Malapropism noun, M19. Ludicrous misuse of words, esp. in mistaking a word for another resembling it; an instance of this. (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, sixth edition 2007)

Here is an example of a Malapropism: ‘Ft. Knox is the site of the United States gold bullion suppository.’

These are not to be confused with mixed metaphors they sometimes resemble, they are nothing more than mistaken words.

Over the past year I have observed news presenters, editorial writers, politicians and other commenters on events of the day describing somebody, typically a politician presently in power, when deferring or refusing to decide on a matter of importance to us as ‘prevaricating’. And I have heard this often enough to arouse my ire.

Surely they mean ‘procrastinating’.

I have consulted my dictionaries; I have queried my friends skilled in use of the English language as it is currently spoken; I have pondered this for many an evening. Under no circumstances can I understand the use of ‘prevarication’ in the context of someone’s putting off deciding or acting on anything.

Or might it have to do with our feeling when politicians procrastinate, they often simultaneously prevaricate?

This might be, but I doubt it. No, rather I think it is these are simply ‘ludicrous misuses of words’.

Come on, folks, sign up for some journalism classes at your local school, college, university or drop-in centre. Get it right, for goodness’ sake. I know a woman who completed a three-year journalism apprenticeship with a well-known national newspaper many years ago. Does this happen anymore? Likely not. Spellcheckers and grammarcheckers won’t do the job. Get out there and learn the things you need to know to hone your craft to the highest standard.

We expect more of those we read and listen to to help us understand what is happening in the world around us. We deserve it.


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