Fay-Cutler malapropism of the week

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Also the funniest:

As David Fay and Anne Cutler explained long ago ("Malapropisms and the structure of the mental lexicon", Linguistic Inquiry 1977):

Two centuries ago, Sheridan invented the delightful character of Mrs. Malaprop, who had an unfailing ability to use the wrong word to the greatest effect. Since Sheridan, the malapropism has been a standard tool of comic writers, especially useful for indicating inferior intellectual ability of a speaker (as when Archie Bunker says "We need a few laughs to break up the monogamy"). But not all errors involving substitution of one word for another result from ignorance of the correct usage; on the contrary, inadvertent use of the wrong word is a common variety of speech error. In this article we will examine such word substitution errors (which we will call malapropisms, although they do not arise, as Mrs. Malaprop's did, from ignorance); we will show that they reveal some interesting aspects of the structure of the mental dictionary used in producing and understanding speech.

Consider a typical example of a malapropism:

(1) T: If these two vectors are equivalent, then . . .
      E: If these two vectors are equivocal, then . . .

Here the speaker has intended to say equivalent, but has inadvertently substituted for it equivocal. This error illustrates well the three major characteristics of malapropisms. First, the erroneous intrusion is a real word—not the intended word, of course, but not a meaningless string of phonemes either. Second, the target and error seem to be unrelated in meaning. Finally, there is a close relation between the pronunciation of the target and the pronunciation of the error.

As in the case of Fay & Cutler's example (1), we can assume that MTG doesn't think the Nazi secret police ("Geheime Staatspolizei" → Gestapo) were actually called "the Gazpacho".

And as in their example, Gazpacho is a word, unrelated in meaning to Gestapo, but sharing the same number of syllables, the same stress pattern, and some of the same phonemes in corresponding places.

Update — the audio and transcript from the tweet, in case of future bit rot:

Not only do we have the D.C. jail,
which is the D.C. gulag,
but now we have Nancy Pelosi's gazpacho police,
spying on members of congress, spying on the legislative work that we do,
spying on our staff,
and spying on American citizens that want to come talk to their representatives.
This government has turned into something it was never meant to be,
and it's time to make it end.

Update #2 — some of the memes tweeted in response:


  1. David Marjanović said,

    February 10, 2022 @ 9:33 am

    So Marjorie Traitor-Greene saved my day. I did Nazi that coming.

  2. Jenny Chu said,

    February 10, 2022 @ 10:09 am

    In unrelated news, I recently started to re-read The Gulag Archipelago. It's hard to square what is described in the opening chapters of that book with the casual use of "gulag" by MTG.

    Yes, the gazpacho thing is funny. But her not even bothering to learn the correct word is also a grave insult to those who did suffer under the Gestapo.

  3. Stephen Anderson said,

    February 10, 2022 @ 10:46 am

    I don’t think the two words have the same stress pattern: gazpacho has secondary stress on the (full CVC) initial, while the first syllable of gestapo is unstressed and reduced. At least for me.

  4. Philip Taylor said,

    February 10, 2022 @ 11:39 am

    This native speaker of <Br.E> has an identical stress pattern for both words, but having never heard a Spaniard pronounce "gazpacho" nor a German "Gestapo" he may therefore be guessing both at their pronunciation and at their stress patterns from their spelling.

    And an afterthought : why do I feel the need to pluralise "stress patterns" while being content to leave "pronunciation" singular — it is, after all, not as if they share a common pronunciation (other than, perhaps, in the mind of Representative MTG).

  5. AKMA said,

    February 10, 2022 @ 11:54 am

    I can’t believe the meme-maker who illustrated their joke with an actual bowl of cold soup didn’t use the slogan ‘Let me see your peppers!’

  6. Stephen Anderson said,

    February 10, 2022 @ 12:16 pm

    Actually, I suppose she pronounces gazpacho as [gə.spá.čo] (I didn't hear the clip), so I'm wrong about the stress pattern.

    [(myl) Here's her pronunciation of the word:


  7. Aristotle Pagaltzis said,

    February 10, 2022 @ 1:58 pm

    A regrettably missed opportunity that the 6th one doesn’t say “Achtung! Let me see your peppers!”

