The Compulsive Copyeditor

July 24, 2009

Hybridioms [UPDATED]

Filed under: Uncategorized — amba12 @ 10:49 pm

An article came across my desk this week that had “changed the playing field” in its subtitle.  That itched at me, but it took a while to figure out what was wrong with it.  I Googled the phrase and found that it’s in use, but that doesn’t necessarily make it right — at least not yet.  (William Safire is famous for saying that “Norma Loquendi” is the ultimate authority on matters of language.)

No, the idiom is “leveled the playing field.”  So where did “changed the playing field” come from?  I thought about it for a while and figured out that “leveled the playing field” had mated with “changed the rules of the game.”

Other examples of such mash-ups?

Back to ground zero.”  A chilling unconscious merger of the innocuous “back to square one” with the point of impact of a nuclear weapon.  A real atomic-age mutant, this one.  Should we call it a Szilardian slip?  An Oopsenheimer?

Jerry-rigged.”  I’ve used this one myself, but then I read that it’s the illegitimate offspring of “jury-rigged” and “jerry-built.”

More examples as they occur to me — or you.

UPDATE: Althouse quotes Charles Grassley, saying “Judge Sotomayor’s very lukewarm answer that she gave me left me with the same pit in my stomach I had as a result of my vote for Souter.”  “A pit in my stomach” isn’t a mash-up with the words and meaning of another idiom, it’s a mash-up with the form of another idiom — a mistaken structural analogy, my wild guess is to “a lump in my throat.”

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