposed to be the linguistic prescriptivists. Good liberals should be busy listening to Noam Chomsky and others who say language can’t be imposed from the top down.

    I was a nerdy teen who’d read a lot about linguistics. But I had never heard of a “sin tax” before.

    • #32
  3. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Ontheleftcoast (View Comment):

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    Nohaaj (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Hyperbole is not pronounced hyper-bowl.
    Apostrophe is not prounounced apo-strof.
    Antipodes is not pronounced anti-poads.

    But for some reason, asymptote is pronounced asym-tote. Just one syllable at the end, where the others have two.

    Hermione agrees that this is strange.

    As a young parent, I read a Burt and Ernie story about Penelope (as in antelope, cantaloupe, etc) many hundreds of times before someone who overheard and was paying attention finally corrected me. “pen-el-o-pee”. I had no idea, having never heard the name out loud before…

     

    There was a newspaper comic strip in the 60s and 70s called Priscilla’s Pop.

    I pronounced it Pri-SICK-uh-luh.

    And I was probably a teenager before I found out the type of car was pronounced Se-DAN instead of SEED-an.

     

    Bugs Bunny introduced me to the word, ‘ignoranemous’. It was years before I found out the right way to say it, and it still sounds wrong to me.

    What a maroon.

    ‘Ignoranemous’ is probably a euphemism for “ignoranus” which would have been in character for Bugs.

    Ignoramus, but your spelling is way funnier.

    • #33
  4. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Douglas Pratt (View Comment):

    Back when Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks were making improve comedy LPs (starting with The 2000 Year Old Man) they had regular bits where Reiner would play a man-on-the-street reporter. One of my favorites:

    Reiner: Excuse me, sir, you look like an actor.

    Brooks: Why yes, I am a lesbian.

    Reiner: Thespian?

    Brooks: I’ll never make that mistake again.

    Seems like that would work out differently these days.

    • #34
  5. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    I was a nerdy teen who’d read a lot about linguistics. But I had never heard of a “sin tax” before.

    • #35
  6. Jules PA Inactive
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    I don’t have any malprops, but I like this post. 

    😂

    • #36
  7. WillowSpring Member
    WillowSpring
    @WillowSpring

    There are also some song lyrics that get garbled, like the old “Big Girl, Small Fry” (Big Girls don’t cry)

    I’m not sure if it is an age thing or not, but I often hear people on the radio say what seem to be pretty strange things.

    For example, the local National Parks spokesman’s name is something like “Mike Littoras”, so sometimes, I will hear him introduced as something like : “We will now hear from MikeLittoras about the traffic closures for the parade”  The confusing part is that it is usually a male announcer making the introduction.

    • #37
  8. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    WillowSpring (View Comment):

    There are also some song lyrics that get garbled, like the old “Big Girl, Small Fry” (Big Girls don’t cry)

    I’m not sure if it is an age thing or not, but I often hear people on the radio say what seem to be pretty strange things.

    For example, the local National Parks spokesman’s name is something like “Mike Littoras”, so sometimes, I will hear him introduced as something like : “We will now hear from MikeLittoras about the traffic closures for the parade” The confusing part is that it is usually a male announcer making the introduction.

    That comment may have opened a door that is best left closed.

    • #38
  9. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Yes, on that note, I was just thinking about town and city names, such as:

    Leominster, Worcester, Edinburgh, etc.

    • #39
  10. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Leicester is another one. You can tell how much people know about the geography by the way they pronounce the names. Another is my hometown: Joliet.

    • #40
  11. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    WillowSpring (View Comment):

    There are also some song lyrics that get garbled, like the old “Big Girl, Small Fry” (Big Girls don’t cry)

    I’m not sure if it is an age thing or not, but I often hear people on the radio say what seem to be pretty strange things.

    For example, the local National Parks spokesman’s name is something like “Mike Littoras”, so sometimes, I will hear him introduced as something like : “We will now hear from MikeLittoras about the traffic closures for the parade” The confusing part is that it is usually a male announcer making the introduction.

    That comment may have opened a door that is best left closed.

    There was a guy in my high school class named Mike Hunt.  I can show you the yearbook page.

    No I.P. Freely though.

     

    • #41
  12. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    WillowSpring (View Comment):

    There are also some song lyrics that get garbled, like the old “Big Girl, Small Fry” (Big Girls don’t cry)

    I’m not sure if it is an age thing or not, but I often hear people on the radio say what seem to be pretty strange things.

    For example, the local National Parks spokesman’s name is something like “Mike Littoras”, so sometimes, I will hear him introduced as something like : “We will now hear from MikeLittoras about the traffic closures for the parade” The confusing part is that it is usually a male announcer making the introduction.

    That comment may have opened a door that is best left closed.

     

    [Please, please, please don’t redact this.]

    (This originally appeared on twitter with the caption “You’d think she’d look happier”).

    • #42
  13. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    There was a weatherman in Columbus named Ben Dover.

