He put a burr in her bonnet

This is a confused conflation of “have a burr under his saddle” (irritated by something) and “put a bee in her bonnet” (give someone an idea), contributed by Steve Grieme.  Perhaps the speaker was thinking of an irritating idea?  Or could it possibly be a confusion of burrs and bees?  I remember that song – “Let me tell you ’bout the burrs and the bees, and the flowers and the trees”….


It’s just a drop in the hat

This may be the mother of all malaphors, given the amount of hits on google where writers unintentionally use this blended idiom when they meant to say “drop in the bucket”.  This of course is a mash up of “a drop in the bucket” (an insignificant contribution to a larger problem) and “at the drop of a hat” (immediately), two distinctively different idioms.  The confusion lies in the use of the two articles the and a, the two prepositions in and of, and also the words bucket and hat, both containers.  Actually, buckets are sometimes used for hats, as in the case of the guitarist Buckethead. 

English: Buckethead in concert at Neumos in Se...

English: Buckethead in concert at Neumos in Seattle. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


He kept pushing my strings

Push or pull?  Buttons or strings?  Oh, the mind twists and turns in mysterious ways, particularly as one grows older.  I heard myself saying this one awhile back.  This is a confused conflation of “pushing his buttons” (knowing ways to make a person angry) and “pulling strings” (“to use influence to get something done”).    Of course, I am sure Pinocchio must have said this at some point to Geppetto.

Cover of "Geppetto"

Cover of Geppetto


He wears it on his shoulder

Heard near Brisbane, Australia.  This is a blend of wearing it on your sleeve (showing your emotions) and chip on your shoulder (grudge shown openly).  Malaphors are everywhere…


Don’t air your dirty laundry in the closet

Certainly words of wisdom.  This is a mash up of “don’t air your dirty laundry” (don’t reveal secrets publicly), “out of the closet” (a secret revealed to the public) and “skeletons in the closet” (deep secrets one does not want revealed), all referring to secrets.  And of course dirty laundry often is collected in hampers in the closet so laundry and closet are word associations.   On the other hand, maybe the speaker was being literal and recommending that dirty laundry in a closet will eventually make your closet smell….doubtful.


He said it off the top of his cuff

This is one from “the master”, and it shows.  Subtle and brilliant, it is a  mash up of two similar meaning idioms – “off the cuff” (speaking spontaneously without rehearsal) and “off the top of his head” (saying something without thinking about it first).   Combining these two idioms into one shows “the master’s” continued economical use of the English language.


Let’s do it and listen to how the shoe pinches

This one is a little far-fetched for my taste, but it needs to be posted nonetheless.   This is a mix up of “if the shoe fits” (an unflattering remark that is true so should be accepted) and probably “feel the pinch” (having less money), although the speaker may have just been thinking about ill-fitted shoes that pinch the toes and feet.   Any other suggestions on this one would be appreciated.


He’s feathering his own pockets

This is a mixture of “feathering your own nest” and “lining your pockets”, both sayings meaning making lots of money, sometimes illegally, at the expense of others or disregard for others.  This malaphor might be an improvement over both sayings.


Let’s draw hats

My workplace held an annual golf tournament.   One year we had some late entries creating some uneven teams.  It was uncertain how we would create the late foursomes.   “The Master” immediately blurted out, “let’s draw hats!”   Most of the folks in the room did not blink an eye and immediately understood what he suggested, but I quickly jotted down the malaphor masterpiece.   This mash-up involves the phrases “draw straws” and “pick names out of a hat” (both methods to pick teams).

Drawing Straws

Drawing Straws (Photo credit: lucianvenutian)


You can’t pull one over on my eyes

This malaphor seems very straightforward – a blend of “put one over on me” and “pull the wool over my eyes”.  Both idioms mean “to be fooled” and both contain the word “over”, hence the confusion.  The word “pullover” also might have been jumbled in the subconscious as in a “pullover sweater” which of course goes over the eyes.  In blending both idioms,  the speaker was undoubtedly trying to be particularly emphatic about not being tricked!