Mr Abbott becomes Mr Malaprop

In one of my previous posts, Improving your vocabulary using malapropisms, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek passage using as many common malapropisms as I could squeeze into the post. A malapropism is an incorrect word that sounds like the word that should have been used. The post was about choosing your words carefully and I described a dictionary as a suppository of knowledge.

A suppository is a small piece of medicated substance introduced into a body passage, such as the rectum where body heat causes it to be released and then slowly absorbed. Whereas, a repository is a place where things are stored for safekeeping or archived. The word suppository has been substituted for repository and therefore it is a malapropism.

This week (13 August 2013) during the Australian election campaign, Tony Abbott, the Opposition leader and would-be future prime minister, stumbled over some of his words. He used the same, very humorous, malapropism:

No one, however smart, however well-educated, however experienced … is the suppository of all wisdom.

Within minutes the hashtagged word, suppository, was trending highly on Twitter with comments like:

Keep your friends close but your enemas closer…

Know your enemas …

Abbot is squeezing out a policy …

The malapropism gaffe went global—international newsagencies, including CNN in the US and The Guardian and Independent in the UK, have had a bit of fun with it, using lines such as:

… hit a bum note

… not a gaffe — it was a rebuttal

… at least we now know how he plans to plug the holes in his budget costings

…It remains to be seen whether he can put this all behind him

The US radio network NPR sympathised suggesting it has had to post countless “correctums”.

His use of suppository instead of repository certainly proved his point. The well-educated (Mr Abbott was a Rhodes Scholar) are quite capable of being less than wise in their word choice.

I remember at a professional training course I attended the trainers rolled out an academic to give emphasis to their points. Far from adding weight to their program, her credibility with me disappeared when, in her introduction, she described the atmosphere in the room as being palatable (edible), rather than being palpable (touchable). What university was that again?

Malapropism has a colourful, literary, derivation. It comes from Mrs Malaprop, a comic character in a popular late 18th century play of Richard SheridanThe Rivals. Mrs. Malaprop, a comic figure in the play, continually confuses her words by substituting incorrect, like-sounding words for the words she intends to use. Sheridan coined Mrs Malaprop’s name from the French word, malapropos, meaning inappropriate or literally badly (mal) for the purpose (proposer).

I do sympathise (a little) with Mr Abbott, as suppository and repository are not so far apart. Suppository is derived from Medieval Latin suppositorium, something placed underneath. Repository comes from Late Latin repositorium meaning store. However, this sort of malapropism is not the mistake you want to make when you are seeking credibility in an election to be prime minister of a well-educated constituency.