Dictionary of Malapropisms [Sopranos]

Nobody in The Sopranos seems to know any correct idioms, colloquialisms, adages, or allusions. They are a font of malapropisms. This inclusion in the writing is a nice ode to the street smarts versus book smarts element of the show. What follows is a dictionary of some of the best (not all) of The Sopranos malapropisms, misnomers, and messed up idioms and some entries explaining them.

Revenge is like serving cold cuts. 

Tony Soprano explaining to Dr. Melfi how anger is bad for business.

Tony adds an Italian flair to the well-known adage, ‘revenge is a dish best served cold. And when corrected by Melfi he is fairly certain that he had gotten it right because, quite frankly, a cold dish to Tony would probably be cold cuts. The dude isn’t nomming on a salad at lunch time. Also, this is a much more succinct and sonorous version of a very long and clunky saying.

She’s like an albacore around my neck

Johnny Soprano referencing his wife Olivia.

Johnny was obviously referring to the albatross from the Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in which the mariner kills an albatross, blaming it for the bad luck they have received, and when the bad luck continues, the crew blames the mariner. A wonderful allusion to classic literature if he hadn’t gotten it switched with the famous brand of tuna of which he is probably much more familiar. I am sure, in a different sense, his wife may have operated like tuna around his neck, but that seems like it would be a much different set of problems.

Why not? Create a little dysentery among the ranks

Christopher Moltisanti referencing the possibility of Vesuvio being bugged.

The correct phrase would have been ‘dissention among the ranks.’ However, Christopher may have accidentally been more appropriate in his misspeak, seeing as, in history, troops-in which ranks would refer- are some of most common contractors of dysentery and Tony’s response to Christopher, “…what the Fed’s want is a lot more interesting shit than…” would also make more sense in response to dysentery than dissention.

Alright, sure. Go ahead. I’m a little miffled but yeah, sit with it.

Tony Soprano referencing the possibility of Vesuvio being bugged.

Tony meant to use the word ‘miffed’ to indicate he was put-off by Paulie rejecting him. The cadence and rhythm of ‘a little miffled’ might be the culprit for the slip. And certain adds a more delicate and humorous feel to the world. One can imagine being a little miffled at all sorts of humorously annoying incidents in life, like when you wear the same tie as a colleague to an important engagement, or when your golf ball accidentally bounces of the flagstick and ends up in the bunker.

You know, Quasimodo predicted all of this

Bobby Baccilieri referencing the decline of the world.

This is a special moment because we get insight from Bobby as to how he made the mistake. After Tony corrects him, “Who did what…? Nostradumus. Quasimodo is the hunchback of Notre Dame. Nostradamus…Notre Dame…its two different things completely.” To which Bobby replies, “Its interesting though that they’d be so similar, isn’t it? And I always thought…okay…hunchback of Notre Dame. You also got your quarterback and your halfback of Notre Dame.” Makes sense to me even if Tony wasn’t buying it.

What with Vito passing, and all that entrails

Tony Soprano discussing Vito Jr.’s poor behavior.

Tony was uncomfortably accurate with this slip-up. By substituting ‘entrails’ (someone’s insides) for ‘entails’ (all that is involved) Tony is alluding to the most gruesome death on Sopranos of Vito Sr. at the hands of Phil Leotardo, the details of which I will leave to the reader’s own Googling.

Keep your eye on the tiger, man

Christopher Moltisanti in a pep talk to Tony B.

We have an adage smash of ‘keep your eye on the prize’ and ‘eye of the tiger.’ Both very optical oriented sayings that fit incredibly well together. They form a Megatron of pump up sayings about being focused on goals AND staying fierce in your pursuit of them. It also seems to foreshadow a lurking doom in Tony B and Chrissy’s life the moment they take their eye off the tiger…

I was prostate with grief

Tony Soprano explaining how he felt about Chrissy’s death to Dr. Melfi.

The correct word would be ‘prostrate.’  An often-confused switch of two similar words (that sneaky little ‘r’ makes all the difference). This mistake provides a comedic break from heavy emotions in the wake of Chrissy’s death, but also belies the falseness of Tony’s grief. He wasn’t really ‘prostrate’ with grief, so it might as well have been ‘prostate.’

You’d think I’m Hannibal Lecture or something

Tony Soprano reacting to Carmela’s joy at him seeing a therapist.

He for sure was searching for the name Hannibal Lecter, the fictional psychiatrist from Silence of the Lambs, but what is unclear is what Tony thinks that guy does. Because in the face of Carmela’s joy and love for Tony, he clearly doesn’t know that Lecter is most famous for eating people.

Yeah, well, that’s the flying ointment

Christopher Moltisanti trying to convince Tony to take a bad deal with Leotardo.

It is to be believed Chrissy meant to say, ‘that is the fly in the ointment.’ However, flying ointment is a thing as well. It is a hallucinogenic ointment used by European witches in the Early Modern period. So as Chrissy goes on his final drive, still drugged up from earlier shenanigans, he may have been aware of a rare Early Modern hallucinogenic. Also, when using this malapropism, it was in defense of an argument that may have been the only time Chrissy was right. In hindsight, if Tony had just taken the deal with Phil out of good will, maybe a lot of what comes after would have been avoided.

