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Remembering Mrs. Malaprop

A daughter remembers her mother's creative spoken mistakes.

My mother was a bit of a Mrs. Malaprop. She occasionally misspoke (often to great comic effect), like the character in Richard Sheridan Brinsley’s 1775 play, The Rivals.I think the play is long forgotten, but people still recall Mrs. Malaprop when they hear something uttered … not quite correctly.

My mom has been gone for almost ten years, but her voice comes back to me every time I see a tub of “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.” When this product came out, Mom thought it was great, but could never get the name right. She called it “I Can’t Understand Why They Don’t Call it Butter,” and even wrote “I Can’t Understand …” when making out her grocery list. If I ever shopped for her, I’d have to stop and think for a while what “I Can’t Understand …” meant. Then it would come back to me, and I’d go to the margarine aisle.

When Seiji Ozawa became conductor of the San Francisco Symphony 1969, Mom thought it wonderful that a young, long-haired Japanese man got the job. But she could never get his name right, and called him “Sei-jowie-Oh-kawa.”

Mom liked to shop at the outlet stores, and never missed an opportunity to pick up her favorite brand of shoes at “Neutralizer” (Naturalizer).

Proscuitto was “prosecute-oh.” Balsamic vinegar was “ballsmatic vinegar.”

My niece got a kitten and wrote her grandma a card about it. Mom read the kitten’s name, “Siobhan,” as “Sy-ob-han.” A natural mistake. When I said that I thought the Irish name was pronounced more like “Sha-vonn,” Mom always called the cat “Shoyben.”

When Harrison Ford got married, it was to “Callie Flow-tockie,” not Callista Flockhart.

And when it got really hot outside, Mom warned against getting overheated. “You don’t want to get heat prostitution.” I don’t think anybody ever died of heat prostration in Alameda, but you never know.

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Jennifer Loring October 26, 2012 at 07:07 PM
OMG Nancy this is HILARIOUS! Heat prostitution! I love it! I will never call ballsmatic vinegar anything other than that, ever. Thanks for the laugh. So entertaining.
Sarah Madrie Adams October 27, 2012 at 11:27 PM
She offered me some "Tyrenol" every time I had a headache. And she called Clint Eastwood "Squint Hootsie". Though I think that one was on purpose. :)
Nancy Johnsen Horton October 30, 2012 at 07:29 PM
Sarah, I'd forgotten about "Squint Hootsie" and "Tyrenol." You were always gracious about "Shoyben." My boss says her mother calls guacamole "guatemala."

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