Stir the water

Yeardley Smith, host of the true crime podcast “Small Town Dicks”, was referring to a crime victim’s unwillingness to confront her boyfriend and that “she didn’t want to stir the water.” This is a nice mashup of “stir the pot” (exacerbate a tense or otherwise difficult situation) and “muddy the water(s)” (introduce something, usually information, that makes a situation less clear). Pots usually contain water, and we often stir them, so the speaker may have had that image in her mind. By the way, Ms. Smith is also known as the voice of Lisa Simpson on the great tv show “The Simpsons”.

A big shout out to Vicki Ameel Kovacs for hearing this one.

He put the dots together

This was heard on the true crime podcast “The Murder Squad”. The host, Billy Jensen, was talking about how a detective was able to solve a cold case. The malaphor is a congruent conflation of “piece together” and “connect the dots”, both meaning to understand something by analyzing and putting together bits of information to reveal something hidden. This one will be added to my “dots collection”, malaphors that contain the word “dot”. Just type in the word “dot” in the search engine on the website to see some the others. A tip of the toque to Mike Kovacs for hearing this one and sending it in.

That rubs a nerve with some people

Tamron Hall was interviewing Paulina Porizkova on her show, and they were discussing the backlash created by Paulina modeling lingerie in her 50s. Tamron then said, “that rubs a nerve with some people”. Catch it at the 18 second mark:

This is a congruent conflation of “rub (someone) the wrong way” and “touches a (raw) nerve”, both meaning to irritate someone or evoke a strong emotion. On the other hand, perhaps Tamron was uttering a Freudian slip or euphemism when discussing one’s reaction to Paulina in lingerie.

A big thank you to Mike Kovacs for spotting this one and sending it in!

Leaving him out to dry

This malaphor was uttered by Mehdi Hasan, who was subbing for Chris Hayes on MSNBC’s show “All In with Chris Hayes”. Indicating what was going to be discussed that night, Hasan said this at the beginning of the April 1 show:

“Plus, the latest on the Matt Gaetz investigation and the Republicans leaving him out to dry.”

This is a congruent conflation of “hang (one) out to dry” and “leave (someone) high and dry”, both meaning to desert or leave one in a troubling situation. “Dry” is the shared word here, contributing to the mashup. Also “hang” and “leave” are juxtaposed, causing more confusion. Of course, maybe Hasan is actually indicating Gaetz is a wet mess and a little sunshine would do him good. A big thanks to Frank King for hearing this one and passing it on!

Leading the helm

Rep. Joe Neguse (D – CO) appeared on MSNBC’s “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell”, discussing the Boulder mass shooting. During the discussion on the possiblity of the U.S. instituting stricter gun control laws, Neguse said it is possible “now with President Joe Biden leading the helm”. This is a congruent conflation of “leading the charge” and “taking the helm”, both meaning to become the leader of something. A tip of the hat to Mike Kovacs who heard this CCC (classic congruent conflation) and sent it in!


This excellent word blend malaphor was spotted in a New York Times interview of Bernie Sanders. Here’s the context:

“But in this legislation, let us be clear we have gotten for a family of four — a working-class family struggling to put food on the table for their kids — a check of $5,600. Now people who have money may not think that’s a lot of money. But when you are struggling day and night to pay the bills, to worry about eviction, that is going to be a lifesend for millions and millions of people.”

This is a congruent conflation of “godsend” and “lifesaver”, both referring to a very helpful or valuable event, person, or thing. As I have noted in past posts, malaphors are usually unintentional idiom blends, but they can also be an unintentional blend of two or more words. I have many examples in my first book, “He Smokes Like a Fish and Other Malaphors”, available on Amazon.

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 include “Buckminster Palace” (Buckingham and Westminster, and/or possibly Buckminster Fuller) “split-minute decision” (split second and last minute), and the one submitted today, lifesend.

A big thank you to Ann Hodges Lynn for spotting this one and sending it in!

This is the first step in the water

Salt Lake City mayor Erin Mendenhall was describing the reopening of the public libraries and uttered this nice malaphor. It is a conflation of “the first step” (first in a series of actions), “the first step is always the hardest” (starting is the most difficult part of any task) and “dip a toe in the water” (to tentatively begin a new experience). Steps and toes go together and so does this nice mashup. A big thanks to Kathy Shand for hearing this one and sending it in!

They should not lose their eye on the ball

On Morning Joe, Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Dave Campbell was discussing vaccine development and warning vaccine developers that “they should not lose their eye on the ball”. This is a congruent conflation of “don’t lose sight (of something)” and “keep your eye on the ball”, both meaning to focus/concentrate on something. “Sight” and “eye” are related which may have contributed to this great mashup. Atip of the hat to Donna Calvert for hearing this one and sending it on!

I don’t want to step over anyone’s toes

This is a very nice mashup of “don’t step on (someone’s) toes” (don’t offend someone in interfering with their responsibilities) and “go over (someone’s) head” (to speak to one’s superior rather than talking directly). Both involve avoiding confrontation, making it a perfectly formed malaphor. A big thanks to Connie Dykema Fields for unintentionally uttering this one and sending it in!

Drinking under the influence

In an online seminar regarding the design of autonomous vehicles, one of the researchers was discussing the benefits of autonomous vehicle systems. He said one is that there will be no worries about folks operating motor vehicles while they were drinking under the influence. This is a mashup of “(driving) under the influence” (intoxicated) and “stay alive: don’t drink and drive” (slogan for anti drinking and driving). Seems to me one should remain sober even while “driving” an autonomous vehicle. A tip of the hat to Martin Pietrucha for hearing this one and passing it on!