Notes from a Linguistic Mystic

I’d like to propose a new word in today’s post, one that I think would greatly benefit the language-loving populace: Hybridiom

This word was born only yesterday as I noticed this post on a support forum that I read frequently:

… Piffle! Forgive me my cynicism but this lack of support thing is really getting on my goat!

When I read this, I burst out laughing. This poster has merged two English idioms, combining “to get my goat” and “to get on my nerves”, into “getting on my goat”. So, instead of either of two parent idioms, we get a cross between the two, a “hybridiom”, if you will.

Now, in this case, it is a somewhat understandable error, as both of the original idioms have a similar meaning (to annoy somebody) and they both begin with the verb “get”. Interestingly, though, the meaning is completely lost when the two are merged. “To get on my goat” would literally refer to the act of climbing up onto my goat. If we were to merge them in the opposite fashion, it still wouldn’t make sense. “To get my nerves” wouldn’t really mean anything in that context (unless it’s physically removing the poster’s nerve cells).

These hybridioms aren’t unheard of elsewhere in the world, and they don’t necessarily need to be idioms at all. In the movie Boondock Saints, there’s a running joke at one point after a bartender (suffering from Tourette’s Syndrome) mixes up two proverbs. Here’s a transcript:

Bartender: So you guys keep your traps shut. ya know what they say; People in glass houses sink ships.
Rocco: Y’know Doc, I gotta get you a, a, like a proverb book or something. This mix and match shit’s gotta go.
Connor: (Imitating the Bartender) A p-penny saved is worth two in the bush.
Murphy: Don’t c-cross the road if ya can’t get out of the kitchen.
(…)
Bartender: Why don’t you make like a tree and get the fuck outta here!

Here, the Hybridioms are flying fast and furious. We have mixing of a number of different expressions, and (with the possible exception of the last one), the meaning is destroyed in the final form, unless you know the two expressions being mixed.

What’s interesting in this example is that the parent proverbs were related only peripherally. Take the first example. “Loose lips sink ships” refers to a wartime saying explaining that careless talk can easily be costly to the troops. “People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” isn’t so much of an idiom as a proverb, basically stating that if you’re vulnerable, don’t start trouble. When merged, the result carries no meaning in and of itself.

So, have you heard any good hybridioms or hybrid proverbs? Do you enjoy merging idioms, proverbs or expressions in your free time? If so, let me know, and I’ll post some of them up.

Hopefully I won’t get swamped in submissions though. You know, be careful what you wish for, you just might count your chickens before they hatch.


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