Sheridan & Malaprop

January 17: Richard Brinsley Sheridan's The Rivals, his first play, premiered on this day in 1775, launching him to fame and one of his characters, Mrs. Malaprop, into tongue-twisted history. Sheridan's desire to skewer language must have been inspired by time spent as a "rhetorical usher" in his father's speech academy in Bath, England. Mrs. Malaprop certainly does to language what a spectacular dropout from a school of elocution might. She pictures on the banks of the Nile not an alligator but an "allegory"; she commands young Lydia Languish, who moons over an unsuitable beau, "to forget this fellow—to illiterate him, I say, quite from your memory"; and she will not tolerate the suggestion that her vanity makes her "deck her dull chat with hard words which she don't understand":

There, sir, an attack upon my language! what do you think of that?—an aspersion upon my parts of speech! was ever such a brute! Sure, if I reprehend any thing in this world, it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs!

While modern collectors of malapropisms and their cousins—spoonerisms, eggcorns, misheard lyrics, and confused quotations—harvest from all fields, politicians are prized, and recently fertile, ground. In his introduction to George W. Bushisms V: New Ways to Harm Our Country, Calvin Trillin offers the hypothesis that the former President's speech problems are caused by trying to squeeze his Ivy League background into too-tight cowboy boots. Until the theory is rigorously tested—perhaps, says Trillin, through "extensive interviews with a significant sampling of boot salesman in places like Lubbock and Wichita Falls ('Yes, sir, when he first came in here—wearing some of them Docksiders, they call 'em, with no socks—he was talkin' away just as pretty as you please'"—we are helpless before the data, such as the celebrated parallelism which gave the fifth collection its subtitle: "Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking of new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we."

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysely Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.

The Promise of Hope

Killed last year in the infamous terror attack at Nairobi's Westgate mall, Kofi Awoonor was a national treasure in his native Ghana.  His career began in 1964 with Rediscovery, and this magnum opus serves as a tribute to his entire long journey charting his beloved nation's course through his accomplished poetry.

Winter Mythologies and Abbots

A pair of linked stories finds that, as translator Ann Jefferson relates, "[Pierre] Michon's great theme is the precarious balance between belief and imposture, and the way the greatest aspirations can be complicated by physical desire or the equally urgent desire for what he calls glory."