    • #43
  14. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    (This originally appeared on twitter with the caption “You’d think she’d look happier”).

    I’ve been near Climax. It’s nothing to write home about. Now, Hell, Michigan is a bit more fun.

    • #44
  15. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    OP, the teacher who talked about “Red Corpsuckles” may have been a fan of William Bendix; he coined that malapropism on the old radio show The Life of Riley.

    • #45
  16. PHCheese Inactive
    PHCheese
    @PHCheese

    I had a fellow that worked for me on the production line. This job did not require a rocket  scientist. He had an accident by hitting himself with a door while trying to exit it. It hit him smack dab in the eye. I sent him to a Doc in a  Box to have it checked. He came back and reported that he had a  hemorrhoid in his eye.

    • #46
  17. Songwriter Inactive
    Songwriter
    @user_19450

    I had a minister once, who always used “magnanimous” when he meant “magnificent.”

    • #47
  18. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    I remember, as a teen, overhearing chitchat on talkradio one day about liberal legislators imposing a new syntax.

    Now, Midge, this was a LOL for me!

    • #48
  19. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    I used to “invent” words at the dinner table. Sometimes I just liked the way a word sounded with extra syllables added to it, like “best-est” or worst-est. I always made my dad laugh. I had to be careful, though; if he laughed too hard he’d get the hiccups.

    • #49
  20. Antisocial-Introvert Member
    Antisocial-Introvert
    @ctregilgas

    Summer 1974 – my 10-year old sister singing along to John Denver’s “Annie’s Song” on the radio: “You fill up my bedspread.”

    • #50
  21. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas Pratt
    @DouglasPratt

    When I was a child, back when the planet was still cooling, I got some skewed ideas of the lyrics to hymns and Christmas carols. I thought it went, “Good King Wences’ car backed out on a piece of Stephen.”

    “Deck Us All with Boston Charlie” made perfect sense to me.

    • #51
  22. Annefy Member
    Annefy
    @Annefy

    Antisocial-Introvert (View Comment):

    Summer 1974 – my 10-year old sister singing along to John Denver’s “Annie’s Song” on the radio: “You fill up my bedspread.”

    My sister singing I’d Really Love to See You Tonight

    Instead of “I’m not talking about moving in” she sang (still does) “I’m not talking bout changing the linen”

    • #52
  23. Tex929rr Coolidge
    Tex929rr
    @Tex929rr

    Many years ago I supervised a Master Sergeant who was very intellingent yet poorly educated.  His malapropisms were legendary.  The three I still remember:

    1. A subordinate was taking subscription drugs

    2.  Someone had arterial motives.

    3.  He watched a movie about the abdominal snowman.

    • #53
  24. Tex929rr Coolidge
    Tex929rr
    @Tex929rr

    Annefy (View Comment):

    Antisocial-Introvert (View Comment):

    Summer 1974 – my 10-year old sister singing along to John Denver’s “Annie’s Song” on the radio: “You fill up my bedspread.”

    My sister singing I’d Really Love to See You Tonight

    Instead of “I’m not talking about moving in” she sang (still does) “I’m not talking bout changing the linen”

    If you have never seen this video, it’s well worth your time:

    https://youtu.be/UMYorpYNMKc

    • #54
  25. TRibbey Inactive
    TRibbey
    @TRibbey

    Kind of similar, my wife and I accidentally combine words sometimes. A couple I can remember are truche (true + touche) and fruitile (futile + fruitless). The words aren’t exactly interchangeable but stumbling over them makes me chuckle. 

    • #55
  26. Kephalithos Member
    Kephalithos
    @Kephalithos

    A frazzled coworker of mine once yelled, “I think I’m gonna blow a casket!”

    Immediately, my mind jumped to the legendary exploding whale debacle of 1970.

    • #56
  27. AltarGirl Member
    AltarGirl
    @CM

    The most infuriating one I had was an english major asked me to look over her paper for her in college and she had something like “give her her do” in it. I told her its “due”… what she is owed… started a big argument. Of course, I lost because who asks the math major for english work help anyway?

    I am notoriously a mispronouncer. I married a man who is also horrible at pronouncing words. Chances are, we got some and don’t know it yet.

    • #57
  28. Linguaphile Member
    Linguaphile
    @Linguaphile

    In one of his essays, CS Lewis tells of a man who mixed up the words “salacious” and “salubrious”. He would often talk about a seaside resort that was very salacious.

    • #58
  29. Kephalithos Member
    Kephalithos
    @Kephalithos

    I’m Catholic, and one important part of the Catholic liturgy contains the lyric “Hosanna in the highest!”

    My five-year-old self, naturally, misheard this as “Osama in the highest!”

    For the longest time, I struggled to understand why good Catholics would worship such an evil man.

    • #59
  30. Paul Erickson Inactive
    Paul Erickson
    @PaulErickson

    Would someone please straighten out Ben Shapiro on the meaning of “legitimately?”  He seems to use it the way Joe Biden uses “literally.”

    • #60
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