Public Speaking Course:
A malaprop is a word that simply means an absurd misuse of words. Why would you want
to use malaprops during your presentation? Wouldn't that be confusing
for your audience? Let us explore
this contradiction. It can be from words that sound alike (sadistic
and statistic) or from explanations that just don't make any sense.
With what you learned in your public speaking course, you can use these on purpose as a
humor technique during your presentation.
Consider some of the classic examples below:
I want you all to line up in alphabetical order according to your size.
I guess I'll have to start from scraps.
If people don't want to come to the ballpark, nobody can stop them.
It's déjà vu all over again.
In the 1940s the movie mogul Sam Goldwyn misused language so much that
malaprops became known as Goldwynisms.
A verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's written on.
I read part of it all the way through.
I never liked him and I probably always will.
Every Tom, Dick and Harry is named William.
For your information, I would like to ask a question.
Now, gentlemen, listen slowly.
In two words: im-possible!
Include me out.
In my public speaking course you will learn how to effectively use malaprops to catch the audience's
The great comedian Norm Crosby, who is best known for appreciating
"standing ovulations" when he performs, has made a living
out of the ingenious misuse of words. In real life though, malaprops
are usually uttered by people who don't even realize their "fox
A friend of mine who is a fund-raiser for an unnamed, stuffy Washington,
D.C., art society, told me of a hilarious incident that took place during
a meeting. The humorless director stood at the conference table in an
effort to put an out-of-control meeting back on track and said, 'I fear
our discussions are tangenital to the issues at hand.' TANGENITAL!
My friend looked around at the other attendees who were all fighting
back laughter. She had to excuse herself from the meeting to keep from
laughing right in the face of the old windbag.
A flexible public speaker who was truly in touch would have:
- realized her mistake,
- laughed at herself, and
- used that unplanned comic relief to get everyone's attention
- so that she could regain control of the meeting.
Someone who is a professional would make the mistake on purpose to get a
laugh from the audience.
I have learned in my years of writing comedy skits, that many times
the mistakes are much funnier than the planned program. Now I plan mistakes
To make this more foggy, I'll explain in one sentence. I learned that
when I plan something and then I mess up the plan, the plan becomes
funnier than the plan I planned to use, so now I plan to mess up the
plan so the plan is planned to be funnier than a plan that is not planned
to be messed up. Get it? Good, because you need to hear loud and clear
what I'm writing here so you bunglestand it.
Malaprops can be used just for fun or to grab attention while making
a serious point. Take for example Sam Goldwyn's classic, 'A verbal contract
isn't worth the paper it's written on.' I don't know if Sam said this
one on purpose or not. I wasn't around in the 1940s to ask him. I do
know that the message is clear and has stood the test of time. If he
had simply said, 'Contracts should be in writing' who would remember?
When using malaprops in your presentation make sure the malapropism is
obvious, or your audience may think you are not too bright.
If you do get caught in an accidental misusage, you MUST acknowledge
your blunder. If you don't, you will absolutely lose your audience who
will be thinking about the blunder for several minutes after the fact.
They will also note that you are trying to be an absolutely perfect
robot that couldn't possibly make a mistake. This will turn them off
and make communication extremely difficult.
All you have to do to acknowledge the blunder is to refer to a quotation
from Mark Twain and turn it on yourself. Say a self-effacing humorous
"If Mark Twain can spell a word in more than one way, I should
be able to say a wrong word at the right time." Or the right word
at the wrong time?
If you don't like that one, make-up an ad-lib on your own. To make
effective presentations, you must appear human to those you speak to.
Humans make mistakes. That's part of life. And part of using what you
learned in your public speaking course is to when you make a mistake to use it to your advantage,
to connect with your audience.
As Archie Bunker says, 'Case closed, ipso fatso.'