Chapter VI. – Blundering Use of Words, pp.29-32.

[Book of Blunders Contents]

ANOTHER class of mistakes arises from the misuse of words. Mrs Malaprop and Mrs Partington have furnished many illustrations, but none of them more comical than are constantly to be met with in real life. 

I remember a small boy coming to ask, for a friend, is I had a book called 

   “The Pluerisy of Worlds!” 

Another little boy, son of a Glasgow merchant, on being asked one day how they all were at home, replied that they were all well except his father, who had been confined to the house by 

   “an allegory in his leg.” 

The following came to me recently from a correspondent:- 

   “I had,” he said, “occasion some time ago to inform a clever mechanic, who had just finished some work for me, that I should have more work of a similar kind for him to do, but that my ideas were not yet fully matured.” 

   “Weel, sir,” he said, “as soon as ye hae got yer mind manured let me ken, and I’ll come back.” 

The following story is told by Dr Robert Jeffrey, of Glasgow:- A certain Glasgow Councillor, on being promoted to Bailiedom, gave a grand supper, at which, of course, his health was drunk in connection with his new dignity. In the course of his reply he said – 

   “I canna but say I’m proud o’ the honour of being made a Bailie, and even, I think, I’m kind o’ entitled to the honour, for I’ve gone through a’ the various stages o’ degradation to reach it.” 

The mistakes made by foreigners speaking our language are often very amusing, as our mistakes in reversed circumstances must be to them. 

Every one has heard of the eminent Continental divine who prayed that Dr Chalmers might long be 


to his congregation. Pastor John Bost, of Laforce, told me of a somewhat similar mistake which he made in addressing the Free Assembly. In travelling through Scotland he had heard the word “barren” continually applied to the hill-tops where there was no vegetation. Accordingly, on rising to address the Assembly, in which there happened to be an unusual number of venerable and bald-headed divines, he said his nervousness was increased when he looked round and saw so many barren heads. The Scotsman remarked next day that for once the Free Assembly had got the truth told about it. 

The negroes in America are entitled to more indulgence than foreigners even, and they need it, owing to the peculiar craze they have for the use of big-sounding words. In their desire to “get larnin’,” and be like the white man, they clutch at a big word, whether they understand its meaning or not, much as a hungry boy would clutch at a piece of bread. I remember once, at a negro prayer-meeting, referring to this life as a state 

   “of probation.” 

The black gentleman who followed me “improved” my remarks by earnestly reminding the audience that, 

   “as our white brudder says, we is all in a state of prohibition.” 

Dr McCosh (now President of Princeton Seminary) tells the story of a negro who prayed earnestly that he and his coloured brethren might be preserved from what he called their 

   “upsettin’ sins.” 


said one of his friends at the close of the meeting, 

   “you ain’t got de hang of dat ar word. It’s ‘besettin’,’ not ‘upsettin’.’ ” 


replied the other, 

   “if dat’s so, it’s so. But I was a prayin’ de Lord to save us from de sin of intoxification, and if dat ar ain’t a upsettin’ sin, I dunno what am.” 

During an exciting discussion in the Victorian Parliament, a member, with a craze for magnificent phraseology, denounced the opposite party for 

   “indulging in diatribes.” 

Thereupon another member, who suspected that the speaker did not know the meaning of his own word, rose with a great show of indignation, and demanded, in reference to the alleged “diatribes,” that the honourable member should either retract or explain. 

The honourable member was caught, and, being unable to explain the expression, withdrew it. 

Pity that circumstances did not allow of some one making a similar demand upon the preacher who spoke of Death 

   “mowing down his catacombs of victims!”

2 thoughts on “Chapter VI. – Blundering Use of Words, pp.29-32.

  1. So funny – but it happens every day on Twitter. My favourite one is ‘defiantly’ when they presumably can’t spell ‘definitely’.

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