What is the definition of malapropism?

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December 30, 2007 11:36AM

A malapropism in literature is a type of humor when a character uses a wrong, but similar word. For example, in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, the nurse says the word "confidence" when she really means conference, and "indite" instead of invite. The question remains, what was this type of humor called in Shakespeare's time? Seemingly, the word "malapropism" comes from a character (Mrs. Malaprop in The Rivals) created by Richard Sheridan, who wrote the same type of humor-- more than 100 years later. Malapropism is a comic or humerus [sic] misuse of language. It involves a word that is similar in sound to the word that is meant, often while using some familiar expression e.g. "a shrewd awakening," instead of "a rude awakening." From a character, Mrs Malaprop, in Sheridan's Restoration comedy The Rivals, but also from mal-a-propos (pronounced malla pro-POE) meaning inappropriate or out-of-place.