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Chris Larham’s essay on idiomatic malapropisms and irony [‘A*’-grading, 2000/2001] can be opened in a print-friendly text document format here
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‘Invent a character who commits malapropisms and write a short monologue for that character. In a commentary explain which words were confused and any IRONY involved in your choice of language.’
Scene: It’s the start of a typical lesson in the life of incompetent secondary school teacher, Mr Bill Godel. His lesson plan- and that in itself is a first- is about to be interrupted by two A* students, who have been good friends since primary school and sit next to each other.[^]
“Good work, Oliver”, said Bill, handing back his ‘C’-grade assignment. “I can see you’ve worked really hard for that.” A singularly untalented, weak man himself, Bill enjoyed praising those who were not naturally gifted (but made a visible effort to improve), and making scathing attacks on those members of the class blessed with natural ability.[^]
“Well done, Mary”, he said, handing back the ‘B’ grade paper, “You’ve reaped the benefits of solid effort there.” Moving round the room, distributing marked homework assignments as he went, he eventually came to [in his opinion] the ‘scourge’ of the group- and mankind in general- Carl and Becky… Natural ability and yet, unknown to him, enough common-sense to use it away from lesson time, while enjoying a laugh and a joke in tutor time.[^]
“How dare they laugh and talk their way through lessons and get away with it?” Bill thought angrily, as he approached the inseparable pair and grudgingly returned their ‘A*’-graded assignments. Having quickly, but unfairly, stereotyped them into the ‘talented wasters’ category, he was convinced that they never did a stroke of work. Bill inwardly seethed as he saw the look of cool, well-practised calmness with which they received their respective marks…[^]
“Alright class, settle down. Now, as you well know, I’ve always said ‘you only get out what you put in’ in this life. I can’t stress it enough; if you don’t put the work in, you shan’t reap the end benefits.”[^]
“Commencing today…” Bill trailed off, his well-trained and biased ears hearing muffled sounds from the back. “Okay, I’ll wait until Carl and Becky finish…” (this was greeted with a long pause, with the quiet murmuring continuing) “…perhaps you’d like to indulge your comedy with the rest of the class?” (noncommittal shake of heads, chattering replaced by note-swapping) “Alright, I’ve had enough. I’m not prepared to hold up the rest of the group on your behest, you two. Lately I’ve been distinctly unsatisfied with your behaviour and attitude. You think you’re so clever, just because you’ve managed straight A*s in every assignment you’ve been set furthermore. You might consider it appropriate to nymphomaniacally shake your heads when I question your actions, but I don’t. I’m the teacher in this class, let’s make that crystal clear. I’m in no way endowed by your knowledge of this subject; I took and passed my degree and have the certificates to prove it. I don’t view you two as a threat, merely a dyslexic influence. My qualifications are there for all to see, and ‘Knowledge is Pauvre‘ as they say, isn’t it? You certainly aren’t prithee to any inside information that I am unaware of. I’m the kind of mature adult you should aspire to, not rebel against! You cannot expect to sit there together, talking all the time… generally doing the sole minimum work requirement to get your grades; if you even paid attention half the time, think how you’d improve! I’m ashamed I’ll have to split you two apart – you spend so much time together anyone would think you were joined at the hip, like those semantic twins you hear so much about nowadays! If you ask me, sitting apart might even displace your air of dysentery with one of contorted endeavour. Anyway, that’s the bell, so my final word on the subject will be: ‘you two best not be sitting together next lesson or I’ll call the principal.’[^]
Use of IRONY:
- Bill starts the lesson with a reiteration of his clichéd “you only get out what you put in” motto, yet accuses Carl and Becky of being excessively slack in their studies – despite the fact they have achieved straight A*s to date; hypocritical.
- Says he isn’t threatened by the pair, yet attempts to put the two down and- in doing so- unwittingly belittles his own intelligence. Takes the first chance he gets to ‘have a go’ at Carl and Becky, yet insists he isn’t intimidated by them; hypocritical again.
- States comprehensively that he isn’t prepared “to hold up the rest of the class” because of the pair, yet proceeds to talk throughout the entire lesson (trying to make the pair feel small – a sure sign he is intimidated by the two class mates); in doing so he wastes everybody’s time!
- Uses long, inappropriate words in an attempt to demonstrate his superior intellect as a direct response to their obvious ability.
- Ends up making elementary grammatical errors, demonstrated in the last line with, “you two best not be sitting together next lesson…” as he seeks to underline the fact that he is the clever one in the class.
- “Knowledge is Pauvre” he says, missing the fact that pauvre (in French) means ‘poor’: the exact opposite of what he intends, and again showing his lack of self-confidence.
- His misuse of the word ‘dysentery’ is particularly apt, as verbal diarrhoea is what he appears to be suffering from at that point!
- Bill considers himself to be a mature role model for the pair. If this is so, why does he feel the need to attempt to establish his authority and seniority?
- “I’ll call in the principal” is a childish tactic used to try and instil fear into the hearts of Carl and Becky. Not only does this fail miserably, it shows his complete lack of command.
- “Air of dysentery” and “contorted effort” in the same sentence for added comical irony.
I decided to only put 14 malapropisms in the piece because I didn’t want to overdo it on that front; I think it would lose some of its effect. I also didn’t want to put too many in one sentence, as I thought it would become too obvious to the class that he was making mistakes: the amount of malapropisms he uses could easily be missed by the pupils (apart from Carl and Becky of course!), adding to the irony of the situation.[^]