Water over the dam

Tony Soprano assuring Johnny Sack that issues had been resolved

There is a great colloquial debate over water over the dam and water under the bridge. People philosophize about whether ‘water over the dam’ is the converse of ‘water under the bridge’ in which case this malapropism may just be a warning from Tony to Johnny Sack that all is not forgotten, which is much truer to the way Tony does business.

You just keep your antidotes to local color

Tony Soprano to Feech La Manna to get him to stop telling ‘in my day…’ stories.

‘Anecdotes’ are short stories to make a point, something Feech La Manna annoyingly chooses for rhetorical purposes too many times for Tony’s tastes. Admittedly, the ‘nec’ sound of ‘anecdotes’ can be hard to say, especially for someone with such a heavy Jersey accent. He may have known the word but struggled to pronounce the word.

She’s been wanting to get her teeth wet with the entertaining

Christopher Moltisanti explaining Kelli’s good idea.

Another phrase smash for Chrissy, the two phrases being ‘cut her teeth’ and ‘get her feet wet.’ They both mean just about the same thing, but they create a different aesthetic. Combining them may be an efficient means of the best of both worlds.

I’m a strict Catholic. I agree with Senator Sanitorium, who says if we let this stuff go too far, pretty soon we’ll be fucking dogs. 

Tony Soprano describing to Dr. Melfi his feelings on homosexuality.

Never shy to share his political opinions of the day, Tony is referencing Rick ‘Santorum’ and his comparison of homosexuality to bestiality. A fitting representation of Tony’s political views. They are conservative, aware enough to know the conversation, but ignorant to the point where he doesn’t know the name of the person making the argument.

When he saw them, he took off like a bat on a hill

Christopher Moltisanti describing Vito’s disappearance. 

He meant to say, ‘like a bat out of hell,’ which is fast and uncontrolled. A bat on a hill is significantly less visual or helpful as a description. Chrissy just isn’t the brightest.

Very observant. The sacred and the propane

Little Carmine addressing a girl’s comments about his movie premier.

The sacred and the profane is a dichotomy proposed by French philosopher Emile Durkheim to explain religion. And that philosophy is nowhere to be found in Little Carmine’s movie, Cleaver, despite the juxtaposition of a cross and a scary figurine. On the other hand, it is much more likely there was an explosion with propane somewhere in the film.

We’re in a fucking stagmire. 

Little Carmine in reference to the warring New York Factions.

‘Stagmire’ is most likely a word smash of ‘stagnant’ and ‘quagmire,’ a nuanced approach to their situation which is both very troublesome and also stuck in the same state of existence. 

If there is one thing my dad taught me, it is this… A pint of blood costs more than a gallon of gold. 

Little Carmine addressing Tony and Leotardo during a sit-down.

I guess there are no rules against making up your own sayings… It feels though like his dad did not in fact teach him this. Maybe something like ‘blood is thicker than water.’ However, this isn’t even close. And who measures gold in gallons?

This alteration you had with him. You’re at the precipice, Tony, of an enormous crossroads

Little Carmine advising Tony after an incident at Coco’s.

He forgot the ‘c’ in altercation. And then he got a bit messed up with his landscape allusions. He’s a bit scattershot.

I have had nine pictures under my subspecies

Little Carmine explaining his film credentials to a room full of potential investors.

Auspices? Sub-genre? Maybe…?

He’s an old-fashioned guy pop, very allegorical. I don’t think it was his intention to insult anybody

Little Carmine telling his dad that he met with Tony.

…I don’t know… Fuckin’ Little Carmine, always trying to use big words…

My friends have abandoned me. I’ve been totally fuckin’ ostrafied. 

Christopher Moltasanti explaining to an AA friend the repercussions of his sobriety.

The correct word is ‘ostracized.’ But we can chalk this one up to Chrissy being completely wasted.

You know, Sun- Ta-zoo! The Chinese Prince Matchabelli! 

Paulie Walnuts crediting the originators of his philosophical thought.

Paulie is a bit out of his depth trying to reference Sung Tzu and Machiavelli. He is endearingly trying to become more worldly and study Art of War at Tony’s urging. Therefore, his attempt to drop some names and knowledge is well-intentioned but a bit premature.

He’s the hair apparent. 

Christopher Moltisanti referencing Jackie Jr. hanging out with connected guys.

When someone is an ‘heir’ apparent, they are next in line to inherit something. Jackie Jr. was not the next in line to inherit the business (as Tony tells Chrissy as a correction to this slip), so maybe he was actually the hair apparent, which would be someone who’s hair is undeniably present. Or maybe Chrissy read the word before he had ever heard the word, and thought it was pronounced with the ‘h.’ Probably the second.

A guy like that is going out with a woman. He could technically not have penissary contact with his Volvo

Tony Soprano explaining Ralphie’s sexual proclivities to Dr. Melfi.

Janice had confided to Tony earlier that her and Ralphie don’t have sex. So he is trying to explain that his ‘penis’ won’t touch her ‘vulva’. But something about this saying makes Ralphie seem an even greater sexual enigma as we picture him keep his groin off the seats as he rides in her car. A slip-up, but maybe an improvement. 

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