Growing up in peri-urban suburbia, the neighbour behind us was a man called Vasco. My father, trying to tame the patch of veld we called a garden, was often outside, spade in hand, chatting to whichever of our neighbours happened to be in their gardens. My dad wasn’t very good with names, which produced much exasperated eye rolling from my photographic-memory mom. After yet another reference to the “chap at the back here” my mother offered my father a name-remembering suggestion: to associate Vasco da Costa (neighbour) with Vasco da Gama (explorer) as a way of making it stick.
Some days later my father, spade in hand, walks in from the garden, telling us about the conversation he had with “the chap at the back here”. “Which chap?” asks my mother pointedly, to which my father replies “Ag, you know, Christopher Columbus*.”
Here in our very home, was a source of entertainment so creative we didn’t need Pip Freedman (a Springbok radio comedy show on Saturday mornings). We heard everything from cable-cart (cable-car), to payment (pavement) to hudcap (hubcap). My dad would go to the shops to buy a pacific (specific) thing and once, indignantly explained to my know-everything-teenage brother that the spade was, to all intensive purposes (intents and purposes), the handiest tool around.
An avid armchair traveler, he adored the Sixteenth Chapel (Sistine Chapel) but sadly knew that in this lifetime wasn’t going to step (set) foot in it.
This comic gold is called malapropism, which is the habit of confusing words with similar sounds but different meanings. Malapropisms are so funny I’ve often wanted to create some sort of suppository (repository) (I love you dad) to record them in.
My mother-in-law has uttered her fair share of them too. My food choices have always – but more so recently – caused her to raise an eyebrow (think kale and quinoa). Over dinner last week she whispered to my niece “Robyn’s trying to be a virgin.” I think she meant vegan.
She also mentioned that she’d spent hours dealing with a crisis in the retirement village, but she didn’t want to ladle us with the whole soggy story. Then there was the time my husband teased her about something and she blundered “Oh Bruce! You’re just having me off!” God bless her.
But these verbal slip-ups aren’t reserved for the aged. I was sitting in a boring meeting in my mid-twenties. One of my colleagues took the opportunity to meditate while the speaker droned on. Noticing this, the sales manager turned to the person on his left and said, “What’s Lisa doing?” to which came the response “She’s menstruating.”
Staying with corporates, there was a recent team-building event at a local trampoline park. One of the team tested the equipment by doing a somersault into the foam pit. “What’s up with Robert?” asked the accountant. “Oh, don’t worry about him” came the reply, “he’s just the guinea-fowl (guinea-pig).” Silence. Followed by “Wow, he’s usually such a raccoon.”
Recluse. He meant recluse.
Children too are an endless source of malapropisms. In our house we’ve received Christmas gifts from Farmer Christmas, watched movies featuring Nicky Mouse, and the ogre under the bed is called a momster (raised eyebrow emoji).
Lovely people, I’m sure you have your own collection of malapropism favourites that add colour and texture to the personal brands of the comedic heroes who say them. Hit reply and tell me what they are.
* PS For all the grammar ninjas, I know this is not a malapropism. Tell me what it really is. There’s a beer for that.