Happy as a side-bar

Regular students of John Rentoul’s “audience-participation and other eccentricities” columns will have seen his list, this Sunday, of

The top ten: Malapropisms

All the old favourites:

4. ‘The world is your lobster, my son’ Arthur Daley. Suggested by Graham Brickley. [Complete with headline photo from Minder.]

Obligatory Malcolmian aside (for once in chaste lilac):

There is a variant of that, which may be even older than George Cole, and the native habitat of which was (and, let me hope, still is) Northern Ireland:

“The world is your ox(s)ter.”

The OED puts this useful word in its place as Chiefly Eng. regional (north.), Sc.Irish English, and Manx English, and prefers the form without the intrusive “s”. I’m not sure I do.

You’ll find the term in that marvellous pub-conversation in Grace, from Joyce’s Dubliners:

“We didn’t learn that, Tom,” said Mr. Power, following Mr. M’Coy’s example, “when we went to the penny-a-week school.”

“There was many a good man went to the penny-a-week school with a sod of turf under his oxter,” said Mr. Kernan sententiously. “The old system was the best: plain honest education. None of your modern trumpery….”

“Quite right,” said Mr. Power.

“No superfluities,” said Mr. Fogarty.

So: ox(s)ter is your armpit. And a pint of plain is your only man.

Back to Rentoul


SandbagWho also has:

5. ‘I’m as happy as a sandbag’ A friend of Alistair Gray’s. “She has an unconscious gift. She also said something was ‘a bit of a damp squid’.”

That was Ken Lee’s 1975 revue of “all the fun of the 1940s”, stringing together the “popular hits” of the British War years. As far as I know, that is the main source of the “malapropism” (which, like most of the items in Rentoul’s list, was wholly and ironically contrived).

To the mixed feelings of this TCD-man, R.B. Sheridan (a Dubliner who was removed to London in childhood) gets credit for Mrs Malaprop. Mrs Malaprop’s verbal oddities, though, are a derivation from Dogberry, the character in Much Ado About Nothing:

  • Comparisons are odorous [Act III, scene v]
  • only get the learned writer to set down our excommunication and meet me at the gaol. [Same]
  • Is our whole disassembly appeared? [Act iv, scene ii]
  • O villain! thou wilt be condemned into everlasting redemption for this. [Same]

I’m surprised Rentoul missed the first of those.

Dogberry, of course, is also the template for all those Jobsworths who make dealing with officialdom a constant pleasure.

– — 0 O o — –

One malapropism that’s a bit too close to home for comfort involves the flustered youth, invited to dine by the arm-candy’s mother, and gushing: “Oh, thank you! I’m ravishing.”


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Filed under Dublin., Independent, John Rentoul, Oxford English Dictionary, reading, Theatre, Trinity College Dublin

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