Malapropism is an ability—some would say a disability— that I have inherited from my mother. We both tangle our words up. Hearing my mother utter a completely reversed word or even a sentence, can be quite amusing. But as if this was not complicated enough, she would never say what she considered was a bad word. Instead, she would use one that she thought was not as rude. For instance, a common word like ‘fart’ would be changed to ‘let off’ or ‘blow off’ and such as that. But sometimes this could lead to a misunderstanding, as this little story will show, it is one of the family stories that my sister Chrissy used to tell us.
When rationing started in the early days of the war, our rations were so meagre, that pets were simply abandoned—unless of course if it was a rabbit or chicken, they would most likely end up in the pot! Fortunately, we did not have any animals, which was just as well, imagine at the dinner table my mum asking who wants ‘Flopsies’ leg?
It was common to see a poor dog roaming the streets looking for a home. One of these poor creatures, a little Poodle, adopted our home, he just sat on our doorstep until my mum let him in, he had a little tag on his collar with the name ‘DICK’ on it. Now, to have something called ‘DICK’ roaming the house was just too much for her to bear. So, ‘Dick’ was renamed to a similar sounding ‘Eric’, it sounded just the same, so he answered to his new name without any trouble.
He was in a poor condition and continually scratching himself. We looked to see if he had fleas or something, but all that could be seen was a bare patch on his belly. Going to a vet was out of the question as it was a bus ride away, luckily our doctor was quite willing to give advice—but could never be able to treat an animal.
Mum and Chrissy put Eric in a shopping basket and covered him with an old jersey so that he would be hidden while they sat in the queue at the Doctors. Once someone was called into the surgery, the next person would move to the next seat, it was a bit like musical chairs—but without the music. Mum’s turn came and Doctor Ward smiled as he saw my her, he had been our doctor for ages and had delivered most of our family. My mother was also an unofficial midwife together with Mrs. Wade.
“Hello Ethel, what brings you here today”?
“Yes Doctor, I know you can’t treat it, but I wonder if you could look at my poodle, it has a nasty itch”?
Chrissy said “I saw him look at her intently, trying to work out what she was talking about, so I lifted the basket up and took the old jersey off Eric to show him. I can still see the look of relief on his face as he realised it was not of mum’s special words”.
I was lucky to hear a joke on a very funny TV programme, called ‘Old Jews telling Jokes’. An old lady told a joke just like Chrissies, but with a different ending. My sisters joke could easily have ended the same way, as follows.
The doctor looks at my mother and smiles again.
“Ah, your poodle, yes of course, Ethel”.
He takes a jar of ointment from his cabinet and says, “Rub this on the itchy area twice a day, and don’t ride a bike for a fortnight.”