Did you really mean that?
Updated: 2011-10-30 07:46
By John Clark (China Daily)
Thank heavens Los Angeles survived "Carmageddon". A busy freeway was closed for essential repairs. The road lay between two interchanges. Officials warned of chaos, even traffic meltdown. Motorists should remain at home.
I was copy-editing the story. My Chinese colleague went on: "Ripple effects were expected on other major highways. Commentators predicted that it could all end in an apostrophe."
I smiled. Obviously my pal meant to say catastrophe. A simple slip produced an amusing malapropism.
When we got married my girlfriend's mother called it a "gunshot wedding". Of course what she meant to say was a "shotgun wedding". But I wasn't being marched reluctantly (at gunpoint) to the altar to wed a girl in trouble. We had planned to marry and simply brought the date forward.
I enjoy malapropisms, but I'm not well read and my wife reminds me I haven't read the classics. She's a big fan of Baudelaire and Balzac. I thought they were French soccer players.
OK, so what if I haven't read the works of Thomas Hardy (my wife devoured them when she was about five). And I never got into Flaubert's Madame Bovary, but does it bovver me?
That's the thing about the classics: they'll always be there. My wife gave a young friend of 17 her prescribed reading list. Kevin will be 60 before he gets through it.
My reading style is more "sampling" - read a few pages, skip to the end. Maybe it will grab me. I read three or four books at once. Well, not at the same time. I'm not Oscar Wilde, who could hold a book in each hand and read them both at once.
I finished reading JD Salinger's Catcher in the Rye a couple of weeks ago, a book I started when I was a student 30 years ago.
My point is that reading shouldn't be a chore. It should entertain. Lord of the Rings? Why bother to read Tolkien? Watch the DVDs.
A talent to amuse is a wonderful thing. The American humorist James Thurber makes me smile, and SJ Perelman makes me laugh out loud.
Richard Brinsley Sheridan is a very witty playwright. In The Rivals one of his characters is Mrs Malaprop, a widow. She's guardian of Lydia who is in love with an unsuitable young man. Mrs M asks the girl to "promise to forget this fellow, to illiterate (obliterate) him from your memory."
Later Mrs M admits: "I would by no means wish a daughter of mine to be a progeny (prodigy) of learning." She mangles the English language in funny ways.
I had a boss, a Cambridge grad with a dry sense of humor. When someone screwed up he would say, straight-faced: "I'm not casting nasturtiums (aspersions) at anyone".
Shakespeare was the master of malapropisms.
Bottom, in A Midsummer Night's Dream says: "lion vile hath here hath deflowered (devoured) my dearwhich was the fairest dame."
In Much Ado About Nothing, Constable Dogberry declares: "Comparisons are odorous (odious)."
Malapropisms still raise a laugh. The Sopranos is about a bunch of hard-boiled Italian-American New Jersey gangsters. They're street smart, but left school early.
Tony Soprano, who's under a psychiatrist, declares: "There's no stigmata (stigma) connected with going to a shrink". Family problems were causing "dysentery (dissent) in the ranks" according to Tony.
And then there's Feech, who's notorious for his "impermeable (interminable) stories".
I'll take the hint.
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For China Daily
(China Daily 10/30/2011 page15)