Malaphors – a hard cookie to crack

One of the loveliest side-effects of a career in publishing is a social feed full of interesting literary and linguistic observations. (This is especially true when you’ve worked with so many lexicographers – they’re something of a separate breed. Never, ever get into an argument with a lexicographer about hyphenation of compound adjectives or the relative merits of -ize/-ise suffixes when they’ve had a pint, that’s all I’m saying.)

A new one on me today from my ex-OUP friend Rebecca, who noted a particularly juicy malaphor while she was watching Big Brother*: ‘comfort circle’. They meant comfort zone, or possible circle of friends, but ended with a blend between the two that just sounds a bit wrong but only a bit, so that you have to stop and think what’s wrong with it, since you understand it perfectly.

Intrigued, I googled ‘malaphor’, and a whole new world opened up. A malaphor, obviously, is a metaphor gone bad, a malapropism on steroids. Here are just a few from a glorious blog I discovered devoted entirely to malaphors:  

‘That game was a real nail-breaker.’ (Heart-breaker? Nail-biter?)

‘They’re walking on tenterhooks.’ (They’re on tenterhooks, or walking on eggshells, but not both at the same time. And heaven knows tenterhooks is another whole blog in itself.)

‘I wouldn’t trust him with a bargepole.’ (You wouldn’t trust him as far as you could throw him, probably, and you wouldn’t touch him with a bargepole. But that being the case, you probably wouldn’t trust him with a bargepole either. They can do a lot of damage, those things.)

And finally: ‘I’m doing this on a whim and a prayer.’ (On a whim, or maybe on a wing and a prayer. But there’s an example of one that’s almost better than the originals.)


 *I never said publishing folk were highbrow.