A few weeks ago Susie Dent, in her Origin of Words slot on the Channel 4 show “Countdown”, featured the word “malaphor”. It’s a cross between a malapropism and a metaphor, or series of metaphors. Malapropism is a word that I have been aware of since the age of 12 and, unlike zeugma or synecdoche, has always come to mind when needed. I have known, for decades now, that it’s named after the character Mrs Malaprop from Sheridan’s play “The Rivals” (even though I have never seen it), but I needed this definition from the Oxford dictionaries website to confirm that the play was written in 1775. A malapropism is described in that definition as the “mistaken use of a word in place of a similar-sounding one, often with an amusing effect (e.g. ‘dance a flamingo’ instead of flamenco)”.
Malaphors do a similar thing, with metaphors instead of words, mixing them up to leave you with something quite different. “I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him” and “I wouldn’t touch him with a bargepole” could end up as “I wouldn’t trust him with a bargepole”. You could mix “Putting on a brave face” with “Putting your best foot forward” and end up with “Putting your best face forward”. Susie Dent ended her brief explanation with my personal favourite: “He’s a minefield of information”.
I am also rather taken by this American website, Malaphors.com, which cites plenty of recent examples, many of them from sport and politics. “It’s as dead as a cucumber”, “They sold me down the creek without a paddle”, “The White House is lying its teeth off” and “That’s the icing on the iceberg” all stand out. There’s even a book available from the site, “He smokes like a fish, and other malaphors”. I should probably buy it, study it and commit more examples to memory. I could become a minefield of information. Maybe I already am.