Public Speaking Course:
In my public speaking course a malaprop is defined as an absurd misuse of
words. You may be wondering why you would want to use malaprops during your
program? Wouldn't that be confusing for your audience? Let me explain this idea
further. It can be from words that sound alike (sadistic and statistic) or
from explanations and definitions that are not what they are supposed to be.
With what you learned in your public speaking course, you can use these on
purpose as a humor technique during your presentation.
In my public speaking course you will learn how to effectively use
malaprops to catch the audience's attention.
The great comedian Norm Crosby, who accepts "standing ovulations"
when he performs, made a living out of the funny misuse of words. In real life
though, malaprops are usually uttered by people who don't even realize they are
making "fox paws".
A friend of mine who is a fund-raiser for a stuffy Washington, D.C. art
society, told me of an hysterical incident that took place during one of her
meetings. 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 people in the meeting 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.
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 when
appropriate. Someone who is a professional would make the mistake on purpose to
get a laugh from the audience.
To make this more unclear for you, I'll explain it in one sentence. I learned
that when I plan something and then I mess up the plan, the plan actually
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. Got it? Good, because you need to hear loud and clear what I'm saying
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 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
All you have to do to acknowledge the blunder is say a self-effacing humorous
prepared ad-lib: "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.
Consider some of the classic examples below:
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.
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.
As Archie Bunker says, 'Case closed, ipso fatso.'