Archive for the ‘Blends’ Category

Malaphors, aka idiom blends

April 10, 2015

From Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky, a link to a Malaphors site, featuring

Unintentional blended idioms and phrases – It’s the cream of the cake!

The site (managed by someone who identifies himself only as Davemalaphor) keeps a running inventory of “malaphors” — the term came to the site’s compiler from Douglas Hofstadter (1989), who got it from a 1976 newspaper article; Hofstadter also cites Gerald Cohen’s work on “syntactic blends” (generally, not specifically those involving idioms).

[Recent items on the Malaphor site: He’s a black horse in all of this (dark horse + black sheep); The client is one of those hard-moving targets (hard to hit + moving target); I’m going to give him a taste of my mind! (a piece of my mind + a taste of his own medicine).]

In a separate development, inspired by postings on “idiom blends” in Language Log starting in 2004, I’ve been keeping an inventory of my own. Again there’s an earlier history, going back to a 1997 Memory and Cognition article on “syntactic and semantic components of experimentally elicited idiom blends”, whose ultimate antecedent is a 1961 Language article by Dwight Bolinger on “syntactic blends” (which, however, doesn’t take up the special case of idiom blends).


A syntactic blend

January 28, 2015

In gathering material for my posting on Zippy the Pinhead’s road trip to Kansas, I came across this sentence in the Wikipedia entry on Strataca, aka the Kansas Underground Salt Museum.:

There are 14 other salt mines in the United States, but none of which are accessible to tourists.

The intended meaning is clear, but the syntax is definitely off. The sentence looks like a blend of two different, though very similar, formulations of the idea:

(a) There are 14 other salt mines in the United States, none of which are accessible to tourists. [nonrestrictive relative clause]

(b) There are 14 other salt mines in the United States, but none of them are accessible to tourists. [conjoined independent clause with but]

Both are syntactically unproblematic (disregarding the disputed usage choice between none … are and none … is, which is identical for (a) and (b)). But it appears that the writer(s) began option (b), with the conjunction but, and then continued with the relative-clause syntax of option (a). A classic syntactic blend, it seems to me.


Short shot #14: wet toes

September 30, 2009

A query from David Fenton about examples like the following:

… I spotted a job on the local job board for a “temporary web siter”. Details were few, but the position (10-15 flexible hours) sounded like a good way to get my toes wet and build my résumé a little bit. (link)

This has an idiom get one’s toes wet, which was new to Fenton, though it struck him as conveying a lesser commitment than get one’s feet wet for ‘take initial steps in something’ (also ‘experience something for the first time’). You can google up plenty of other idiomatic examples (plus, of course, plenty of literal examples).

Fenton wondered how to classify the thing, though he was pretty sure it wasn’t an eggcorn. It could be an extension of the pattern in the familiar idiom; many idioms have variants (throw someone to the lions/wolves/…, for instance). Or it could be a blend of the familiar idiom get one’s feet wet with another watery idiom of similar meaning, namely dip one’s toe(s) in the water.


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