Have you ever had trouble recalling the beginning or end of a particular idiom and mixed it up with a completely unrelated saying? Has the cow come home to roost? I want to teach you how to mix these up on purpose and have some fun with the language you may use extremely often. I will explain what an idiom is, a few examples of some particularly well-known ones in English,  where the word “malaphor” comes from, and finally how to craft your own. But we’ll burn that bridge when we get to it!

Homer Simpson, a master of malaphors.

What is an idiom?

First things first: What’s an Idiom? According to the very fun dictionary.com, idioms are:

“an expression whose meaning is not predictable from the usual meanings of its constituent elements, as kick the bucket or hang one’s head, or from the general grammatical rules of a language, as the table round for the round table, and that is not a constituent of a larger expression of like characteristics”

Which is the fancy way of asserting that an idiom is a nonsensical saying whose meaning cannot be interpreted from the text alone. Idioms seem to be things you grow up with hearing, and then use yourself, often to the confusion of people who’ve never heard your particular idiom before. They’re also language and geographically based, with English speakers in Ireland having different idioms than English speakers from the United State’s Deep South. For example, in the South you could say “They’re walking through high cotton” for when someone is very successful, but in Ireland you would say “They’re richer than Midas.”

Scrooge McDuck is the Midas of the Duck Universe

Common American Idioms

Some of the more common Idioms in American English and their meanings include:

  • It isn’t rocket science – It isn’t complicated.
  • Don’t beat around the bush – Be clear and blunt with what you’re saying.
  • Speak of the devil and he shall appear – The coincidence when someone you’re talking about shows up where you are.
  • We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it – We’ll address that problem later.
  • Does a bear poop in the woods? – A sarcastic way of saying “Yes” to a question.
  • Does the Pope wear a funny hat? – The same as above, but with the Pope.
  • People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones – People who have many faults should refrain from pointing out another’s faults.
  • A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush – What you have now is worth more than the potential of what you could have later.

The list is pretty inexhaustible – we Americans really love speaking with idioms. Now that you’re solid on what those are, let’s turn our attention to the real star of this show: The Malaphor.

This IS rocket science!

What are malaphors?

A Malaphor, as defined by wiktionary, an error in which two similar figures of speech are merged, producing an often nonsensical result. The basic gist is – mash up two idioms into something silly and possibly absurd. You can use these on accident or on purpose, depending on what your purpose is. I mostly like to use them in a silly way to see if anyone notices the idiom is incorrect.

Here are some examples of malaphors built from the above idioms:

  • It isn’t rocket surgery!
  • A bear in a glass house is worth two in the woods.
  • Speak of the Pope and he shall appear.
  • People in glass bridges shouldn’t cross when they come to it.
  • We’ll burn that bridge when we get to it.
This bear is clearly upset at the lack of glass houses.

Add your own malaphor!

And on into even sillier pairings. Now that you have the idea of what exactly a malaphor is –  and how to create one – what combinations can you come up with? Do you have any favorite malaphors? Let us know in the comments or submit your own below! See The Big List of Malaphors.

Katherine Reynolds is the Business Solutions Coordinator for Bardwrite N.A. and the Social Media Coordinator for Docforce. She has a passion for helping people and organization and enjoys working closely with others. If she isn’t in the office or at home reading and playing with her dogs, she’s out in the boonies hiking.

Subscribe & Follow

Join Our Newsletter

The latest updates about the Docforce platform, technical communications, industry tools, and news.