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Much Ado About English: Up and Down the Bizarre Byways of a Fascinating Language by Richard W Todd

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The use of the oracular tongue

In an attempt to gain long-lasting renown, it may be worth acquiring a habitual but strange linguistic tic. If peculiar enough, the tic could lead to the fame derived from having a figure of speech named after you. In the last chapter we saw how the Reverend Spooner became widely known, and in this chapter we will examine the legacy of Mrs Malaprop: the malapropism.

Mrs Malaprop, unfortunately, was not a real person. Rather, she was a character in The Rivals, a 1775 comedy by Richard Sheridan. In the play, Mrs Malaprop was accused of using uncommon words that she didn’t really understand. Her reply was: ‘Sure, if I reprehend anything in this world, it is the use of my oracular tongue and a nice derangement of

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