  8. Jim said,

    February 10, 2022 @ 3:36 pm

    Suspicion: a near miss between gulag and goulash made her think of soup and led to the gaffe.

  9. Kenny Easwaran said,

    February 10, 2022 @ 4:07 pm

    My favorite is the Seinfeld reference in the second meme – it works great in writing, but pushes you into your own mispronunciation in order to make it work audibly in your head. That, and it pushes the incorrect connection of soup and Nazis further.

  10. AntC said,

    February 10, 2022 @ 8:48 pm

    But her [MTG] not even bothering to learn the correct word is also a grave insult to those who did suffer under the Gestapo.

    The chief insult is that she sees any comparison between an arm of the State that could arrest, torture and murder on no grounds and with no due process or appeal (and a State against which America gave many lives in battle) vs a Committee of Congress going through an investigation of facts fully in the public eye.

    I'm seeing double standards: Despite Whoopi Goldberg not even bothering to learn why the race from whom she's taken a name suffered under the Gestapo/Holocaust, the liberal twitterati seem not to be seeing a grave insult. MTG's malapropism could plausibly be taken as she 'misspoke'; Ms Goldberg's seems a whole nother level of willful ignorance.

  11. Seth said,

    February 10, 2022 @ 10:26 pm

    @ Jenny Chu – she knows the correct word (or at least the person who runs her Twitter account does!)


    "No thanks @SpeakerPelosi , we don’t want your Gestapo."

    Meme-fodder though it is, it's just a verbal stumble.

    In terms of language though, I can't recall ever hearing the phrase "Gestapo police" before even in hyperbole – only ever "the Gestapo".

  12. AntC said,

    February 11, 2022 @ 2:19 am

    I see elements of the GOP are suggesting the January 6 events were a false flag carried out by Democrat agents provocateurs.

    There's similar splintering and accusations flying amongst New Zealand's own 'Truckers Convoy' protest outside the Parliament — making it difficult for the police to know who to negotiate with.

    Rijsttafel Fire situation?

  13. Peter Taylor said,

    February 11, 2022 @ 3:11 am

    The defining feature of gazpacho isn't being made of vegetables, but being thickened with bread.

    The etymology is unclear. Some suggestions go via Arabic, others via Greek.

  14. Jerry Packard said,

    February 11, 2022 @ 9:30 pm

    There are reports that she did it on purpose, to mitigate the negative affect of the target word.

  15. Andrew Usher said,

    February 11, 2022 @ 11:01 pm

    Though I haven't heard 'Gestapo police' myself, I wouldn't consider it a mistake, but simply putting Gestapo into the role of an adjective, a normal process in English. It is not a redundancy, though it would be if the actual historical organisation were called such.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo dot com

  16. Philip Taylor said,

    February 12, 2022 @ 6:40 am

    Andrew — so when a speaker on the (normally literate) BBC Radio 4 yesterday referred to "the discoverer of the HIV virus", would you classify this as a redundancy or merely as the adjectivisation of "HIV" ?

  17. Sergey said,

    February 13, 2022 @ 2:54 am

    [(myl) I've removed this comment because it propagates, without any references or links, what appears to be a false claim. It's possible that the commenter's intent involves this set of manipulated or decontextualized clips, or perhaps it's a new confabulation. Or it might even be correct, though I could (with equal lack of evidence) suggest that "Sergey" is a troll factory employee…]

  18. Andrew Usher said,

    February 13, 2022 @ 8:42 pm

    I actually agree with removing the previous post (having seen it): it was an obvious troll, and that should be unwelcome regardless of truth.

    Philip Taylor:
    Acronyms are funny. 'HIV', like most, does not allow the article, so that once the speaker said 'the' he'd committed himself to using 'virus' in any case: "the HIV" is even worse than "the HIV virus". So I'm not sure I'd agree with either option. I'd need more context to say anything further.

  19. Yerushalmi said,

    February 14, 2022 @ 4:50 am

    "Hitler's instrumentality of terror was called the Gazpacho." – From the book Non Campus Mentis by Anderss Henriksson.

  20. James Wimberley said,

    February 14, 2022 @ 3:04 pm

    Philip Taylor: "The defining feature of gazpacho isn't being made of vegetables, but being thickened with bread." Not round here, and I live in Andalucia. The soup with bread is salmorejo.

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