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When Muslin Extremists Spread Like Wildflower [Hippie Squared]

Here’s a word game we can play: Find all the dogberryisms in the next sentence.

A terrible riff came between them, but luckily they nipped it in the butt before it became a mute point when they got caught in a worldwind and muslin extremists began to spread like wildflower.

What’s a dogberryism? Same as a malapropism. And what’s a malapropism? We all know the phenomenon, whether or not we know the terms. It’s when someone uses a word in a sentence that isn’t the right word but it sounds like the right word.

For instance: “Texas has a lot of electrical votes.” That’s from Yogi Berra, a well-known practitioner of the dogberryism/malapropism, swapping in “electrical” for “electoral.”

I love these things. I like to collect them. Most overheard. A few I’ve made up myself. It’s infectious. If you have any good ones, drop them off in the comments—here at Fierce and Nerdy or on the Facebook post.

I first learned the term malapropism from John Lennon, of all people. He used it in the classic “Lennon Remembers” interviews in Rolling Stone in 1970, to describe Ringo’s quirky phrases which Lennon used to inspire songs such as “Hard Day’s Night” and “Eight Days a Week.” Not sure those are malapropisms, exactly, but they’re clever.

I only learned the term dogberryism the other day from Wikipedia’s malapropism definition. It’s from Shakespeare, via Officer Dogberry from Much Ado About Nothing (I can’t wait for Joss Whedon’s new movie version!), apparently another champion purveyor of the form.

A few of the six dogberryisms in our sentence above are my very favorite kind: where the wrong word can actually function to express basically the same idea as the correct word. I think this kind of malapropism/dogberryism is actually worthy of a whole new term of its own. That can be our second word game.

But first let me spin out a few of our examples.

“Mute point” for me is textbook. I don’t know about you, but I hear “mute point” used more often these days than the correct expression “moot point.” I would bet this is because the word mute is better known today than the word moot. So I think this could actually end up changing the language over time, if the incorrect expression overtakes the correct one through more frequent usage.

How would that work? Well, what do we mean when we say, “It’s a moot point?” We mean that the real point has already been made. The moot point is irrelevant, unnecessary. Beside the point.

And what would a mute point be? Technically, a point that is speechless. It doesn’t speak to the issue at hand. Therefore it’s off target, unnecessary. Beside the point.

Yes, the two meanings are a little bit different. But close enough for horseshoes. Close enough to consummate an act of communication; and maybe for “mute point” to creep in on “moot point” and plunder its linguistic portfolio.

So now let’s play our second word game: Anyone want to try to come up with a term for this invasive-species kind of dogberryism/malapropism? I’ll try my hand at it, but please take your own shot in the comments if you wish.

Fogberryism, perhaps? Because it can serve to gently fog our minds?

Benepropism? Because its effect is more benevolent, less malevolent, than a malapropism, by virtue of conducting the proper idea more or less intact from mind to mind, despite the hiccup of the technically incorrect word usage—thus being an effective act of communication? A pure malapropism is not just the wrong word, but the wrong thought entirely. An electrical vote can’t substitute for the meaning of electoral vote. It’s clearly different. A mute point, on the other hand…

I’d say there are maybe three more of these fogberryism/benepropisms in our example sentence above (way above now): “spread like wildflower,” “worldwind” and my personal favorite “nipped it in the butt.”

Wildfire certainly spreads more quickly than wildflowers. But wildflowers are known for their quick and tenacious proliferation, right? One day you look out on a field and it’s all grass. Then it seems like only the next day it’s blanketed with new blooming wildflowers.

And a worldwind. Now what the hell is that, anyway? Whatever it is, it sounds to me like it could whip a whirlwind’s ass right off the spinning globe, don’t you think?

How can you not love “nipped it in the butt” for “nipped it in the bud?” Again, I could see this one actually supplanting the original. I get some of these from a relative of mine, and I’m not even sure I actually hear her right sometimes. Is she simply pronouncing bud like butt? Or is she really saying butt? I’m afraid to ask, because I don’t want to embarrass her. And I don’t want to ruin it, because I love it so.

And I say, if you want to shut something down early man, nip it in the butt! That’ll do the trick. Arguably just as good as nipping it in the bud—pinching off the flower before it blooms.

So have we done it? Have we coined a new term here today, for a previously unidentified phenomenon? The fogberryism/benepropism? Or did we just have a little fun with word games? Time will tell.

In the meantime, let me usher you out on the arms of a couple more dogberryisms (these two are not about to replace anything):

A recent poll in India named pigeon-toad Endearing Gandhi the greatest Prime Minister in the nation’s history.

Feature Image Credit: The Arborsmiths