What is this common misunderstanding called?

I’m sure TV Tropes has an entry for it, but I don’t know where to start looking.

Character A uses a big word. Character B mistakes that word for something else- usually a disease or sexual act.


From Night Watch:
Carcer: Is he charismatic?
Nobby: Don’t know, never heard him cough.

From Origin of PC’S:
Durkon: I’ve come from tha land o’ tha dwarves to liason with your leaders.
Man: You want to do WHAT with our leaders?
Woman: Ew, grosss.

From the Perfect Master:
Vaguely Important Looking Person at party: “I thought Demi Moore gave a compelling performance in Striptease.”
You: “Goodness, you must be an anosmic ageusiatic.”
VILP: “No, actually I’m a Presbyterian from Cleveland.”
The gold standard here would be the (probably apocryphal) election campaign of George Smathers:

I’m not sure if this is in the same category, but I always found this bit from Laurel and Hardy amusing:

Hardy: Did you call the doctor?
Laurel: Yes, I called Dr. _______.
Hardy: But he’s a veterinarian!
Laurel: Well, I didn’t think his religion would make a difference.

It’s sort of like a reverse-malaprop.

In a similar vein, is there a name for the sort of joke where a character uses a complicated word, and a second character, not knowing what it means, ends up responding with something that means the exact same thing? (I think the Skipper and Gilligan used these gags a lot). Example:

Narrator: Will Bullwinkle be able to extricate himself?
Bullwinkle: I will- just as soon as I get myself loose!

You’re right, there really should be a tv-tropes.org trope for this, but I’m quite confident there isn’t, having read all the comedy tropes. You could make one.

It sounds a bit like the “Officious character quotes a regulation or act and their more clued-up sidekick points out it’s got nothing to do with their current situation” scenario:

A malapropism; like this old saw:

“Did you know Jones was a philatelist?”
“I didn’t know he masturbated”

That’s a Firesign Theater line, isn’t it? Another one from them:

“That’s the eye of the sacred serpent mound, on which you’re standing.”
“It’s a beaut!”
“No, it’s a mound.”
“And right purty, too.”

“Linguistic malentendu” and “quasi malection,” which I think are the best names for this device, were coined by English professor D.G. Kehl in the 1980s. In describing this play on words, Kehl noted that,

I suppose that “linguistic malentendu” probably best describes the case in which the speaker uses a $10-word, not suspecting that his listeners are not only unfamiliar with its meaning, but also unaware that they may construe something else (especially something worse).

Examples such as Smathers’s fabled use of “shameless extrovert” and “thespian” hinge on the speaker’s relying on (or betting on) his listeners’ ignorance of a word’s meaning to malign (but, at the same time, not malign) his target. This planned deception probably more closely fits a a literal meaning of “quasi malediction.”

– Tammi Terrell

Actually, a malapropism is when the speaker uses a term that sounds like what they are trying to say, but is not.
For example, if a teacher bent on vengeance says “I will* illiterate* him!” when they really meant “I will obliterate him!” - that’s a malapropism.

What I think the OP is looking for is the term mondegreen- a misinterpretation of a word or phrase by the second party.

On second thought, I don’t even think mondegreen will necessarily work. I vote with Tammi.

“Linguistic malentendu”

I just can’t WAIT to work that into a conversation at the pub.

If you want to find some fun examples, there are some in the Game Room labeled Malapropagation (a term coined here as best I know).

Early on, maybe the first, the thread title includes “cossack” because it was what we called the game back in the 60’s when it would usually start with bad definitions of the original word leading to bad definitions in a string along the lines of

cossack-- cassock – hassock – hammock – hillock – Hickok – hickory – ad infinitum

I haven’t checked today, but my guess is there are at least 5 threads there with the same basic idea.

Thanks, Professor.

Any Troper Dopers want to submit that to TVTropes?

One of the oldest picture postcards ever showed a young woman and man courting. The man asks, “Do you like Kipling?” She replies, “I don’t know, you naughty fellow. I’ve never kippled.”

Scott Turow in Presumed Innocent tells of a rape trial in which a very unsophisticated, uneducated victim is being gently questioned by the prosecutor, who has her describe the crime and then asks, “Did he have a climax?” Puzzled, she responds, “No, he had an '83 Cutlass.”

There was one I liked from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles [First Motion Picture]

The Turtles are in their sewer den, and have given lodging to 3 humans for the night.

Casey Jones, [Male] soon complains about the cramped conditions


Casey : I Don’t like it down here, its too cramped!
Donatello : Perhaps you’re claustrophobic?
Casey : Hey man, I never touched the guy!

The kicker of the joke, is that Casey then leaves to go sleep in the cab of his pick-up truck.
Once he gets there, he is making his bed the best he can. He tosses and turns for a bit, and then all of a sudden he rolls down one of the windows just a crack.

This is kind of the reverse, as the listener is still the one to misunderstand, but is more erudite than the speaker.

So Guy A has been told all his life that he needs to go to Small City on the coast to fish during the scrod season. Best scrod in the world, but it’s practically a secret. So, after saving for years, he flies out to Small City for a fishing vacation. After deplaning and picking up his luggage, he hails the first taxi he sees, climbs in and tells the cabby, “I want you to take me to the best place to get scrod!”

The cabby turns around, looks at him, and says, “mister, I been driving a cab for thirty years, and I ain’t never had anyone ask me to find them some tail using the pluperfect past tense.”

Morecambe and Wise:

“Have you got the scrolls?”
“No, I always walk like this.”

A zombie worth reviving, if only to trot out the wonderful cabbie/scrod joke.

The go-to example of this for me is Andy Dufresne asking the Shawshank warden: “Why do you have to be so obtuse?,” and getting a month in solitary for this awful insult.

Uhm, “obtuse” is hardly a compliment. :dubious: