The top ten: Malapropisms

John Rentoul
Sunday 04 May 2014 00:00 BST
A damp squid (number 5)
A damp squid (number 5)

This one was Nick Thornsby's idea. As Mrs Malaprop says in Sheridan's play 'The Rivals', 'If I reprehend anything in this world it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs.'

1. 'She's as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile' Mrs Malaprop. Thanks to Adrian Hilton.

2. 'Going off on a tandem' A point missed by Mark Newlands.

3. 'I am a person who recognises the fallacy of humans' George W Bush to Oprah Winfrey. Nominated by Alex Massie.

4. 'The world is your lobster, my son' Arthur Daley. Suggested by Graham Brickley.

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'."

6. 'Cow-towing to the Americans' Daily Telegraph report of criticism of New Labour by Ian Davidson, Labour MP. Did this involve pulling cattle behind a boat?

7. 'He eludes confidence' William Bratton, Los Angeles police chief, of Barack Obama's second inaugural speech, 2009.

8. 'It's not rocket fuel' Henry McLeish, former Scottish First Minister, to John Swinney, SNP leader. From Euan McColm.

9. 'If I don't want to serve someone, that is my provocative' Landlord to Lloyd Bracey, who worked in a pub as a student.

10. 'Chocolate peripherals' Hugh Kellett's great aunt's dessert order.

Next week: Songs that most people think mean the opposite of what they mean.

Coming soon: Metatheses (transposition of sounds in words; for example, bird used to be brid). Send your suggestions, and ideas for future Top 10s, to

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