Close, but no cigarette


‘Malapropisms I have known and loved’

As I darkly hinted last week, I was thinking about writing a piece about the Common Cold. Specifically, about how the Cold is the Rodney Dangerfield of illnesses. You know, it “just don’t get no respect”.

For those of you who don’t know who the heck I’m talking about, that’s Rodney, with one of his quips. He was famous among some of The Dude’s college buddies for appearing in the movie Caddyshack. But he was even more famous for “insult humor”. He even had the temerity to insult Frank Sinatra (who, thank god, laughed); you can read about this is a famous essay called ‘Frank Sinatra has a Cold’, an essay by Gay Talese so good it is taught in journalism schools.

And yes, in this piece Frank Sinatra has a cold. Just like me! (The Common Cold being probably the only time ever I will have anything whatsoever in common with Frank.)

But I won’t elaborate. Because, if you’ve ever had a cold (and they are, in fact, pretty common, especially in New York this winter), I’m thinking you know exactly what I mean. I don’t know about you, but if I hear one more time that I should be glad that “it’s only a cold” and that at least I “don’t have anything more serious” I will do more than insult that person. I might do something truly evil, like lick their phone.

But back to malapropisms.

If you think the photo at the top of this post (the one with the sign that says, proudly, “thriving for perfection”) is funny, then you already know what those are. But, to save you clicking on the Wikipedia entry, here’s “malapropism”:

–the use of an incorrect word in place of a word with a similar sound, resulting in a nonsensical, often humorous utterance.

Maybe you’ve heard someone use “jive” instead of “jibe”, as in “What you said just doesn’t jive with what I read in today’s Times”. That’s a malapropism. So is saying “for all intensive purposes” when you mean to say “for all intents and purposes.” And recently an acquaintance had me in (quiet, polite, trying not to do anything weird with my face) hysterics when she said she had enjoyed the “flamingo dancers” in Barcelona.

But it’s also malapropian if someone sort of mooshes two well-known phrases together. Like, if anyone has ever told you that you’re “barking up the wrong alley”. “Close, but no cigarette”, as someone also might say.

Speaking of “barking”, I just heard that 45 says he wants our nuclear weapons arsenal to be “top of the pack”. Which is (I’m thinking) kind of a “mooshing” of “top dog” and “leader of the pack”. Oh well. As Stephen Colbert said in a recent monologue, Mr. T isn’t exactly “the sharpest knife on the Christmas Tree”.

But enough semi-political semi-humor.

The Dude, unique individual that he is, has yet another gloss on the malapropism. He likes to use his own (slightly “off”) definitions for words, and then insist that they are correct, just because he says so. (Hmmm, remind you of anyone? Say, with orange hair? Oops. I promised to stop.)

For example. As you may know, The Dude is a libertarian. (There is actually a rather hilarious story about The Dude, his libertarianism, and The Child that you can read once you’re done with this one. It’s called ‘Libertarian Blonde’.)

Anyway, I’ll spare you a discourse on political theory (talking about my cold was enough), but it makes The Dude crazy to read of what he considers wasteful government programs (Big Government!) When he reads about someone somewhere being paid to do, say, a government study on the effect of barnacles on the ships in the St. Lawrence Seaway, he’s apt to mutter darkly “Great! More people ‘on the dole’.”

And when I point out that ‘on the dole’ means, actually, that you are the recipient of charity or welfare, he says something like “well, that’s not the way I use it, and everybody I talk to knows that.” Oh. Okay. So anyway. I’m not sure if that’s a malapropism, but I’m gonna say it is. So there.

As much as I love malapropisms, though, they’re not very easy to illustrate. Good ole “thriving for perfection” happened to be emblazoned on a sign. And I do love silly signs. They have to be unintentionally silly though. Here are a few I’ve found since I wrote my piece ‘(Silly) Signs of the Times’ a couple of years ago. I will leave you with them as a parting gift this week. Partly because I don’t have photos of any more malapropisms. But mainly because I have to go blow my nose.

That’s Middle Younger Brother Roger looking decidedly amused at this sign

Words fail me. ‘Five generations’?

What a shame. I was so looking forward to ungoing there

Amagansett, New York. February 2017



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11 thoughts on “Close, but no cigarette

  1. One of my favorites is :”I could care less” when you know the speaker really means “I could NOT care less.” That describes me in a lot of situations lately, especially when it comes to people I don’t know. It’s all I can do to NOT care less i.e. to care MORE about the people I DO know! Especially when all I CAN do is CARE, and nothing else.??

    • Thanks! I also hate it when people get that one wrong. I hope you’ll feel better knowing that I care about YOU — and the fact that you’re a darned good commenter (!)

  2. Ruth Meisenheimer

    Very funny! My friend said she had too much canine (cayenne) pepper in the soup, and from her that is only one of many. “The shit hit the fan” was turned into “I could shit a fan”. Thanks for starting my day with laughter. Get well.

    • Thanks, Ruth! OMG. I can’t get the image of someone ‘shitting a fan’ out of my head (!) And from now on, in your friend’s honor, I am calling it ‘canine pepper’. Much better term, if you ask me. (I wonder if ‘canine pepper’ is used to make hot dogs?)

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