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That set my hairs on end

The speaker was referring to something that really irritated him. Given that context, I think the mash up here is “set my teeth on edge” (to upset someone very much), “set me off” (to make someone angry), and “made my hair stand on end” (cause someone to be very frightened).
Here is some more analysis of this conflation.  Marcia Johnston, who heard this one and passed it on to me, says the following:  “Set my teeth on edge” may be in the mix.  I suggest that connection for three reasons. (1) Hairs, plural, evokes a set of individual hairs just as teeth, plural, evokes a set of individual teeth. (2) Both end and edge are one-syllable words starting with an eh sound, so the part of our brain that stores language phrases as aural tidbits might cough up end in place of edge. (3) Both hairs and teeth are body parts related to the head.” (I love her use of the word “cough”; sounds like a mental hair ball)
She also suggest the phrase “set my hair on fire.”  While it’s uncommon, it is a phrase.  William Safire, who dedicates three paragraphs to the phrase hair on fire, closes with this wonderful analysis: ‘Whence this hot, hirsute conflagration? From its context in the above usages, the meaning can be taken to be ”in a state of extreme agitation,” one stage above ”wild-eyed” and just below ”freaked out, totally out of control.” The phrase is clearly figurative, not intended to be taken literally any more than ”flipped his lid.” The experience is associated with the adjective hair-raising but is far more emphatic. Its central semantic element is the dramatic visibility of the upset person’s demeanor.’
Since this meaning of “hair on fire” fits the context, it might also be in the mix.  If so, this might be the first malaphor in this blog involving four phrases:
made my hair stand on end +
set my teeth on edge +
set my hair on fire +
set me off
Are you still with me?  Hair on edge?  And it’s only Monday….A big thank you to Marcia Johnston for delivering this gem to me.
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4 Comments on “That set my hairs on end”

  1. robert tronvig says:

    Dave- My head hurts!!!! Bob >

  2. My new favorite phrase: “mental hair ball.” I want a picture of that.

  3. Bertie Thompson says:

    I think this one is just a colloquialism. A version of “get my hackles up”. (Like the longer hairs on a dog’s neck.)


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