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.

Stronger unpacked felicity

This is the text of an email I received the other day. It appears to make no sense at all to me. Can you find anything in it that makes sense?

Had you him humoured jointure ask expenses learning
Cultivated who resolution connection motionless did occasional
Attachment companions man way excellence how her pianoforte
Garrets because elderly new manners however one village she

He ye body or made on pain part meet
Speaking ladyship yet scarcely and mistaken end exertion dwelling
Longer ladies valley get esteem use led six
Stronger unpacked felicity to of mistaken
Behind sooner dining so window excuse he summer

Goats and Cabbages

ménager la chèvre et le chou

If you’re not sure about something, or don’t want to commit yourself to something, you’re said to be sitting on the fence.

In French you’re said to be ménager la chèvre et le chou (“to look after the goat and the cabbage”). Another translation of this phrase, according to Wiktionary, is to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. Has anyone heard this expression?

Are there other ways to refer to fence-sitting?

A related word is: chèvrechoutisme (“goat-cabbage-ism”), which is apparently an expression used in Belgium to mean “A policy of attempting to please everybody or reconcile conflicting options.” [source]. A person who persues such a policy is known as a chèvrechoutiste (“goat-cabbage-ist”) [source].

The word ménager means to handle carefully, to treat considerately, to use sparingly, to take care of, to look after, to arrange, to put in or to make. The reflexive version of the verb, se ménager, means “not to push oneself too hard”. As an adjective ménager means household, domestic, housewife or canteen, and ménage means housework or (married) couple, as in ménage à trois [source]

I’ll be with you in a jiffy

If someone said that they would be with you in a jiffy, or that they’d be back in a jiffy, how long would you expect to wait for them?

Normally you wouldn’t expect to wait too long, as a jiffy refers to a short, unspecified length of time.

According to The Accidental Dictionary by Paul Anthony Jones (2016), the origins of the word jiffy are uncertain. It was first used in print in Erich Raspe’s Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen in 1785 meaning a short length of time.

In the Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue by Francis Grose (1796), the word jeffy was defined as meaning “a short space of time” or “an instant”.

In John S. Farmer’s Americanisms Old and New (1889), the word jeffy was defined as “A slang term amongst thieves for lightning. It is probable that ‘in a jiffy’, i.e. in a moment, may have originated in this connection, or vice versa.”

In the 1920s, Gilbert Newton Lewis, an American physicist gave jiffy the standard scientific definition of the time it takes light to travel one centimetre, or 33.3564 picoseconds / 33 trillionths of a second.

Medieval time keeping involved dividing the day into 24 hours – 12 from sunrise to sunset, and 12 from sunset to sunrise. The length of hours varied throughout the year, except at equinoxes, when they were the same length during the day and at night. Each hour was divided into four points, which were divided into ten moments, which were divided into 12 ounces, which were divided into 47 atoms. So a point was a quarter of an hour, a moment was one and a half points, and so on.

Only the word moment is still used, and now refers to a short length of time, a jiffy, a tick, a minute, a sec(ond), an instant, two shakes of a lambs tail, a flash, or the twinkling of an eye.

Can you think of other ways to refer to short lengths of time in English or other languages?

Tender fondness

A Swedish word I learnt this week is öm [œm], which sounds a bit like errm in English, or however you write it, and means gentle, tender, sore, sensitive or fond. I just like the sound of it, and it’s compactness.

Related words and expressions include:

  • öm punkt = a sore point or a raw nerve, as in Detta är en öm punkt för mig (That is a sore point for me).
  • ömhet = affection, gentleness, soreness or tenderness
  • ömhetsbetygelse = endearment, showing of endearment
  • ömka = to feel sorry for sb
  • ömkan = a pity party
  • ömkansvärd = pitiful
  • ömma = to ache
  • ömma för = to feel compassion for

Of course, öm should not be confused with om [ɔm], which means if, that, whether, about, for, on, by and a few other things. Accents are important.

Sources: bab.la and Wiktionary

Do you latibulate?

Do you ever feel like latibulating?

Perhaps you might do if you don’t feel very osculable.

These are words I learnt today from the Something Rhymes with Purple podcast.

Latibulate means “to hide oneself in a corner” and comes from the Latin latibulum (hiding place, refuge, den) [source].

Osculable means “capable of being kissed” or “kissable” and comes from the Latin ōsculāre (to kiss) [source].

Related words include to osculte (to kiss), osculation (the act of kissing), osculatrix (a lady who kisses), an oscularity (a kiss), and an osculary (anything that can and should be kissed).

So if you meet an osculary, maybe you could suggest to them that you latibulate in order to engage in some osculation. Perhaps not the most effective of chat-up lines, but it might work if you find another word nerd.

Dilemmas and Trilemmas

A dilemma is “a situation necessitating a choice between two equal, esp. equally undesirable, alternatives”, or “a problem that seems incapable of a solution” [source].

It comes, via Late Latin, from the Ancient Greek δίλημμα (dílēmma, – ambiguous proposition), from δι- (di-, having two of) and λῆμμα (lêmma, – premise, proposition) [source].

Today I spotted the word trilemma in an article in The Spectator. I hadn’t seen it before, but from the context it appears to be a variant of dilemma involving three choices.

According to Wiktionary, a trilemma is “A circumstance in which a choice must be made between three options that seem equally undesirable” or “put another way, in which a choice must be made among three desirable options, only two of which are possible at the same time.”

I thought trilemma was a recently-coined word, but according to Wikpedia, it was first used in writing back in 1672.