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  • Writer's pictureJon Richter

Malaphors: When Phrases Collide

As you may have noticed, the world’s gone completely bonkers... so I thought I might forego my usual dark and sinister content and try to cheer you all up! I'm therefore very pleased to present... my top ten malaphors!!

I’ve loved these things for years, without actually knowing that there was a name for them, or that there were huge swathes of the internet dedicated to their appreciation! But before I dive into some great examples of this exquisite art form, I should probably explain what they are.

A ‘malaphor’ is when someone, usually unintentionally, crunches together two (or more) separate phrases or idioms, usually making themselves sound really daft while everyone tries not to laugh at them. To quote a famous example: ‘I’ll burn that bridge when I come to it.’

This one is funny because you can imagine someone actually saying it, and the ten I’m about to showcase are all pulled from real life, either overheard by me (often in the office, or on football radio) or recounted to me by friends – don’t worry, I’m not going to name and shame the original culprits!

So, without further ado, let’s let the cat out of the bag amongst the pigeons! I’m saving my all-time favourite for last…

10). ‘When it comes to the push.’

A weird amalgamation of ‘when it comes to the crunch’ and ‘when push comes to shove’, I like this one because it makes me wonder what the speaker, an old work colleague, thought ‘the push’ was. She said it all the time, so she definitely had something in mind. Maybe she was going to push me out of the window for always correcting her on stuff like this!

9). ‘You were out like a log.’

Okay, I’ve immediately broken my own rules and pinched this one from the internet, but it’s so good I couldn’t bear to leave it out! I also find it really funny, and I can’t put my finger on why – maybe because the speaker’s error is so immediately obvious? Maybe because the word ‘log’ is strangely amusing in its own right? There’s a science to this that I can’t quite fathom…

8). ‘I’ve just had a bow across my desk.’

Another workplace belter combining ‘a shot across the bows’ and, er, the fact that they had a desk. This also seems a good example, not of a lifelong misunderstanding of a popular phrase, but of a one-off anomaly that my colleague probably hoped I didn’t notice. Sadly they were talking to the world’s most pedantic man.

7). ‘They won’t put all their eggs in one location.’

Yet another one from the office, this is unusual because they’ve taken a metaphor and attempted to make it more literal; the effect, sadly, is that it sounds as though they've arranged an important impromptu Board meeting about what the company is going to do with some eggs.

6). ‘The buck has got to start and stop with me.’

I know I said I wouldn’t name and shame any culprits, but… Phil Neville.

5). ‘He’ll keep his head firmly on his shoulders.’

Another one I overheard on TalkSport (which is an absolute malaphor goldmine), this is one of those that almost sounds correct when you first hear it. But, when you concentrate, you realise that whichever daft pundit said it has irreparably fused ‘having your head screwed on’ and ‘keeping your feet firmly on the ground’, the implication being that too much praise might cause a lesser footballer’s head to unscrew itself and float off into space.

4). ‘Let’s splash the boat out.’

This one, apparently uttered by my mate’s then missus (who allegedly then worsened the crime by trying to argue that it was correct), is good because it’s almost right. ‘Splash out’ and ‘push the boat out’ are so similar in terms of meaning and nautical theme that I can almost forgive this blunder. Almost.

3). ‘We’ve got bigger sh*t to fry.’

Overheard at the school where my friend (the same one!) works, this isn’t so much a merging of two phrases as the unnecessary, and hilarious, introduction of an unnecessary expletive. But what an image.

2). ‘If that happens, the world will fall out of the bottom of everyone’s arse.’

I think this senior director from my own workplace was trying to say that, if we didn’t follow his advice, ‘the bottom would fall out’ of our project. Or maybe that project would end up ‘on its arse’. Or perhaps even ‘the world would end’. But instead he somehow combined all three, to brilliant effect.

1). ‘All the ducks are aligning.’

It’s so close to being right. Indeed, in the work meeting where this unforgivable mangling occurred, I agreed with the sentiment that everything was in good order; our ducks were indeed in a row, and it seemed as though the stars were so closely-aligned that multiple eclipses were surely imminent. Sadly, however, none of that prepared me for this immortal utterance, which reduced me to immediate hysterics.

That’s all for now! I hope you enjoyed these and they brought a smile to your face. Listen out for any good ones when you’re next allowed out in public, and don’t hesitate to send them to me – I never get tired of these! Just remember not to overthink them; after all, it isn’t rocket surgery.

Until next time!


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May 17, 2020

These are my fave idiom mix ups and malaphors which make me chuckle:

- It's like pulling hens teeth - amalgamation of "its like pulling teeth" meaning it's very difficult and it's "like hens teeth" meaning something is incredibly rare!

- We'll burn that bridge when we come to it - I've heard it used in an office instead of "we'll cross that bridge when we come to it". A mix up with "we don't want to burn our bridges" meaning don't cut someone off or anger then or they won't want to work with us again. I imagine the scene in Arnhem in the movie A Bridge Too Far and the soldiers getting confused and setting the bridge on…

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