This mashup was found in an article in the January 21, New York Times magazine section, titled “They want to destroy us”. It is a conflation of “breathing down (one’s) neck” (monitor closely, usually in an overbearing way) and “get off my back” (stop harassing me). Invading one’s space is the common denominator in the two idioms and probably was the cause of the confusion. A big thanks to Barry Eigen who spotted this one, and commented that “it’s certainly hard to picture this happening unless the recipient of the breathing has no shirt on.” Agree.
Malaphors are not just idiom blends, but can be word blends as well (if you click on the category Word Blends you will find the ones I have posted). This word blend was uttered by Sarah Palin in her speech endorsing Donald Trump for President. She uses it in this context:
“And you quit footing the bill for these nations who are oil-rich, we’re paying for some of their squirmishes that have been going on for centuries. Where they’re fighting each other and yelling ‘Allahu akbar,’ calling jihad on each other’s heads forever and ever. Like I’ve said before, let them duke it out and let Allah sort it out.”
It is a mash up of “squirm” (to wriggle the body from side to side) and “skirmish” (a brief fight between small groups). While one might argue that this is actually a portmanteau, I would disagree. A portmanteau is an intentional combination of two (or more) words or morphemes, and their definitions, into one new word, such as smog (smoke and fog). A word blend malaphor is unintentional (I believe Ms. Palin did not mean to say “squirmish”) and it does not create a new word that means something (I don’t think). Kudos to John Costello for finding this one and passing it on!
This timely malaphor was recently uttered by Donald Trump. An article in the July 20, 2015 New York Times quotes The Donald:
“I have a pulse to the ground,” he added. “I think I know what’s wrong with the country, and I think I’ve been able to portray that in a way that people agree with.”
This is a conflation of “have my finger on the pulse” (to be familiar with the most recent developments) and “have my ear to the ground” (to watch and listen carefully to what is happening around you). Lots going on with this one. Fingers go into ears, etc. This one is similar to the March 23, 2015 entry, “keep your finger on the ball”. https://malaphors.com/?s=pulse A big thank you to Paula Garrety for seeing this one and passing it on!