Q&A: What is a “malaphor”?

By | August 5, 2020

A malaphor is an idiom blend: an error in which two similar figures of speech are merged, producing an often nonsensical result.

Malaphor comes from the blending of the words malapropism and‎ metaphor. It was coined by Lawrence Harrison in an August 6, 1976 Washington Post opinion piece titled “Searching for Malaphors”.

Malaphors are also known as Dundrearyisms, named after Lord Dundreary, a foolish aristocrat in Tom Taylor’s play Our American Cousin (1858), who utters remarks of this kind.

Examples

“We’ll burn that bridge when we get to it.”
(From “we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it” and “don’t burn your bridges”.)

“Too many chefs in too many pies.”
(From “too many chefs spoil the broth” and “one finger in too many pies”.)

“It’s like stabbing a hole in the dark.”
(From “a stab in the dark” and “hole in the dark”.)

“Does the pope shit in the woods?”
(From “does a bear shit in the woods?” and “is the pope Catholic?”.)

“Stop pissing on my thunder.”
(From “stop stealing my thunder” and “stop pissing on my chips”.)

“You can’t teach sleeping dogs new tricks.”
(From “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” and “Let sleeping dogs lie”.)

References

Harrison, Lawrence. “Searching for Malaphors”. Washington Post. August 6, 1976.

malaphor”. Wiktionary. June 3, 2020, 22:57 UTC. Accessed August 5, 2020.

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