What is a malaphor? It’s not rocket surgery!
Have you ever mixed up your idioms and come out with something slightly… odd? Maybe you meant to comment on the relative trustworthiness of an acquaintance, but instead of saying ‘I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him’ – i.e. not even a little – you crossed this with ‘I wouldn’t touch him with a bargepole’, and ended up telling the world at large that you ‘wouldn’t trust him with a bargepole’. An altogether different kettle of worms.
But while your newly coined expression may technically be incorrect, it still manages to get your point across; if you don’t trust him even a little, why would you trust him with bargepole?
This phenomenon of mixing idioms has a name and it’s called a malaphor.
The word malaphor is a blend of malapropism, meaning the mistaken use of a word in place of a similar-sounding one (and named for Sheridan’s infamous Mrs Malaprop), and metaphor, a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.
And it’s a word that is on our radar, which means while it does not currently boast a definition in any of our dictionaries, our industrious team of lexicographers are tracking the word’s usage in anticipation of the moment that it meets our entry page requirements.
Have a gander at some of our favourite malaphors below – can you work out which idioms and well-known phrases they’ve muddled up? – and share your favourites with us in the comment section.
Does the bear wear a silly hat?
Don’t judge a book before it’s hatched!
Every cloud has a silver spoon in its mouth
It’s not rocket surgery!
You can’t teach a leopard new spots
That train has left the frying pan
Until the cows come home to roost
Until the pigs freeze over!
It’ll be a walk in the cake…
We’ll burn that bridge when we come to it
You’ve opened your can of worms – now lie in it!