I have a character who has a tendency towards malapropism but I find that in every sentence she speaks I am re-reading it and finding words to replace. ie. (actual - translation)

"Inquisition, should we dispute a miko for this? If their mummy can provide a guessing the moral of the heights will be increased." - Inquiry, should we recruit a miko for this? If their kami can provide a blessing the moral of the knights will be increased.


"Keep moving to your assigned vocations and repair the final push." - Keep moving to your assigned locations and prepare the final push.


"If you persist I'll have the sane as our dandy, with less built." - If you insist I'll have the same as our lady, with less milk.

And when I re-read them I am thinking whether I am forcing it too much rather than making it seem natural for the character.

So how do you write dialog for a character with malapropism without it seeming forced?

  • 3
    Just wondering - is English your first language? If not, then my response to your question would be that it is easiest to make malaprops work when writing in the language one knows best. Feb 8, 2017 at 4:38

5 Answers 5


If you think it sounds forced, it's probably forced. Try reading your writing out loud to yourself - it can really help you find knots in the flow of dialogue.

Thoughts on how to fix this:

  1. The words you're replacing them with don't seem similar enough.

I.e, milk into built is a really far stretch to me. Inquisition to inquiry, too - since the syllables don't match. (As best I can tell, all the examples of malapropism I've seen had words of similar lengths.)

  1. Too many per a sentence.

I'm saying this because - without the translations - I can't make heads or tails of what the sentences are supposed to mean. Most examples of real malapropism seem so close to being right that it often takes me a moment to spot the wrong word.

  1. Smaller, common words shouldn't be swapped.

Again, looking at real-world examples, it usually seems like everything else in the sentence is fine other than one or two 'trouble' words - words that are either complicated, or harder to pronounce.

So in the sentence:

"If you persist i'll have the sane as our dandy, with less built" - if you insist i'll have the same as our lady, with less milk

I feel like same wouldn't be a word she'd replace, as those aren't the words one usually has to 'think' over.

But again, after writing her sentences I'd keeping reading them over to yourself and editing and reading again until you think it sounds natural - in fact, saying the sentence normally and seeing if there are any words you trip or hesitate over might help you find words to replace that you previously hadn't thought of.

Fun fact: as a child I always said Jurassic instead of drastic because I thought it was supposed to be pronounced dur-astic.


The thing that bothers me in the examples given is that the misworded phrases, quite frankly, make no sense, at least to me. If the translation was not provided, I would never guess, that dandy means lady (the word having exactly the opposite meaning), and built is a substitute for milk.

Even if you call milk silk, it would not help, because the phrase is so laden with senseless malaprops, that is starting to sound like a jargon or code, which the reader does not know, and do not understand.

And people tend not to read things they do not understand.

In order for intentional word substitution to work, it must be clear for the reader, what was the correct word that got butchered. Then it might even have some primitive comic effect:

Alrighty, folks, let's excrement with this...

Or (this one is from real 2.5-year-old art student):

There are two kinds of paintings: extract and reallipstick!

Writing a character who talks code undecipherable by anyone but the author is precarious unless that is the whole point of the story (there are mental disorders which make people speak in a similar manner), and he is a key witness to a murder case, whom no one understands.

  • 1
    Agreed, these examples are not malapropisms; they're just unclear.
    – user16226
    Feb 7, 2017 at 17:34
  • 1
    I read the second example out loud and laughed quite a bit. This example seems more realistic to me than the ones in OP.
    – storbror
    Feb 8, 2017 at 8:00

Is this a comedic story or a straightforward/dramatic one?

If it's a comedic story, then just run with it, because everything is supposed to be exaggerated. Your characters may not even have to note the malaprops.

If it's a straightforward one, then the other characters should notice the slips. If your character speaks frequently in malaprops, you may be editing them out because you subsconsciously know that it's a weird way to speak, and your other characters are behaving as though it's not happening — which doesn't work for a non-comedic story.

You can get away with more of this in a dramatic story if English (or whatever you're writing in) is not Mr. Malaprop's first language. You might possibly also be able to do it if Mr. Malaprop himself is aware of it because it happens when he's very nervous (or something similar) and can't stop himself. Then it becomes character development: he knows it's happening, he knows how it sounds, but he can't fix it.

  • 1
    The comedic value of one person speaking gibberish like this and everyone who knows him understanding him effortlessly sounds fantastic to me. Come to think of it, it kind of reminds me of Kenny in southpark, though this would probably leave more of an amusing puzzle for the reader to work with before the other characters reacted in a certain way "revealing" the statement. The nervousness is interesting as well.
    – storbror
    Feb 8, 2017 at 8:05

It would help, I think, if there were some pattern to the missteps. My wife, for instance, often says the opposite of what she really means. Another real-life pattern is "spoonerism" where the first letters of two words are transposed: "Dine-and-fandy" instead of "fine-and-dandy." Then there's what we might call "Tourette's lite" where the person accidentally inserts inappropriate words into inoffensive sentences --this can have an actual psychological role in the case of a very repressed person.

I don't think anyone just swaps out random wrong words --and it makes it impossible to understand. With some pattern, realistic or not, the reader has a hope of figuring it out.


My suggestion is: don't write the dialogue with malapropism. Write all her dialogue (initially) just as normal as the other speakers, with one exception--when you're plotting it out, select a couple of 'hinge' parts of the story where her malapropism is going to have a definite effect on the plot. (As with any hook, don't overuse this.)

Then, if you think you need more cases of it, figure out how regularly her malapropism is going to show up. Go through all of her dialogue and roll a die (or whatever) on every sentence to see if she screws up a word. If she does, change up a word, but also make sure you change the rest of the dialogue to ensure that the reader understands what's going on--maybe have the narrator's text make the meaning clear, or have one of the other characters correct her.

This is something that could easily throw the reader off, I think.

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