Mind, remind me — a poem about malapropism in old age

Bottle of Golden Syrup with ecclesiastical stole draped over it.

Is this what our father meant by his sublime malapropism in old age, “God the Golden Syrup”?

In his eighties, our dad was inclined to use the wrong word, a word that half-rhymed with the word he intended. Farmer instead of Father. Golden Syrup instead of Holy Spirit. They would just pop out with (often) hilarious effect. Or he would create an approximation of an elusive word, also with hilarious effect. (Example: a hole in a sock was “a temporary absence of stitches”.) Now we are older, aphasia is a fact of life and we all scrabble around for the right word. Sometimes a sister leaps in to provide it, and away goes the conversation again.

He was blessed by the Holy Farmer,
God the Father, God the Son
and God the Golden Syrup,
How random and how rural
are our thoughts.
Mind, re-mind me:
are you still mine?

Words I can never remember:
laminate, locknit, perspex.
Words I can always remember:
mitochondria, muehlenbeckia
tivaevae, umeboshi.
Names I can always remember:
none, not one.

Meanwhile, I talk with momentum
or aim for the noun.
Eat blueberries.
And get me to the gym.

Rachel McAlpine

Please don’t imagine I’m being blasphemous in the first verse or in the photo of a golden syrup bottle swathed in an ecclesiastic stole. In our home, the religious and the domestic were similarly entwined. The first three lines are straight from the mouth of our beloved father, an Anglican clergyman—one of many fascinating malopropisms uttered in his old age. I hope I’m half as funny when my time comes. (You will tell me, won’t you?)


Muehlenbeckia astonii, my favourite New Zealand plant. And what a word!


15 thoughts on “Mind, remind me — a poem about malapropism in old age

  1. Gallivanta says:

    This is glorious. Love it. My father’s solution to the name game was to call as many people as possible, Fred, in private of course. I am starting to follow his example ie the Fred who works at the shop down the road, the Fred who delivers the mail. Frederica is for women, but that’s my invention. Dad’s was “what’s her name.”

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      An excellent strategy! The key seems to be treating the forgetful incidents lightly, no big deal: the opposite of catastrophizing. I must remember that 🙂

  2. I agree, glorious.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    I love thinking of the Holy Spirit as Golden Syrup. I see his point.

  4. Ann Coleman says:

    I don’t think it’s blasphemous at all, I think it’s interesting and creative!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      You are right. He had a big vocabulary ready to proffer assonance and paraphrases 🙂 I hope I have that capacity when I need it.

  5. hilarymb says:

    Hi Rachel – what a brilliant post – loved it … such fun to read – yet I had to find out about ‘Muehlenbeckia astonii’ – so made me ?learn about the New Zealand rare plant … just a delight and I too hope I age quietly with words and creative images. Cheers Hilary

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Thank you, I am so glad you appreciate my father, Hilary.

  6. chattykerry says:

    I will now only think of Golden Syrup when reciting ‘Our Father’. My Catholic uncle showed my Protestant husband how to cross himself correctly and remember it, ‘Spectacles, Testicles, Wallet and Watch’.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Oh yes, that was a handy little rhyme that even protestants used to know 🙂

      1. chattykerry says:

        Even Protestants…

      2. Rachel McAlpine says:

        Like me. That was in the Olden Days when …

  7. Dan Antion says:

    This is wonderful. What fun to read. I forget names just as I’m about to say them. “Test guy…”

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      It’s that quick, yes.