Meant to Say That

It’s Yogi Berra’s birthday today. He’s 86.

Berra is equally famous for his baseball career and his odd quotes. There are six books available on Amazon that feature stories he has told and the strange truth of his serpentine comments.

Among the best known:

“It ain’t over ‘til it’s over”

“Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.”

“He hits from both sides of the plate. He’s amphibious.”

“If people don’t want to come out to the ball park, nobody’s gonna stop ‘em.”

Numerous websites collect his sayings. One article claimed that Yogi is “the most quoted living American.”

Who knows if he actually said all the things he’s supposed to have said? Once you get a reputation for malapropisms, I suppose people begin to assign them to you. And what about the pressure? It creates a certain expectation. How many interviewers have come away from their Q & A slightly disappointed that Yogi didn’t grace them with a memorable word crash?

I would never suggest that Yogi’s sayings aren’t completely genuine – only that there must be a great temptation to give the people what they came for, even if it means hiring a writer. Not than anyone in America today would hire a writer!

Yogi is real, of course, but the character who mangles language is a literary staple. Two of the oldest and best loved come from the field of playwriting, where it’s extraordinarily difficult these days to coin a phrase that will stick as a cultural reference.

To find the earliest examples, you have to go all the way back to 1598 and the character Dogberry in Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” …

Don Pedro: Officers, what offence have these men done?

Dogberry: Marry, sir, they have committed false report; moreover they have spoken untruths; secondarily, they are slanders; sixth and lastly, they have belied a lady; thirdly, they have verified unjust things; and, to conclude, they are lying knaves.

And then there’s the mother of the term “Malapropism” – Mrs. Malaprop from Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s play, “The Rivals”.

Mrs. MALAPROP: There, sir, an attack upon my language! what do you think of that?—an aspersion upon my parts of speech! was ever such a brute! Sure, if I reprehend any thing in this world, it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs!

Tracking Berra-like sayings is one of the most enjoyable pursuits of English speakers. George W. Bush did great things in the field of presidential misstatement. This is one area where I’m ready to admit that the current office holder is letting us down.

Got a favorite mangled saying or malapropism?

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56 thoughts on “Meant to Say That”

  1. Rise and Mime Baboons!

    This way no one can be misquoted. Just act out your comments this morning.

    I seem to be slow. I have many favorites–somewhere in the house is a book of George Bush mangled sayings. However, now that Dale asked this question I cannot come up with one of them or the barn dook.

    Maybe when my brain wakes up.

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    1. My sister has been reminded her whole life of her childhood dyslexia (mild, but present). So one day she is reading a buttermilk carton that says, “Cultured Buttermilk.” She asks, “Mom, what does cluttered buttermilk mean?”

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    2. And then there was the school principal I worked for as a school Social Worker. He was displeased with test scores one year, so gathered the entire staff in the media center to scream at us about said scores.

      “I’m so angry. What have you been doing in class? You really have my dandruff up!”

      And he wondered WHY vocabulary scores were low?

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  2. I often quote that great re-stating of the American Negro College Fund slogan by GHW Bush, “It’s a terrible thing to lose your mind”-otherwise, I just refudiate this whole process of making note of people’s nucular mangling of a language these same folks insist must be spoken if one is to be thought of as a “real” ‘Murican.

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    1. Done lurking, taking the plunge.

      I resemble attributing that quote to anyone but Dan Quayle.

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      1. Hi Margaret,
        Here’s one that’s attributed to Dan Quayle:

        “Bank failures are caused by depositors who don’t deposit enough money to cover losses due to mismanagement.’

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      2. Thanks, Margaret and welcome, I sit and sneeze my head off corrected.

        The odd thing is, I can “hear” George the First saying that line in my head (and yes folks, I’m concerned too).

        Wikipedia has a lovely picture of the official bust of J Danforth.

        See, if we just had that mind running things, the economy and education would not be in the state they are in.

