I haven’t gotten onto the ropes yet

Remember the old detective series, Columbo, starring Peter Falk? Well, one of our devoted malaphor followers was watching a few episodes and came across this nice mashup. In Season 2, Episode 2, Columbo got a rescue dog, which he left in the car with the windows closed. When he came back to the car, a little girl berated him for not leaving the windows open a crack. Columbo said he was sorry because it was his first dog and “I haven’t gotten onto the ropes yet.” This is a congruent conflation of “I haven’t learned the ropes” and “I haven’t gotten the hang of it”, both meaning to learn how to do something correctly. “Cotton on (to something)” may also be in the mix as that idiom also means to begin to understand something. The words “hang” and “ropes” may have muddled Columbo’s head when he uttered this nice malaphor.

A tip of the hat to Barry Eigen for hearing this one and sending it in!


Not an argument that carries a lot of water

In the podcast, All In with Chris Hayes, journalist Josh Marshall is discussing the Dominion suit against Fox, and says that the Fox argument that only the guests were making false statements doesn’t “carry a lot of water”. This is a mashup of “carries a lot of weight” (wields importance or influence) and “holds water” (an argument that seems reasonable or in accordance with the facts). Both idioms involve arguments that are powerful and persuasive. The synonyms “carry” and “hold” undoubtedly led to the confusion. “Carry someone’s water” (to do someone’s menial or difficult tasks) is in itself an idiom, probably adding to the mix.

You can hear this malaphor at the 31:35 mark of the podcast:


A big thank you to Frank King for hearing this one and sending it in.

We could wash our hair of this guy

On Deadline: White House, Nicole Wallace’s guest, Jeremy Peters of The NY Times, was talking about how Fox News executives and reporters deluded themselves by believing that  Trump’s awful behavior on Jan. 6, 2021 meant that they were done with him.  He said that they thought “We could wash our hair of this guy.” This is a nice congruent conflation of “wash (one’s) hands of (someone or something)” and “gonna wash that man right outta my hair”, both meaning to renounce or distance oneself from someone. The latter is a song lyric from the musical “South Pacific”, and is popular enough in the lexicon to qualify as an idiom.

A big thanks to “my ol’ pal”, Beatrice Zablocki, for hearing this one and sending it in.


A daughter who is in medical school was telling her father that she has been trying to focus on small details on her tests, and said “one snidbit” often gives away the answer. This is a word blend malaphor of “snippet” and “tidbit”, both meaning a small piece or extract of something. Single word blend malaphors are unconscious blends of words to make an unintentional new word. The word sounds or looks correct at first blush, but then on closer examination is incorrect. Examples on my website include “Buckminster Palace” (Buckingham and Westminster, and/or possibly Buckminster Fuller) and “split-minute decision” (split second and last minute). “Wegners” is a recent one (Wegmans and Redner’s, both grocery stores), uttered by Dr. Oz in last year’s Pennsylvania Senate race.

I do note that Urban Dictionary has this word in it but in this case it is a bona fide malaphor as it was unintentionally uttered without knowledge of the Urban Dictionary entry. https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Snidbit

A big thanks to Julia Kooser for uttering this nice congruent conflation and John Kooser for sending it in!

We’ve got evidence out the nose

In the romance novel Almost Home by Claire Cain, the sheriff, after arresting a stalker, says “we’ve got evidence out the nose.” The sheriff was certainly wanting to say “up/out the wazoo” (in great quantities or to a great extent), but I think he mixed “pay through the nose” here as that idiom also refers to great quantities. “On the nose” (exactly, precisely) might also be in the mashup. It is certainly a bona fide malaphor. A big thanks to Yvonne Stam for spotting this one and sending it in. clairecainwriter.com

Sorry if I’m spoiling the beans

This excellent malaphor was spotted in the comments section of the YouTube channel “2 Bears, 1 Cave ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-qTJ0t4ALsM).
Attributed to “Bert”, one of the co-hosts: “Sorry if I’m spoiling the beans.”

It is a congruent conflation of “spilling the beans” and “spoiler alert”, both referring to revealing information that was meant to be kept private. I think I will use this one in conversations in the future as it is that good. I also understand that Spoil the Beans is a podcast that explains entire plots of classic movies to friends who somehow have never seen them. It is on Apple podcasts.

A big thanks to Mal for spotting this great malaphor.

She gave him the green flag

This timely (happy St. Patrick’s Day!) malaphor was discovered in a novel called The Call of Cassandra Rose, Kindle Ebook edition :

“Had I given him the green flag to play away from home?” Thought by main character worried about her husband having an affair.

While it may have just been said by someone who is color-blind (or a race car enthusiast), I think it is actually a great example of an incongruent conflation (mix of two idioms with opposite meanings). I believe this is a mashup of “the green light” (giving permission to proceed) and “a red flag” (a sign of a problem needing some attention). I have several examples of incongruent conflations, including this one: “not the sharpest cookie in the jar” (sharp cookie = someone smart + “not the sharpest knife in the drawer” = not intelligent. https://malaphors.com/2021/01/15/not-the-sharpest-cookie-in-the-jar/

A tip of the Irish flat cap to Margaret Grover for spotting this one and sending it in.

You are getting yourself onto a sticky slope

During a performance review, a manager told an employee that he was getting himself onto a “sticky slope” when describing an overly complicated process the employee was going to put into place for following up on some delegated tasks. This is a mashup of “sticky situation” (a particularly awkward or difficult situation) and “slippery slope” (a dangerous path or route to follow). Both idioms describe a difficult situation, making it nearly a congruent conflation. The contributor of this malaphor said, “the imagery of me trudging up a “sticky slope” towards accountability was enough for me to rethink the process.” A big thank you to William Riley for hearing this one and sending it in!

They really worked their hearts off

There was a story on the news about upgrade work being done at a local historical site.  The person being interviewed said “they really worked their hearts off”. This is a nice congruent conflation of “work (one’s) tail/butt off” and “work (one’s) heart out”, both meaning to work very hard at something. Hearts off to Dave Julian for hearing this one and sending it in! 

That bus has sailed

On the New Rules segment of Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO, Maher is talking about the need to return civility to political discourse, but then said “that bus has sailed.” This is a congruent conflation of “that ship has sailed” and “that train/bus has left the station”, both meaning the act has already been done. This is similar to an earlier post, “that train has sailed”, uttered by Austin Powers in the movie Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery, when he was speaking to a drunk Vanessa:

She was very groovy.
Your dad loved her very much.
If there was one other cat in this world that could have loved her and treated her as well as your dad then it was me.
But unfortunately for yours truly that train has sailed.
Vanessa? Hello?

A big thanks to Harold Jackson and Paula Garrety, both who heard this one and passed it on.