It feels like I got this 800 pound gorilla on my chest

A therapist was working with a person on stress management, and this is how the client described his stress. This is a mashup of “the 800 pound gorilla” (a person or group so powerful that it does not need to heed the rules or threats by others) and “get (something) off (one’s) chest” (to unburden oneself). While neither idiom relates to the subject matter (a double incongruent conflation?), it appears the speaker was conflating the two phrases. A big thanks to patrickwardphd for hearing this one and sending it in!

He was over his depth

From Barbara Tuchman’s 1972 Pulitzer Prize winning Stilwell and the American Experience in China: 1911-1945, Chapter 20, “We Ought to Get Out – Now”

Referring to Patrick J. Hurley, US Ambassador to China (1944-1945), 

“Starting with breezy overconfidence, he was soon, for all his native shrewdness, over his depth.”

This is a congruent conflation of “over his head” and “out of his depth”, both meaning to be in a field or situation that exceeds one’s knowledge or ability. “Over” and “out” are confused in this one. Props to Martin Pietrucha who is never over his depth when it comes to finding malaphors.

Shine an eye

Heard on Morning Joe. A Democrat voter in a focus group was talking about the double standard in coverage of the BLM protests and the January 6 insurrection:

“I feel like they always shine an eye on the things that are so negative when it comes to people of color”.

This is a congruent conflation of “shine a light on (something)” and “cast an eye on (something)”, both meaning to carefully review something and issue an opinion or analysis of it. The malaphor has some assonance here – “Shine” and “eye”, which may have led to the mashup. Also a black eye is a “shiner”, so this may have added confusion in the speaker’s mind. A big thanks to Vicki Ameel-Kovacs for hearing this one and sending it in.

He didn’t make the mustard

This nice alliterative mixed idiom was heard on a podcast. It is a congruent conflation of “did not cut the mustard” and “did not make the cut”, both meaning something that is not at an acceptable level or standard. “Cut” is in both phrases, contributing to the mashup no doubt.

Where does the phrase “cut the mustard” come from? Here are two possibilities:

  • WHEN MUSTARD was one of the main crops in East Anglia, it was cut by hand with scythes, in the same way as corn. The crop could grow up to six feet high and this was very arduous work, requiring extremely sharp tools. When blunt they “would not cut the mustard”. All this and everything else you could ever want to know about mustard can be found at the Mustard Museum in Norwich.Phil Pegum, Stretton, Cheshire (
  • THE MORRIS Dictionary of Word & Phrase Origins (Harper Collins – 1988), relates the phrase to an earlier expression – “the proper mustard”, meaning “the genuine article”. Around the turn of the century, “to cut the mustard” meant to be “of high quality”, as when O. Henry said of a pretty girl that “she cut the mustard all right”. It is probably mere salaciousness which had me hunting through various lexicographical tomes in search of a connection, however tenuous, with the list of words cited by Jonathon Green in Slang Through the Ages (NTC, 1997), a list which included mustard-and-cress, lawn, grass, lawn, stubble and, most enduringly, bush.Eoin C. Bairiad Dublin, Ireland (

A big thanks to Verbatim who heard this one and sent it in.

We need to hit the sock off the ball

This one was heard on a conference call from someone expressing the need for the group to do a really good job. This is a congruent conflation of “knock the socks off (someone or something)” and “knock the cover off the ball”, both meaning to thoroughly impress or excite someone. A sock is a cover, so this mental image might have confused the speaker. “Hit (something) out of the park” is also in the mix, as it means to do something extraordinarily well, which fits the context. A big thanks to Yvonne Stam, who knocked the sock out of the park with this entry.

I’m groping for words

This might be my new tag on my website. This beauty was heard on HGTV by a woman expressing her feelings when seeing for the first time her home renovations. This is a mashup of “at a loss for words” (not able to say anything) and “groping in the dark” (to seek in a blind, aimless manner). “Grasping at straws” (make a desperate attempt at a bad situation) might also have been in the speaker’s mind with “grasp” and grope” mixed up. Then again, this might not be a malaphor but just a messed up outburst. A big thanks to Mike Kovacs for hearing this one and sending it in.

We are off the walls!

A couple was very excited about good news they received and posted that they were “off the walls”. Given the context, I believe that this is a mashup of “bouncing off the walls” (nervous excitement) and “off the charts” (a lot better than expected). “Off the rails” (crazy, mentally unhinged) could also be in the mix as they may have been crazy with excitement? Kudos to Buzz McClain for spotting this one and sending it in.

Putting a flag in the sand

There was a discussion about a technical issue on a conference call. Two people had different views, and one was so determined about his position that he uttered this malaphor. It appears he was trying to say “put a stake in the ground” (making a firm decision or determination) but instead he mixed “line in the sand” (a figurative boundary where no further compromise can be made) and “plant a flag” (making a firm decision). A hat tip to Mike Kovacs for hearing this one.

Nothing is locked in stone

A hospital nurse was talking to a relative of the patient about the patient’s condition and outlook for improvement. This is a congruent conflation of “set/carved in stone” and “locked in”, both meaning firmly committed or decided. A big thanks to Anthony Kovacs for hearing this one and sending it in.

You hit the nail on the button

Two friends were talking. One correctly guesses the answer to some question they are contemplating. The other one says, “you hit the nail on the button.” This is a congruent conflation of “hit the nail on the head” and “on the button”, both meaning to be precisely correct or accurate. There are lots of malaphors emanating from “hitting the nail”. Check out my website and type in “nail” or “head”. You will come across some beauties such as “you put your finger on the nail” and “you hit the nail on the coffin”.

A big thanks to Verbatim for hearing this one and sending it in!