• malaphor •
Pronunciation: mæl-ê-fêr • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: Catachresis, a mixed metaphor.
Notes: I recently heard Tennessee state senator Stacey Canfield say on MSNBC, "You don't have to be a rocket surgeon to figure it out," conflating "rocket scientist" and "brain surgeon". Such conflations occur when the speaker goes to his or her lexicon for an expression, comes up with two simultaneously, and has no time to choose. Malaphor has a modest following of about 2000 on the Web, and it appears in at least two dictionaries, Wordnik and Wiktionary.
In Play: Other classic malaphors include: "We'll burn that bridge when we come to it," mixing "burn your bridges behind you" and "cross that bridge when we come to it". Some others to leave you with: "I could stand out here 'til the cows turn blue". "Go take a flying hike!" "It is as easy as falling off a piece of cake." Get the picture?
Word History: Today's Good Word was contrived in 1976 in a Washington Post op-ed piece by Lawrence Harrison and recently revived by David Hatfield in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It is a blend of malaprop and metaphor, both of which we have covered before. Malaprop is a commonization of Mrs. Malaprop, a character in Richard Sheridan's comedy The Rivals. Metaphor is a noun from the Greek verb metapherein "to carry beyond, to transfer". Metaphors were considered by the Greeks to carry us beyond the words contained in them. (Daniel Obertance didn't have to be a rocket surgeon to suggest today's up-and-coming Good Word.)