They gave us an opportunity to learn by fire

The (un)Civil Professor of Malaphors, Martin Pietrucha, strikes again with this beauty overheard at a conference.  It is a perfect mash up of “learn by example” (educated by watching someone or something) and “baptism by fire” (a first experience of something, usually difficult).  “Under fire” (criticized) might also be in the mix, although I think the shared word here is “by”.


This is a perfect example of the frying pan calling the kettle black

I am not making these up.  This one was from a commenter (UltraLiberal) in response to a New York Times Op-ed by Gail Collins entitled “The Luck of the Pontiff”  –  The commenter posted:


“Anti-Catholicism, with over one Billion Catholics in the world,I don’t think.  Catholics have to worry about extinction,This is a perfect example of the frying pan calling the kettle black.”

This is a mash up of “the pot calling the kettle black”  (criticizing someone for a fault that you have) and “from the frying pan into the fire” (going from a bad situation to a worse situation).  This is similar to previous malaphor postings  – “That’s the cat calling the kettle black” and “look who’s calling the kettle black.”  Obviously this proverb seems to be misunderstood, or at least not remembered correctly.  But then again maybe that’s just me calling the kettle black.  Many thanks to Barry Eigen for spotting this one in the New York Times on-line comments.  
Want to hear for yourself? Collins speaks on Thursday, February 17, at 5 p.m. at Ira Allen Chapel, University of Vermont, Burlington. Institutional sexism

Throwing red meat on the fire

This great mash up of “adding fuel to the fire” (making matters worse) and “throwing red meat” (appease or excite followers) was just heard on the local NPR station, WESA.   The speaker may have been thinking of old Boy Scout days of dangling meat on a campfire.   Certainly in most cases red meat needs to be cooked, so it makes sense that the two phrases were mixed up in the recesses of the brain.   The mind is like a big cookie jar, and sometimes when you pull a cookie out it breaks, and you are left with halves of two different cookies.  That is what we do with idioms and phrases, on occasion, and the result is a delectable malaphor.  A big thanks to Rob Blackburn for sending this one in!

Red meat

I have too many fires on the plate

This is a mash up of “too many irons in the fire” (many things happening at once) and “my plate is full” (working at capacity on many things).  It is similar to previous malaphors (“lot of irons in the pipeline” – 12/13/12 – “lot of balls in the fire” – 7/17/13), all referring to many things happening at the same time.  Perhaps that is what the mind does with expressions: juggling a million in the brain and two similar ones spit out.  A big thank you to David Spain for overhearing this one.

I have a lot of balls in the fire

Ouch!  This is a mix up of “irons in the fire” (a number of jobs or possibilities at the same time) and “balls in the air” (many things happening at once).   A big thanks to Martin Pietrucha for sending this one in.

I want to hold my powder

This malaphor was spoken by Congressman Paul Ryan (R – Wis) during his appearance on Morning Joe when asked for his “prebuttal” on Obama’s forthcoming budget.   It is a mash up of “hold one’s fire” (refrain from criticism) and “keep one’s powder dry” (ready to take action if necessary).   To “hold one’s tongue” also might be in the mix as it has a similar meaning and fits in the context.  Or maybe Rep. ryan is changing his mind on the current gun legislation proposals?   Many thanks to Mike Kovacs for spotting this one.

Official portrait of Congressman .

Official portrait of Congressman . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He got kind of thrown into the gauntlet

Taken by James Santelli, Neon Tommy. September...

Taken by James Santelli, Neon Tommy. September 24, 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is another great one from the sports world.  At the NFL combine, Matt Barkley of USC had this to say about former USC QB Marc Sanchez:

“He got kind of thrown into the gauntlet in New York.”

This is a mash-up of “thrown into the fire” and “run the gauntlet”. Thanks to Gerry for this beauty, approaching “the master” level.

We’ve got a lot of irons in the pipeline

This is a conflation of “in the pipeline” (plan being developed) and “irons in the fire” ( a number of jobs or possibilities available at the same time).  I saw this in a memo years ago.  As with most great unintentional malaphors, if you heard this at a meeting it might give you slight pause but it fits in the context so you probably would not remember it minutes later.