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    2. You just reminded me of another funny thing the child said. I made some comment to the dog (Quit barking your fool head off!) and she said in a worried voice “Baron’s going to lose his head?”

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  3. Morning!

    Just the other day I warned someone not to do a ‘pace flant’ off the stage…. so that’s been our catch phrase around the theater the last week….

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  4. My favorite is the most famous of all Yogisms, the one about the restaurant where “Nobody goes there anymore; its too crowded.” What I relish in that is the twisted logic.

    My sister has a tin ear for the language, and over the years she has provoked a lot of laughter with malaprops . . . but I can’t recall any at the moment. She often uses figurative language with no sense of the origins of the expressions. She once said she’d been in Target and had bought presents for all five of her grandchildren in “one fell swoop.” She didn’t know that a “fell swoop” is a single devastating swing of a sword that often beheads an opponent. I howled at the image of her Target trip leaving her five grandchildren headless.

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    1. That is good. I was on a BWCA fishing trip once when I made reference to a lure that resembled a wounded minnow. Only it came out “winded moonow.” Something about that sound was so funny I laughed until my stomach muscles were in great pain!

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      1. Who are the guys at the Ren Fest that do this malaprop thing? They constantly refer to Our Queer Deen Victoria.
        They are very funny. Or Fery Dunny

        And then there is the famous bumper sticker, “Imagine World Peace” that becomes, “Imagine Whirled Peas.”

        Gotta love it.

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      2. Zilch the Grave Digger, a Tory Steller (as he describes himself) tells entire stories in Spoonerisms. Very funny (and he’s a garn dice nuy). “Rindercella and the Stwo Tugly Epsisters” is a lot of fun – and I thought I would injure myself when I heard him to “Now is the winter of our discontent” entirely in Spoonerisms.

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  5. Bushisms: I loved how Doonesbury would trot them out a couple of times a year in art gallery format.

    My mother used to do one that had us clutching our sides laughing – since I’m with her today, I’ll see if we can come up with it and post later. Meanwhile I must refer you (probably not for the first time) to the guy who does Rindercella, with the two Sisty Uglers (and Jomio and Ruliet, etc.) at the Ren Fest… Zilch the Storyteller (Terry Foy). Spoonerisms count as mangling, right?

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  6. Goo morning to all:

    Like Jacque, I am also slow this morning. I might have created some phrases that look like malapropisms which were just due to typos and errors in spelling. My wife had a couple of examples she could recall. In her job as a social worker she ran into a family that claimed some family members were awemic. Also, she remembers working with a person who refered to their afliction as bipolo disease.

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  7. I’m fond of Bugs Bunny’s “What a maroon!” It comes in handy so often. For example, when there is more than one response to the President’s State of the Union address.

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    1. That is a new one to me. I think I could also make good use of it. Unfortunately, it seems there are a lot of maroons around these days, or am I just being too much of a maroon myself?

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      1. As it so happens I am officially a Maroon.
        The teams at the college where I played football are called the Maroons.

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  8. Morning all.

    I love it when my different worlds collide. Just finished “One of Our Thursdays is Missing” last night and Mrs. Malaprop plays a role in the book!

    I can’t think of any particular way that I’ve mangled the language, but I’m sure there are plenty. I’ll keep thinking. In the meantime, today is Edward Lear’s birthday… for all of us who love limericks!

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  9. A few years ago, I was in Arizona and got a chance to hear Joe Garagiola give a talk at a local library. Great guy, great speaker, great stories. As a kid, Joe actually grew up next door to Yogi and they’ve been best friends their whole lives.

    Joe said that Yogi doesn’t intentionally mean to speak in ‘Yogi-isms,’ he just doesn’t think things all the way through before he says something…just like the rest of us from time to time.

    Joe said, “If Yogi walked through that door right now and I asked him, ‘Hey, Yogi, what time is it?’ He’d say, ‘Now?’”

