The Chimps are aghast at how many people — even progressives — are using the word “misspelling” to describe a far-more-egregious sin committed by America’s Number 2™.
As has been widely reported, Trump, apparently having been left unattended with his tweeting machine, recently undertook a catastrophic intellectual misadventure, the product of which was this, um, “sentence” (if you grow queasy at the sight of grotesque cerebral malfeasance, you might want to look away):
News outlets everywhere have decried Trump’s “misspelling” of the word “unprecedented.” But Trump’s linguistic transgression was not a misspelling; it was a malapropism.
The distinction is an important one. Anyone can misspell a word; the technical term for your every-day misspelling is, we think, brain fart. Evil can become ebil with a slip of the finger. A misspelling might be sloppy, but for one who seeks to be taken seriously, it’s not necessarily disqualifying. A malapropism, on the other hand, is not just a misrepresentation of the right word, but an accurate representation of the wrong word altogether.
Some common examples of malapropisms would be “for all intensive purposes” or “please precede.” (As law professors, the Chimps strongly counsel against writing “statue of limitations” or “the defendant moved to squash” on a law-school exam.) The writer of a malapropism (unlike a misspelling) isn’t just signaling that he’s made a clerical error as to the word he is trying to use, but that he doesn’t know what word he’s trying to use.
To put it as plainly as the Chimps know how, anyone can commit a misspelling, but only an idiot can commit a malapropism. Malapropisms are for people who think they know big and weighty words, but who don’t know big and weighty words because they never had the discipline to learn them.
Come to think of it, this seems like it might be the habit of a malignant narcissist: I don’t need to look it up; I’m too smart for that. Right. That’s how malappropriations happen.