They cleaned up all their tracks

On the detective show “Will Trent”, episode 6, Will said about criminals he was having trouble finding: “They cleaned up all their tracks.” Certainly makes sense, but it is a mashup of “cover (one’s) tracks” (hide or destroy evidence of one’s past activities) and “clean up (one’s) mess” (make things neat again). A big thanks to Barry Eigen who heard this one and sent it in.



The host of the “Total Running Productions” YouTube channel said this mashup in a recent video about the new Men’s 3000m world record: “…these record-breaking performances come from the 1980s and also the 1990s, two decades that were slam-packed with steroid controversy.” It is a word blend congruent conflation of “slammed” and “jam-packed” both meaning crowded or full.

As many of you know who follow this blog, a malaphor is usually an unintentional blend of two or more idioms. But occasionally one utters a word blend malaphor, a blend of two words. Slam-packed is a good example.

Someone asked me if my word blend malaphors are actually portmanteaus. I don’t think so. The main difference is that a portmanteau is an intentional word blend while a malaphor is unintentional.  There are other differences:

A portmanteau is a combination of two (or more) words or morphemes, and their definitions, into one new word. A portmanteau word generally combines both sounds and meanings, as in smog, coined by blending smoke and fog. More generally, it may refer to any term or phrase that combines two or more meanings, for instance, the term “wurly” when describing hair that is both wavy and curly.

The word “portmanteau” was first used in this context by Lewis Carroll in the book Through the Looking-Glass (1871), in which Humpty Dumpty explains to Alice the coinage of the unusual words in Jabberwocky, where “slithy” means “lithe and slimy” and “mimsy” is “flimsy and miserable”. Humpty Dumpty explains the practice of combining words in various ways by telling Alice,

‘You see it’s like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word.’

My 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 are “Buckminster Palace” (Buckingham and Westminster, and/or possibly Buckminster Fuller) and “split-minute decision” (split second and last minute). There are many others. Slam-packed is a great addition.

Kudos to Peter H. for spotting this one and sending it in!

I climbed the ropes

This was heard on a podcast interviewing National Hockey League players. One player was recounting how he made his way into the NHL. He started at the bottom, and “climbed the ropes” until he made it in the NHL. This is a mashup of “climb (up) the ladder” (to become increasingly successful) and “learn the ropes” (to learn how to do a particular job or skill). Climbing the ropes was a requirement in most high school gym classes so the speaker may have been thinking of those days. By the way, “ropes” appear in many malaphors (just type in the word in the search engine on my website

A big thank you to Adam Jacob (aka Andy Jacobs) for hearing this one and sending it in!

It was a five-star home run

This was uttered by an excited football fan who enjoyed the Super Bowl very much this year. It is a conflation of “five-star” (the best there is, usually describing a hotel’s quality) and “hit a home run” (a very successful achievement). Both describe a “top of the notch” thing or event. A big thanks to Verbatim, who heard his/her? nephew blurt out this great malaphor.

Did you enjoy this mental mixup? If so, you might like my malaphor books, “He Smokes Like a Fish and other Malaphors” and “Things Are Not Rosy-Dory: Malaphors from Politicians and Pundits”. Available on Amazon real cheap!

He was left out in the dust

A law professor was discussing a case where a party to a lawsuit got nothing. The professor said “he was left out in the dust.” This is a mix of “leave (someone) in the dust” (to leave someone far behind) and “leave (someone) out in the cold” (ignore or do not include someone). Props to Tina Harrison Kooser for hearing this subtle malaphor!

I want them to say what is on their heart

This was heard on a local NBC station, showing an interview with Nick Sirianni, the Philadelphia Eagles football coach the night before the Super Bowl. Sirianni said that he wants his players to get up in front of the team tomorrow and say what is “on their heart”. This is a mashup of “on (one’s) mind” (in one’s thoughts) and “in (one’s) heart” (in the deepest part of one’s feelings or beliefs). I think “wear (one’s) heart on (one’s) sleeve” (to openly desplay emotions) is also in the mix given the context. A big thank you to Bruce Ryan for hearing this one and sending it in!

From Week 10 of the NFL Season featuring the Washington Commanders at the Philadelphia Eagles from Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, November 14, 2022. (All-Pro Reels / Joe Glorioso)

We’ve been through the road of hard knocks

From The Philadelphia Inquirer:
How the Eagles’ Lane Johnson draws on his mother’s strength: ‘We’ve been through the road of hard knocks’

This is a rare, triple malaphor, mashing up “through the wringer” (been through a series of difficult or unpleasant experiences), “rocky road” (difficult journey), and “school of hard knocks” (real and practical experiences of life, usually unpleasant). Almost a triple congruent conflation as all the idioms refer to unpleasant or difficult times. Certainly this describes the Johnson family. A big thank you to Linda Bernstein for spotting this timely one (Super Bowl this weekend) and sending it in!

That is the pink elephant in the room

I have posted this malaphor before when Alex Rodriguez said it ( but it’s too good not to share a second time. This time it was uttered by New York City Mayor Eric Adams in an interview with Don Lemon on CNN. The discussion was about what happened with Tyre Nichols:

Lemon: Much has been made about the officers, all of them being Black. You’ve said that diversifying police departments would allow us, and this is a quote, “Allow us to have the level of policing we all deserve.” These five officers, all Black, is there an entrenched police culture of aggression towards Black people?

Mayor Adams: Well, clearly we could not ignore the ethnicity of the officers that are involved. That is the pink elephant in the room. And people talked about that. And when we want to diversify departments, it’s not only African American. We have increased the number of members from the AAPI community, Spanish speaking officers, Muslim officers. The role was to ensure that you diversify departments, so the officers are coming from the communities that they represented and that grew up in those communities. Those officers, I believe, betrayed that when all of us attempted to diversify departments. But we’re going to stay focused. We’re going to keep moving forward. Diversity still is the key. We saw that in here in New York City and we are going to stay on that road, but there was a personal feeling of betrayal when I witnessed that video.

This is a mash up of “elephant in the room” (obvious problem no one wants to discuss) and “seeing pink elephants” (recovering from an alcoholic bout). See also entries “the white elephant in the room” (Sept 6, 2012), “the 800 pound gorilla in the room” (Nov 15, 2012), and “memory like a hawk” (Nov 17, 2012).  Elephant malaphors apparently come in all shapes and colors.

A big thanks to Verbatim for spotting this one and sending it in.

You guys are nipping it in the butt right now

Lots of malaphors on HGTV. This one was heard on the show “Rico to the Rescue”, Season 1, Episode 1 at 28:00. He was referring to stopping a problem quickly. This is a conflation of “nip it in the bud” (stop a problem) and “kick butt” (move something forward). One might say this is just a malaprop (butt for bud) or even an eggcorn, but I think in this context it is a bona fide malaphor. A big thank you to Yvonne Stam for hearing this one and sending it in.

Something that struck my attention

During an NBA game between the Washington Wizards and the San Antonio Spurs, commentator Drew Gooden said to the play by play announcer, “You just said something that struck my attention.” This is a mash up of “struck me” (a thought affected someone in a particular way) and “caught my attention” (something attracted one’s attention). This malaphor is a Gooden. A big thanks to Jane Ryan for hearing this one and Bruce Ryan for sending it in.

Nets at Wizards 3/15/14