Mrs. Malaprop's mangled prose set a president | History | Smithsonian
Current Issue
November 2014 magazine cover
Subscribe

Save 81% off the newsstand price!

Mrs. Malaprop's mangled prose set a president

Grande dame of an 18th-century comedy, she has been an aspiration to all who read--and write--the boners, gaffes and mutilations perpetrated upon the English language.

Smithsonian Magazine | Subscribe

Richard Sheridan's comedy The Rivals is not widely staged today, but I know, as a writer of a weekly column on the use and abuse of the English language, Mrs. Malaprop lives on. Her giddy ghost sits on a filing cabinet in my office, where she presides over a thousand exhibits of howlers, boners, gaffes, and myriad felonies and misdemeanors committed upon the English language. Here is the sort of thing her blessed shade inspires. Furniture dealers sell "French prevential" beds, sofas by "Duncan Fife," and "naughty pine." An Ohio rescue squad had to find a "wench to lift a tractor" off an injured farm worker.

Do writers in foreign languages have the same problems we have in English? Are things growing worse, as public education slackens? Perhaps it is best to listen to Mrs. M., just before the curtain falls: "No delusions to the past!" With all its perils and pitfalls, English remains the loveliest language of them all. We ought to use it lovingly.

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus