The Manafort situation throws the whole incentive system on its head

Columbia Law School professor Berit Berger uttered this one on the MSNBC show “The 11th Hour with Brian Williams”. She was discussing the pardon system and the Manafort case.  This is a mashup of “turn (something) on its head” (to alter something in an unexpected way) and “throw it out the window” (forgotten, disregarded).  “Turning” and “throwing” seems to have caused the mixup here.  A big thanks to Frank King for hearing this one.



Is it “Defend On Your Own” night?

The contributor says her husband says this when she doesn’t feel like cooking for dinner.  The malaphor prompts a visual of the family opening the refrigerator and fighting for the best leftovers.  This is a mashup of “stand on one’s (own) two feet” (act independently) and “fend for (oneself)” (take care of oneself without the assistance of others).  I suppose the speaker was thinking of the word “fend” but uttered “defend” instead.  A tip of the hat to Lori Snider for sending this one in!

My hackles were ruffled

This was overheard at a nearby table at breakfast.  This is a brilliant congruent conflation of “ruffle (ones’) feathers” and “raise (one’s) hackles”, both meaning to make one irritated or angry.  “Ruffle” and “raise” both begin with the letter r, possibly contributing to the mix.  By the way, do you know what “hackles” are?  Hackles are the hairs on the back of an animal’s neck, which stick up when the animal feels fearful or angry (late 1800s).  So, the two expressions involve some type of body covering sticking up, a perfect explanation of the mashup.  A bravo to Sam Edelmann who heard this one all the way from India.

I’m worried stiff

Heard on the MSNBC show with Chris Hayes.  This is a conflation of “scared stiff” (utterly terrified) and “worried sick” (very concerned about a person or situation).  I have heard this one a lot.  “Sick” and “stiff” are similar sounding words, contributing to the mashup.  A big thanks to Frank King for hearing this one!

If you liked this one, check out my book on malaphors, “He Smokes Like a Fish and other Malaphors”.  It’s available on Amazon for a cheap $7.99.  Just click on the link –

He tends to pull things out of his head

Heard on MSNBC by Matt Miller, a former spokesperson for the Justice Department.  He was talking about Rudy Giuliani and his off the cuff (“shoots off the cuff?”) remarks in interviews.  This is a triple congruent conflation of “off the top of one’s head”, “pluck (something) out of thin air”, and “pull (something) out of a hat”, all meaning a random thought.  “Head” and “hat” get confused a lot and that’s what appears to have happened here.  As you know, the usual thing pulled out of a hat is a rabbit.  As “my ol’ pal” notes, tThe more usual metaphor nowadays is “pull things out of his ass” (making things up) which is probably closer to the meaning of what Matt Miller was trying to convey about Giuliani.  For obvious reasons he probably substituted “head” for “ass” at the last second.  Thus the birth of this malaphor.


Smart as a tack

This is an example of a perfectly formed malaphor.  It is a congruent conflation (the best kind of malaphor, imho) of “smart as a whip” and “sharp as a tack”, both describing someone as highly intelligent.  Smart and sharp are similar sounding words, and both idioms contain the “as a” words.  Also, if you sit on a tack, it does smart, doesn’t it?  The mashup is also heard in the Adam Sandler movie, “Big Daddy”.  Here’s the clip:

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

My mother could dance you under the table

This one was heard at a retirement party for an organist/choirmaster. In recounting her history, the organist talked about how her mother had a great sense of rhythm, which she inherited.  This is a mashup of “dance up a storm” (dance with intensity) and “drink you under the table” (to be able to drink more alcohol than someone else).  Drinking and dancing both start with the letter “d” and both actions are often both associated together, hence the mix up.

The phrase appears in the Urban Dictionary with a decidedly different definition.  A tip of the hat to Barry Eigen, who heard this one and submitted it to Malaphor Central.