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  10. I taught freshman composition for six years. Early on I became fond of some of the ways my kids mangled the language, and I kept a list of them that I long ago lost. Here are some that I recall:

    (A boy describing a confrontation with a cop during a campus riot) “Along came this big cop who told me to evacuate on the spot.”

    (A girl writing about a stressed-out woman in a story) “Frances had reached the height of her depression.”

    (A girl who loved the logic of airplane instrument panels) “Every single thing is in logical places.”

    (My favorite . . . for twisted logic again!) “When you smell an odorless gas, get out of the building because that is carbon monoxide!”

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  11. Morning – again! Still!

    There was an program called CRP: ‘Conservation Reserve Program’ and my Dad would always call it the CPR program… and I’d always chuckle at the visual image of that.
    Was at a meeting the other day which involved a discussion of euthanasia of animals. One participant kept referring to it as ‘Euthanasian’ and those images made me cringe…

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    1. CRP can also stand for Certificate of Rent Paid…”I got a CPR from my landlord” is one I have heard a number of times.

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  12. about three or four years ago i was mailing Christmas cards for my Mom. on the back of the envelope addressed to her best friend in So. MN she had written “Let me know if you don’t get this”

    and my favorite friend, one day when we were lunching at a burger place, exclaimed while she read the menu “8 ounce burgers! wow, that’s almost a half pound!”

    and a student who worked her way thru school as a word processor for a law firm – writing a care study on a female patient said she was in the hospital
    for a “tubal litigation.”
    do you folks remember Norm Crosby – - he drank “decapitated coffee.”???
    a gracious good morning to You All

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  13. Wow, Barb! How did you come up with all of those? Are you drinking highly recapitated coffee?

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  14. I have a friend who tells me her fibromyalgia is exasperated by stress. I think I kind of know the feeling.

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  15. You all have made me think about when the child was acquiring language. One of my favorites was “overwears” instead of “overalls”. She said this for almost 2 years before she switched over.

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  16. After the references to Zilch the Tory Steller (aka Terry Foy), now I’ve got Spoonerisms on the brain (I’m sure there’s a pill for that)…

    Can’t think of any good malapropisms right off, not even after drinking capitated coffee. Will continue to ponder.

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  17. At our house, we read more than we listen, so are constantly mispronoucing words we have read many times, but have never heard. Very embarassing it is too.

    My super in Muppet-land did a stint in a bridal shop (always good for stories) and had a bride who loved to chat.

    She must have been quick sophistocated and well off, as she would feel the need to Consultate about things. All her trousseau towels had been mammogrammed and her bridesmaids were all going to get faux pas pearls as a special gift.

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    1. Sounds like a lovely bride. :)

      My non-BBC book club has a running joke about “epitomes” (mis-pronounced with a long “o” and no long “e” at the end…”eh-pi-tohm”…) – a short hand for all words that we read/pronounced in our heads with a different sound than how they are pronounced aloud.

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      1. I remember coming across the word “precipice” in a book when I was a kid – I think it might have been Heidi. For a long time I privately pronounced it pre-SIP-a-see.

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  18. Then there are all the newspaper headlines that say things not really intended “Man shoots elephant in his pajamas” (What was the elephant doing in his pajamas?)

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  19. In a hospital or long-term care setting, a patient can sign a “DNR” or Do Not Resuscitate order telling the caregivers not to go to extreme measures to save his or her life. We had red rubber stamps for the charts of patients who had signed such orders in the hospital where I worked. When I left there to come and work for the Department of Natural Resources, my loving coworkers pinned me down and used that red rubber “DNR” stamp on my forehead. Maybe it’s not a malapropism and maybe it was even intentional, but it’s still pretty funny.

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  20. Our church owns a house donated by the Monke (pronounced monkey, a fine old German name) family. I was quite puzzled at my first council meeting when we had to vote on the amount of money we would approve for repairs to the Monke house. My first thought was “Golly, there is a lot more fun things going on in this church than I realized!” It still sounds so odd to me when people at church talk about this or that happening at the Monke house

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