Today I’m stepping up the ante, and talking about one of my pet peeves – the mixed idiom.

You know those clichéd phrases you hear, mostly from politicians and journalists desperately trying to find a headline that’s packed with punch? Or sometimes they’re a short gap measure while you’re trying to think of something that’s right on the button. Most of them don’t make sense in the first place, but if you don’t pay attention and take your finger off the ball, it’s very easy to get them mixed up. I used to hear them every once and again, but since I’ve starting really paying attention they seem to stick out like a sore toe and they’re coming out the wazoo! So many of these phrases manage to slip through the grid while people are sitting on their laurels, and sneak into our language. You’d think anyone worth their weight in salt would be able to get it right, I mean it’s not rocket surgery, right?

It’s time to address the white elephant in the room. You might think I’m crying havoc, and acting like a wet baby but these garbled metaphors really get on the edge of my nerves and make my skin curl! Here’s a few examples that raise alarm flags:

First of all, the classic ‘malapropism’ where a word is swapped for another that sounds similar:

  • at the cold face (at the coal face)
  • escape goat (scapegoat)
  • damp squid (damp squib)
  • hairball idea (harebrained idea)
  • bled like a stuffed pig (bled like a stuck pig)


Then there’s the true ‘malaphor‘ – a blend of two phrases with often hilarious and baffling results:

  • opening the rabbit hole (opening a can of worms/down the rabbit hole)
  • cream on the cake (icing on the cake/cream of the crop
  • blind as a dodo (blind as a bat/dead as a dodo)
  • the last straw on the coffin (the final straw/the last nail in the coffin)
  • falling off the drawing board (falling off the wagon/back to the drawing board)
  • flood tide (flood gate/king tide)
  • as the compass flies (as the crow flies/??)

The word ‘malaphor’ is attributed to Lawrence Harrison, who wrote about the phenomenon in a Washington Post op-ed in 1976. For more examples – while writing this post I came across and, where you can find hundreds of mixed idioms at the flick of a button.

And now for the mixed idiom that really steals the biscuit and kicks the pants off all the others. It’s not dead set in stone and the verdict is still out (or is it the school is still out?), but in memory of the ever tongue-tied Tony Abbott I think my favourite has to be this gem:

This isn’t a political football that we’re trying to pass the blame game
(Political football/passing the football/passing the blame/blame game/football game???)

Really? That sentence looks like a bombshell! But hold your cool, keep calm and collective, let’s not jump to assumptions or add salt to the injury. I’m sure he knew what he meant – he is the suppository of all wisdom after all. Perhaps he’s just keeping it under his sleeve. Personally I think he nailed it out of the park and scaled new ground with that one.

Enough? This is only just getting off its legs, but it’s time to draw a line under the sand (credit to Joe Hockey for that one).

Idioms can be tricky without a question of doubt, so I prefer to keep them at arms bay. For those who are green behind the ears, or getting a bit old in the tooth, it might be best to handle them with cotton wool gloves and stick to the bog basic phrases. Beware – if you make a blinding oversight, the blood’s on your head. You don’t want to be a dropbeat! But if you think you can pull it off, from the back of my heart I say go for it…whatever floats your fancythe sky’s your oyster…

I know this post is quite different from my regular content, but I hope you enjoyed my little bit of fun 🙂 And BTW, most of these are real examples I have heard! Now you’re all going to start noticing them too – enjoy!