WHAT IS A MALAPHOR?
A malaphor is a mixture of two idioms, creating a sort of malaprop in metaphor form. They are uttered by everyone unintentionally. The best ones are the most subtle, sounding correct at first blush and then leading to quizzical looks.
It is believed that the term was first coined by Lawrence Harrison, a government official in the Agency for International Development, in an op-ed piece for the Washington Post in 1976. I later defined the term in Urban Dictionary. See also the brilliant article by Hofstadter and Morris in the Michigan quarterly review: Vol. 28, No. 2.
PURPOSE OF THIS BLOG
I have been collecting malaphors for many years, and have posted some periodically on Facebook with friends. This blog is my way of sharing these goofy mixtures with everyone. I plan to post one daily – a “malaphor of the day”. That way you will get a smile or chuckle each day, or a bit of torture, if you find them stupid and have masochistic tendencies. I also would like to hear from you about my posted malaphors, and/or submit any that you have heard or read recently. I will then post them, giving you credit of course. Keep your ears open!
Yesterday I saw a woman on the subway here in Beriln wearing a button that read “beating a dead one horse town” …looked like it might be a band name but Google doesn’t turn anything up.
I like it! Will add to the list. Thanks Peter; keep ’em coming. Dave (how did you like the one, “no time to waste like the present”? You cant make these up..
here ya go, another one from the sports world. If you watch nick saban’s post-game interview after the SEC championship game, he was asked about his team’s performance, and he responded that his team showed a lot of “persevilience,” which is a congruent conflation of perseverance and resilience! Waddya think? Jimmy Weil
Yesterday I attended a presentation by a piano technician who described a particular problem as a “thorn in the foot” of piano tuners.
I think this is a malaphor derived from having the feeling of a knot in the pit of one’s stomach.
” I had a pit in my stomach most of the day yesterday after hearing about the situation with the elementary school children.”
Thanks for providing a place to share!
I have heard this one a few times in different contexts. I think it is derived from the feeling of having a knot in the pit of one’s stomach.
“I had a pit in my stomach most of the day yesterday after hearing about the situation with the elementary school children.”
Found at the diary of a very compassionate storm chaser:
Thanks for providing a place to share this fun!
Yes, I think this is a good one. Mixes “the pit of my stomach” with “knot in the pit of my stomach”. Subtle difference between pit of and pit in. Hence a common malaphor. Will post. Thanks!
I just heard a coworker utter the phrase, “you’re too smart for your own britches,” obviously a combination of the phrases “you’re too smart for your own good” and “too big for your britches”. I thought of you immediately.
Beauty! Will post ASAP
Just caught myself using one in an email this morning — “pounding the bushes” as a mixup of beating the bushes and pounding the pavement — you’d think the alliteration would help me keep them straight, although they seem to mean almost the same thing.
I don’t know if it’s one you’ve already heard, but ‘I’ll burn that bridge when I come to it’ is a malaphor that seems to perfectly sum up the way I deal with problems – ignore them until I can’t anymore, and then destroy any chance of fixing them!
Yes, I posted that one about a year ago. Go to search feature and type “burn” or “bridge”. This was also the title of a Jimmy Buffett song.
Hope you enjoy the website!
I like that one a lot!
Got another one for you, Dave. I just read this in an email as a reason for a colleague postponing a task: “The snow day threw a loop into things.” What’ll it be next time? Letting sleeping dogs eat the first draft?
I heard one the other from a long time friend, we were having a chat between two co-workers and she said “They go together like oil and ice” Based off the two idioms about fire and ice and oil and water. I think she meant that they don’t get along and they bicker a lot.
[…] the self-anointed Malaphor King points out, “a malaphor is a mixture of two idioms, creating a sort of malaprop in metaphor […]
Some of these malaphors are leaving me high and dry as a kite!
Thank you Dave,
so much fun reading your newsletter. Difficult to make one because english is not my mother tong but be sure that a malaphor a day keep the doctor away!
Seb (belgian citizen)
I heard an accidental one a few years back – “he really hit the nail with his head”
Not really a malaphor, Simon. More like a misuse of a preposition. Malaphors are blends of two or more idioms.
Hitting the nail on the head is so different than hitting the nail with his head, that is sounds more like a combo that was confused with beating his head against a wall.
An Afrikaans friend’s status update yesterday started with the phrase “Holy Hell and a handbasket!”
I love metaphors! They are styles i use mostly for my articles! Following this blog right away. Cheers 🙂
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Thanks Gerry! didn’t know of the endorsements. I will thank them.
