He needs to get his act in gear

This simple but great malaphor was uttered on the Kojo Nnamdi NPR radio program during a panel discussion.  The speaker could not be identified.  It is a mashup of “get his act together” (improve) and “get his ass in gear” (hurry up).  “Act” and “ass” sound alike so this almost is like an eggcorn.  What is an eggcorn, you might ask?  An eggcorn is an idiosyncratic substitution of a word or phrase for a word or words that sound similar or identical in the speaker’s dialect (sometimes called oronyms). The new phrase introduces a meaning that is different from the original but plausible in the same context, such as “old-timers’ disease” for “Alzheimer’s disease” (Wikipedia).

I have heard this malaphor often, and am surprised I have never posted this one.  A big thanks to David Barnes for hearing this one and sending it in.

We’re behind the ball

This one was uttered by James Hamblin on the CNN show Reliable Sources.  It’s a mashup of “behind the curve” (something or someone not quite able to keep up), and “behind the eight ball” (in a difficult situation or at a disadvantage).  Either way I think Mr. Hamblin is right!  “Behind” is found in both idioms, creating the mental hiccup.  “On the ball” (alert or aware) might also be in the mix, but I doubt that the speaker was thinking that way, given the context.  A big thanks to John Polk from @ClichesGoneWild for posting this one! @jameshamblin @ReliableSources


When the chips are falling apart

The submitter’s doctor has been sending daily emails with COVID-19 updates.  One update contained today’s malaphor.  Here’s the whole paragraph:

It’s happening. Antivirals, old drugs, and new drugs, monoclonal antibodies, filters, passive use of recovered patient serum. When the chips are falling apart, that is when we find the strength to rebuild. That is who we are.

This is a mashup of “when the chips are down” (a stuation has become difficult) and “let the chips fall where they may” (allow events to unfold naturally).  Both expressions have the word “chips” in them, probably the source of the conflation.  Also, “things are falling apart” (collapsing or breaking down) is probably in the mix, considering “falling apart” is part of the malaphor and it fits in context.  A shout out to Barry Eigen who spotted this one.  Barry also noted that in 2016 the chips in chip credit cards were falling apart. https://jennstrathman.com/chip-cards-already-falling-apart/.


All the stacks are in his favor

Helene Cooper, reporter for the New York Times, speaking about Joe Biden, uttered this nice one on Meet the Press.  It’s an incongruent conflation of “the odds are in (someone’s) favor” (someone is likely to win) and “the deck (or cards) is stacked against (someone)”  Ms. Cooper is a regular on this site, having uttered more than a few malaphors.  A big thanks to Robert J. Smith for hearing this one and passing it on.

Kind of a tough nut to tease out

This was overheard in a work conversation.  It is a mashup of “a tough nut to crack” (a problem that is challenging to solve) and “tease out (something)” (to unravel or separate out something).  The two idioms fused together indicate something that is hard to solve.  A big thanks to Amanda Zsuzsics for hearing this one and sending it in to my facebook page, Malaphors.

They are high on our radar

A national hockey writer was talking about the Pittsburgh Penguins’ chances of winning the Stanley Cup this year, and he mentioned that the Pens are always “high on our radar”.  This is a congruent conflation of “on the radar” and “high on the list” (something important or noteworthy).  “Under the radar” (undetected) is an idiom and may have contributed to the mashup (under vs. high).  A big thanks to John Kooser for hearing this one and sending it in.


The speaker was talking about someone ad libbing or talking off the cuff.  It is a word blend of “spitballing” (suggesting ideas, brainstorming), and “freewheeling” (uncontrolled).  “Freestyling” (improvising) may also be in the mix, given the context.  It is acknowledged that “freeballing” is indeed a word, meaning to not wear underwear, but in the context of the discussion, it is clear the speaker was mixing idioms.  A big thanks to Mike and Anthony Kovacs (and Sandor?) for spotting the malaphor immediately.