For Americans, the month of July is synonymous with celebrating our freedom.
Our greatest freedom is the freedom of speech.
This freedom-preserved as the First Amendment in our Bill of Rights-drew on England’s Bill of Rights of 1689. Freedom of speech and expression has a long history. It’s believed the ancient Greeks’ democratic ideology of free speech emerged in the late 6th or early 5th century BC. The values of the Roman Republic included freedom of speech.
Words matter. Words give shape to ideas that can inspire, regulate, enrage and entertain.
Knowing that words matter, we still miss the mark. We provide too little information. Or too much. We say the right thing at the wrong time, or the right thing the wrong way. And then, of course, there are always going to be instances where content policy goes beyond censorship and instead dialogue is silenced and important conversations about our culture are cut short.
Ultimately, it takes a lot of work to move a thought from our brain to our tongue and out into the world to be heard.
In 1775, Richard Sheridan created a character named Mrs. Malaprop who’s the chief comic figure of his play “The Rivals.”
Mrs. Malaprop continually misuses words that sound like the words she intends but mean something completely different. Sheridan likely chose her name in reference to the word malapropos, an adjective or adverb meaning “inappropriate” or “inappropriately” that was derived from the French phrase mal à propos (literally “poorly placed”). The term malapropism was coined in reference to Sheridan’s character.
One of her many malapropisms is “illiterate him quite from your memory” (instead of “obliterate”).
New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra earned a trip to the Hall of Fame for his baseball skills, though he may enjoy a more lasting reputation as a word mangler. To paraphrase Yogi, about 10 percent of what he said were malapropisms and the other half was just plain funny, like “When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” and “The future ain’t what it used to be.”
Here are a few Yogi Berra malapropisms:
“It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility” (instead of “the humidity”).
“He hits from both sides of the plate. He’s amphibious” (instead of “ambidextrous”).
“I’m a lucky guy and I’m happy to be with the Yankees. And I want to thank everyone for making this night necessary (instead of “possible”).
“Even Napoleon had his Watergate” (instead of “Waterloo”).
Then there’s Archie Bunker.
Archie was a fictional New Yorker in the 1970s top-rated American television sitcom “All in the Family” played by Carroll O’Connor.
Archie Bunker has been ranked atop lists of other fictional TV characters, including Homer Simpson. Although viewers came to see Archie as a complex character, his ill-tempered manner, narrow view of the world and lack of college education often resulted in malapropisms, including these:
“He made out his last will and tentacle” (instead of “testament”).
“I’m out there every day amongst them, in the smelting pot of New York” (instead of “melting pot”).
“I ain’t got no respect for no religion where the head guy claims he can’t make no mistakes. Like he’s, waddya call, inflammable” (instead of “infallible”).
“It’s a proven fact that capital punishment is a well-known detergent to crime” (instead of “deterrent”).
I’ve been collecting malapropisms for years.
In honor of the month in which Americans celebrate our many freedoms, I’m sharing these phrases where people have exercised (or exorcised) their freedom while attempting to express their thinking:
“We have a vast suppository of information” (instead of “repository” or “depository”).
“We’re in a quandrum about what to do” (instead of “quandary” or “conundrum”).
“I don’t mean to beleaguer the point” (instead of “belabor”).
“I got a John Deere email from an employee who was quitting” (instead of a “Dear John email”).
“These companies go through spats where they won’t tell you the whole story” (instead of “spates”).
“That’s a fictitional character” (instead of “fictional” or “fictitious”).
“He was wreathing in pain” (instead of “writhing”).
“We’re in the throws of making a decision” (instead of “throes”).
“Our experience covers the gambit” (instead of “gamut”).
“That guy was being thrown under the bridge” (instead of “under the bus”).
“He controls the pocket strings” (instead of “purse strings” or “pocket book”).
“I’m really flusterated by his attitude (instead of “flustered” or “frustrated”).
“I’m on a heavy work-out regime” (instead of “regimen” or “routine”).
“He’s got a scientific thread running through his veins” (instead of “scientific blood”).
“Here’s the jest of the story” (instead of “gist”).
“We have a lot of knowledge and experience under our building” (instead of “under our roof”).
“Our pipeline is chalk full of great prospects” (instead of “chock full)”.
“He loves dogs. He’s got a huge Dober Pincherman” (instead of “Doberman Pincher”).
Please share malapropisms you’ve heard by emailing me at email@example.com.
Words matter. Because you’re a leader, people pay attention to what you say and do. They watch. They listen. They learn.
So remember the words of Yogi Berra: “You can observe a lot just by watching.”
To dive even deeper into the topic of accountability, I invite you to purchase a copy of my bestselling book, “Accountability: The Key to Driving a High-Performance Culture.”
Business schools teach case studies. Hollywood blockbusters are inspired by true events.
Exceptional leaders are students of history. Decision-making comes with the territory.