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!

It’s all peaches and roses

Retired Los Angeles Police Homicide Detective Greg Kading uttered this one on Season 1, Episode 1 of the Netflix series Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel. It’s a nice congruent conflation of “peaches and cream” and “a bed of roses”, both describing an easy, comfortable situation. This one is reminiscent of an earlier post, “four more years of fun and roses”. https://malaphors.com/2020/10/23/four-more-years-of-fun-and-roses/

A big thank you to Vicki and Mike Kovacs for sending this one in.

That ship has flown

The speaker was playing an online board game and made a comment about how it was too late for anyone else to win the game. She then uttered this nice malaphor. It is a mashup of “that ship has sailed” (some possiblity ot option is no longer available or likely) and “fly the coop” (to leave or escape (something)). This one is similar to the Austin Powers’ malaphor I posted a few years ago: “That train has sailed.” https://malaphors.com/2015/11/13/that-train-has-sailed/ Transportation mixups.

A tip of the hat to Andy Jacobs for hearing this one and passing it on! Thank you Andy!

Please reach back out

This malaphor was spotted in the closing sentences of an email message from a tech support person: “I want to make sure we take care of all of your concerns. Please reach back out if there’s anything else we can help with.”

This is a congruent conflation of “get back (to someone)” and “reach out (to someone)”, both meaning to make contact with someone, especially to offer help. Perhaps the tech support person served in the military, and was thinking of the term “reachback”, meaning to obtain services, products, or goods that are not forward deployed. A big thank you to David Barnes for spotting this one and sending it in.

They need to roll with the times

A conversation ensued about some people resisting a new initiative at Penn State. The speaker then blurted this one out. It is a mashup of “roll with the punches” (cope with adversity, especially by being flexible) and “get with the times” (to understand or be knowledgable of modern times). “Let the good times roll” may also have been in the speaker’s mind, as I know he is a fan of The Cars. Also perhaps he was thinking of “a roll of dimes”, something he may have done in childhood. Or maybe “Roll Tide!”? A big thanks to Martin Pietrucha who self-reported this malaphor.