Malaphors ‘best’ of two terms

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - STYLE - Reach Ber­nadette at bkword­mon­

“Malaphor” is not a word, but the rebel spirit is in me to­day, so I’m writ­ing about it any­way.

Malaphor is an in­for­mal term for an un­in­ten­tional blend­ing of an apho­rism and a mal­a­prop­ism.

An apho­rism is a brief say­ing that teaches a les­son or truth or that ex­presses a view. A mal­a­prop­ism is the wrong us­age of a word or phrase.

Put them to­gether, and the re­sults are con­fus­ing and of­ten hu­mor­ous.

Once while vis­it­ing my par­ents, I couldn’t get my hus­band on the phone the first time I called. Mom said, “When the mouse is away, the cheese will play.”

I be­lieve she meant, “When the cat’s away, the mice will play.” But those two did have a com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship. Other malaphors:

That’s wa­ter un­der the dam. It should be ei­ther “wa­ter un­der the bridge” or “wa­ter over the dam.” No mat­ter where the wa­ter goes, the past is the past.

That’s no skin off my teeth. That is a combo of “no skin off my nose” and “by the skin of his teeth.”

Rob­bing Peter to pay the Piper comes from “Rob­bing Peter to pay Paul” and “Pay

the piper.”

Out of the woods and into the fire. A com­bi­na­tion of “not out of the woods yet” and “out of the fry­ing pan and into the fire.”

If you know me at all, you knew that Yogi Berra’s name

would come up soon. One of Yogi’s malaphors: When you come to a fork in the road, take it.


On good days, I learn some in­ter­est­ing ori­gins of words.

Coward. Some­one who isn’t brave or is timid. An of­ten-used phrase for a

coward is one who “walks away with his tail be­tween his legs.”

As it turns out, “coward” comes from the Latin word “cauda,” which means “tail.”

A coward may cower, but that word doesn’t have the same roots.

Pavil­ion is mis­spelled with an ex­tra “l” more times than you can imag­ine. It’s

one of those tent­like per­for­mance venues such as His­tory Pavil­ion in Lit­tle Rock’s River­front Park.

The word comes from the Latin “pa­pil­ion,” mean­ing but­ter­fly.


This week’s run-to-the­dic­tionary word is “epenthe­sis,” pro­nounced “uh-penthuh-sis,”

with the ac­cent on the sec­ond syl­la­ble. This is the prac­tice of adding an ex­tra sound or syl­la­ble to a word.

Here are some ex­am­ples: When “ath­lete” is pro­nounced “ath-a-lete.”

When “sher­bet” is pro­nounced “sher­bert.”

When “ham­ster” is pro­nounced


When “draw­ing” is pro­nounced “drawring.”

Sources:, Words on Words by John B. Brem­ner, Brigham Young Univer­sity,, con­fla­tions. com, dic­tio­

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/NIKKI DAWES


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