Aprosdoketons & Malaphors

I came across quite an interesting word on Twitter the other day – aprosdoketon [ˌæp.ɹəsˈdɑ.kɪˌtɑn], which is defined as “a figure of speech in which an expected word in an idiom is replaced with an unexpected one – e.g. ‘Rome wasn’t built in a teacup'”.

According to Wiktionary, it can also refer to “any surprising use or interpretation of language”, and comes from the Ancient Greek ἀπροσδόκητος (aprosdókētos – unexpected).

Theres a collection of unintentional blended idioms and phrases on the Malaphors blog – it seems that malaphor is another name for this blending of metaphors, idioms and other sayings. It was apparently coined by Lawrence Harrison in the Washington Post in 1976 [source].

So remember not to count your chickens before they’ve crossed the road, and there’s no point in closing the stable door after leading a gift horse to water. Make sure to get all your ducks in one basket, and don’t let the pig out of the poke.

Look before you leap from the frying pan to the fire, or you might find yourself in deep custard without a paddle. It’s not rocket surgery! In fact it’s as easy as falling off a piece of cake.

The early bird in the hand catches two worms in the can, unless it’s barking up the wrong end of the stick.

I’m sure you can come up with many more examples of aprosdoketons / malaphors.

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