As we’ve talked about before, native speakers are frequently poor custodians of their own languages. Native English speakers routinely commit a wide variety of grammar and usage errors in everyday speaking and writing. Today, we’re going to look at another type of native English speaker mistake: malapropisms. A malapropism is a misuse of a word or words, often with confusing and/or unintentionally hilarious results. Despite their ubiquity, native and non-native English speakers alike should strive to avoid using the following common malapropisms. Rightly or wrongly, people who routinely use malapropisms are often considered to be uneducated and unintelligent by those who know what the misused word(s) should be. Here are some common malapropisms:
I Could Care Less
Many native English speakers say “I could care less” when expressing utter disinterest in a topic of discussion. However, this malapropism literally means the opposite of what such a speaker probably intends. The phrases a native speaker is looking for in this situation are “I could not care less” and “I couldn’t care less.”
For All Intensive Purposes
When a speaker says “for all intensive purposes,” he or she means “in every practical sense.” The correct phrase in such an instance is “for all intents and purposes.” This malapropism occurs because “for all intensive purposes” and “for all intents and purposes” sound very similar when spoken. (Try saying both phrases to a native speaker, and see if he or she can tell the difference.) “For all intensive purposes” literally means “for the purposes of making things more intensive,” which doesn’t make sense in the way that it is commonly (mis)used.
“Irregardless” is a combination of two words with the same meaning: regardless and irrespective. Both of these words mean something to the effect of “despite prevailing circumstances” or “setting that aside for the moment.” “Irregardless” is one of the oldest and most common malapropisms in modern English. Native speakers have been unintentionally merging “regardless” and “irrespective” on a regular basis since at least the early twentieth century.
Could of/Should of/Would of
Native speakers often pronounce could have, would have, and should have as the informal contractions could’ve, would’ve, and should’ve. Translating these spoken contractions back to written words can sometimes result in the phonetically similar malapropisms could of, would of, and should of. While these malapropisms usually go unnoticed in casual writing and speaking, they are unacceptable in formal writing.
Phonetically Similar Words
Because English has so many words with nearly-identical spellings and pronunciations, malapropisms arising from phonetically similar words are extremely common. We’ll look at these commonly-confused words in detail in a future English lesson, but here are a few examples to give you an idea of what we are talking about:
Affect: A verb meaning “to change.”
Effect: A noun referring to the result of a change.
Allusion: An indirect (implied) reference.
Illusion: A mirage, hallucination, or apparition.
Jibe: To complement or agree.
Jive: A type of dance or to perform that type of dance.
Precede: To go before something.
Proceed: To move forward.