Verbal Confusions That Make Sense
You may not have heard of him, but Willard R. Espy was one of the most successful word-players and punsters of our time, who wrote more than a dozen books on words. In 1999, at the time of his death at 88, the New York Times remembered him with this alliterative tribute: "an inveterate punster who collected clerihews, dabbled in double dactyls, limned lipograms, mixed macaronics and exulted in anagrams, homonyms, oxymorons, palindromes and spoonerisms".
Speaking of spoonerisms, in his first book The Game of Words Espy touches on another eponymous play on words that predates spoonerisms by more than 200 years – malapropisms. Mrs Malaprop in Sheridan's play The Rivals is given to uttering verbal confusions like "Illiterate him from your mind", "Make no delusions to the past", and "the very pineapple of politeness".
As always, the unwitting ones uttered by real people are the funniest. Check this one from former Chicago Mayor Richard J Daley: "Gentlemen, get the thing straight once and for all – the policeman isn't there to create disorder, the policeman is there to preserve disorder".