There won’t be a dry seat in the house!
My mom sings in a church choir and when they’re discussing/ practicing a particularly emotional piece of music, they turn to each other and exclaim, “There won’t be a dry seat in the house!”
They probably know it’s not quite right but love the image of slippery pews in church.
I love the image! Unfortunately, I dont think it is a malaphor but rather the word seat substituted for eye, unless you can think of another idiom that is mixed with “dry eye in the house.”
I think this might be valid. If I am recalling correctly, there is the phrase: “not an empty seat in the house”, meaning the obvious that the theater is packed.
How about a “two way streak” ? ..Might depend on context (she’s said this multiple times) to know if this was a malaphor of ‘two way street’ and ‘winning streak’ or just a malaprop. i’m no grammarian–even wince at the thought of how people sometimes feel or react when being corrected–but, i’ve pointed this one out to the young woman who often says it, to no avail. Evidently she still likes her version.
Sounds like a malaprop to me. Streak for street (words sound similar – classic malaprop).
“My mother could dance you under the table.” I heard this last night at a retirement party for our organist/choirmaster. In recounting her history, she told us about how her mother had a great sense of rhythm, which she inherited. I believe this is a mashup of “dance up a storm” and “drink you under the table.” The phrase appears in the Urban Dictionary with a decidedly different definition. https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Danced%20Her%20Under%20The%20Table. Yikes.
Excellent one. Will post soon!
When I don’t feel like cooking my husband will say “Is it Defend On Your Own Night”, which to me is visually hilarious. I picture the family opening the refrigerator and fighting for the best leftovers. Of course this is a combination of “Stand On Your Own (Two) Feet”, and “Fend For Yourself”.
I was told once that I “knew how to beat a dead horse in the mouth.” I was tempted to add: “yeah, in mid-stream too.” But I didn’t.
Nice! Check out the many horse malaphors on the website and in my book. It’s pretty amazing how many horse idioms there are in the English language, and how they are often mashed up with other idioms.
Second banana fiddle
Cecily, could you let me know who said this and in what context? I assume it was said unintentionally, correct? Dave
If there was a context, it would certainly be unintentional. I just thought it was funny that two expressions that mean the same thing could become total nonsense when mashed up.
My favourite comes from a co-worker “a finger in the dark”
a most unfortunate mix of “a finger in the air” and “a stab in the dark”
Dave, I’m confused! Is it a busman’s holiday or Butlin’s holiday or do I have to be British to understand it? Thanks. P.S. Love your site and your book!
Thanks Carol! And the correct expression is Busman’s Holiday. Used in the US but infrequently. Dave https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/busman%27s%20holiday#h1
Check out “hold down the fort” in this brief rant from British comedian David Mitchell, in his “Dear America…” letter from the Queen.
Thanks for sharing! Very funny! Dave
I enjoy mixing proverbs…
“Too many cooks make the most sound”
“A stitch in time gathers no moss”
“Let sleeping dogs save nine”
“To spoil the ship and spoil the broth”
“Empty vessels for a ha’p’o’th of tar”
“Red sky at night has a silver lining”
I think some work as malaphors in the sense that they are misremembered mixed snippets. Whilst I only create them for fun, it’s possible to use them in such a way that they sound completely accidental. But I wonder if there’s an equivalent word to “malaphor” that better describes them?
Very nice, but an essential element of a malaphor is that is must be unintentionally spoken or written. As to the equivalent word to malaphor, the phenomenom is also called a “mixed idiom”. I prefer the word “malaphor”, as it mashes metaphor and malaprop, an apt description. Dave
“They need laser-sharp focus”. Heard the other day in the Argentina-New Zealand Women’s hockey game, the commentator. Found quite funny as a laser is not sharp
Yesterday I was trying to convey that I performed something considerably better than others and said “I smoked the water,” and it took a good hour before I realized it was a combination of “I smoked the competition” and “I blew it out of the water”
I also in the shower organically thought to myself “we’ll cross that line when we get there” and it’s worth noting I frequently intentionally say “we’ll burn that bridge when we get there”
I smoked the water is an excellent malaphor and I will post it soon. The others I have posted previously. Check out the website and use the search feature. Burn that bridge is pretty common, and was even lyrics to a Jimmy Buffett song. Dave
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How about, “We’ll burn that bridge when we come to it.”
Yes, that certainly is a malaphor, and actually it has been posted previously. See https://malaphors.com/2013/01/17/well-burn-that-bridge-when-we-come-to-it/ It’s also a Jimmy Buffet song. 🙂