Mispronunciation can be a comedic device. (Zach Galifianakis has regularly used the device in situational comedy.)

I was trying to discuss the device formally, but couldn't recall a formal term for this device, and could only relate it to malapropism.

But malapropism involves using a similar sounding but incorrect word, not mispronunciation, per se.

Is there a formal term for "mispronunciation as a comedic device"?

  • Does cacography cover what you're looking for? I guess in written literature mispronunciation often equates with misspelling. Or do you want a term for mispronunciation in oral performance?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Aug 22, 2019 at 20:22
  • 1
    Not sure why this has been downvoted. It seems like (subjectively) an interesting question and (objectively) useful in discussion of literature.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 10:23
  • @Randal'Thor Here the intent is practical--it's a device and it's useful to be able to discuss it with a formal term.
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 19:04

1 Answer 1


There are literary terms for certain types of mispronunciation, but, as far as I know, no literary term that covers all of them.

  • The spoonerism is probably the best-known example. For example, "The Lord is a shoving leopard" instead of "The Lord is a loving shepherd." From a linguistic point of view, a spoonerims is a type of metathesis.
  • An eggcorn "is an idiosyncratic substitution of a word or phrase for a word or words that sound similar or identical in the speaker's dialect". Examples: "ex-patriot" instead of "expatriate"; "on the spurt of the moment" instead of "on the spur of the moment". Strictly speaking, eggcorn is a linguistic term rather than a literarary term.
  • Of course, you can use homophones for comic purposes. A famous example of this occurs in the Four Candles sketch by The Two Ronnies. In this sketch, a customer in a hardware shop pronounces "fork handles" as "fork 'andles", so the shopkeeper misunderstands it as "four candles". When the customer asks "O's / ose (?)", the shopkeeper successively interprets this as "hoe(s)", "(garden) hose" and "(panty)hose", after which the customer finally explains he wants "letter O's". The omission of the letter 'h' (combined with a lack of clarification) increases the potential of misinterpretation because it leads to more homophones.

From a psychological or psycholinguistic point of view, the most relevant term may be paraphasia: "a type of language output error commonly associated with aphasia, and characterized by the production of unintended syllables, words, or phrases during the effort to speak" (Wikipedia). Obviously, this is outside of the realm of literature or comedy.

Outside of the pathological domain, there are several types of speech errors that are relevant, e.g. those classified as anticipation ("leading list" instead of "reading list"), blends, deletion, morpheme exchange errors and perseveration (e.g. "black bloxes" instead of "black boxes"). These, too, are outside of the realm of literature or comedy.

  • Thanks for this answer! Without your example, I wouldn't have considered homophony. Eggcorn is useful also, in that a major use of this device is rooted in dialect. Paraphrasia seems to catch most of it, excepting pronunciation of the correct word with the incorrect stresses, though I wonder if it could be extended to include this...
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 19:17

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