What Are Malaphors?

Definition and Examples


Malaphor is an informal term for a mixture of two aphorisms, idioms, or clichés (such as "We'll burn that bridge when we come to it"). Also called an idiom blend.

The term malaphor—a blend of malapropism and metaphor—was coined by Lawrence Harrison in the Washington Post article "Searching for Malaphors" (August 6, 1976).


  • Blends at the phrase level: "You hit the nail right on the nose."
    (A combination of "You hit the nail right on the head" and "That’s right on the nose.”)
    "She really stuck her neck out on a limb."
    ("Stuck her neck out" and "went out on a limb") . . .
    "I can’t make these split-minute decisions."
    (split-second; last-minute) (Douglas Hofstadter and David Moser, "To Err Is Human; To Study Error-Making Is Cognitive Science." Michigan Quarterly Review, 1989)

Metaphors and Malaphors

  • "Malaphors aren't quite malapropisms and aren't quite mixed metaphors but the best are as memorable as either. Whatever you want to call these, I hope you'll agree: each one is a pearl worth its weight in gold.
    - I can read him like the back of my book.
    - The sacred cows have come home to roost with a vengeance.
    - We could stand here and talk until the cows turn blue.
    - We will get there by hook or ladder. . . .
    - It's time to step up to the plate and lay your cards on the table.
    - He's burning the midnight oil from both ends.
    - It sticks out like a sore throat.
    - It's like looking for a needle in a hayride."
    (Gyles Brandreth, Word Play: A Cornucopia of Puns, Anagrams and Other Curiosities of the English Language. Coronet, 2015)

Examples From Richard Lederer

  • It's time to swallow the bullet.
    It's as easy as falling off a piece of cake.
    Let dead dogs sleep.
    That guy's out to butter his own nest.
    He's between a rock and the deep blue sea.
    (Richard Lederer, Anguished English: An Anthology of Accidental Assaults Upon the English Language, rev. ed. Wyrick, 2006)
  • Master: I'm sorry to hear, Pat, that your wife is dead.
    Patrick: Faith an' 'tis a sad day for us all, sir. The hand that rocked the cradle has kicked the bucket.
    (The Gateway: A Magazine Devoted to Literature, Economics and Social Service, October 1908)
  • "'True.' Carl grunted. 'If I believed in anything, I'd agree this country is going to hell in a handbag . . . but since I don't, I won't.'"
    (Sharon Baldacci, A Sundog Moment. Warner Faith, 2004)
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "What Are Malaphors?" ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/malaphor-word-play-1691298. Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). What Are Malaphors? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/malaphor-word-play-1691298 Nordquist, Richard. "What Are Malaphors?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/malaphor-word-play-1691298 (accessed May 30, 2023).