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Word play for extra traffic

John Murray

I once worked in a call centre where I overheard one of my colleagues explaining to his client why a shipment of components had been delayed; apparently the cargo ship had been hit by a tycoon.

Whilst it turned out I was the only one amused by the image of Bill Gates being torpedoed at freighters in the Indian Ocean, we’ve probably all used a malapropism, mondegreen or spoonerism to someone else’s entertainment. 

Named after a character in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 18th-century play The Rivals, a malapropism occurs when someone accidentally uses a similar sounding, but incorrect, word for another. Mrs Malaprop’s dialogue was littered with excellent examples, such as “He is the pineapple of politeness!” and “Illiterate him, I say, quite from your memory”.

Politicians can also often fall foul of malapropisms, with the former mayor of Chicago, Richard Daley, was quoted as referring to Alcoholics “Unanimous” (Anonymous) and a “tantrum” (tandem) bicycle.

A mondegreen, however, is the result of hearing rather than saying the wrong word, and usually relates to song lyrics but can apply to other speech. A classic example of a mondegreen is the misheard US pledge “I led the pigeons to the flag” (pledge allegiance), as well as the Jimi Hendrix lyric “Excuse me while I kiss this guy” (kiss the sky).

Then there is a spoonerism, which relates to a word or phrase with its letters slightly rearranged to form a different one, such as “runny babbit” (bunny rabbit) or “it’s kisstomary to cuss the bride”.

Slips of the tongue, along with misheard and misquoted words, can all cause a bit of entertainment. However, understanding that people can get it wrong sometimes can also help firms to capture a small percentage of the additional SEO market. After all, that person looking for ‘vinyl flaws’ may be trying to find your flooring range. Using a sentence such as “All our products are made of high-quality vinyl and flaws are minimal” would draw in that additional traffic.

John is every inch the wordsmith and loves a game of Scrabble above all else. With experience writing for newspapers, John’s time at university was spent studying Creative Writing – something which comes across in his love of the pun.

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