I recently proofread a novel in which one of the characters is prone to malapropisms (mistakenly using a word that sounds similar to the correct word, often with comic effect). I can't give you examples from the book because it hasn't been published yet, but Oxford Dictionaries gives the example ‘to dance a flamingo’ instead of ‘flamenco’. There were several instances where this character used the wrong words in common expressions. This led me to think about proverbs and idioms that people frequently get wrong.
The proof is in the pudding. This is one I often hear or read. The correct phrase is the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
You've got another thing coming. What thing? No, think about it, it’s ... if you think I’m going to do that, you’ve got another think coming!
He was talking nine to the dozen. Was he really? That’s pretty slow. I think you meant to say he was talking nineteen to the dozen.
There are other idioms that started out as one thing but then became another. Perhaps some started out as malapropisms, but they actually made more sense than the original versions in contemporary language and so they stuck, although the originals are also still in use.
Parthian shot – this refers to Parthian archers who, while retreating at speed, turned back to fire arrows on their enemy. The alternative, almost identical sounding, parting shot is more commonly used these days to describe a final, usually cutting remark made by a person on leaving a conversation before anyone else has a chance to respond.
To welsh/welch on – to fail to honour a deal or promise. The origin is unknown, but is believed to reflect past hostility between the Welsh and the English. Being Welsh, I obviously prefer the latter spelling! Being married to a Dutchman, I also prefer the latter explanation of the following.
Dutch courage – this describes the confidence gained by drinking an alcoholic beverage. One possible origin of this is that, when at war with the Netherlands, the English believed that the Dutch could only face going into battle with them when armed with this (false) confidence. Another possible origin is that Dutch gin was drunk by both English and Dutch soldiers before battle, whether to simply calm the nerves or induce bravery.
Over the years, I’ve come across many Dutch sayings. There are some that we can understand when translated literally, either immediately or after a little thought, such as ...
Van een vlieg een olifant maken = to make an elephant out of a fly. Yep, you guessed it, it’s the same as making a mountain out of a molehill.
Then there are others that don’t make any sense when translated into English and require some explanation.
De aap komt uit de mouw = the monkey comes out of the sleeve. This is based on an old magic trick and means that the truth of a situation or a person's character becomes known.
Dood of de gladiolen = death or the gladioli (referring to Roman times when victorious gladiators were showered with the blooms). This is similar to death or glory, and means all or nothing.
Een slag van de molen weg hebben = to have been hit by a windmill, meaning to act crazy.
Met de mond vol tanden staan = to stand with the mouth full of teeth, meaning to be speechless.
De baard nog in de keel hebben = to still have a beard in the throat, meaning a boy’s voice is breaking.
Finally, I’ll just leave you with this one to work out for yourself ...
Alsof er een engeltje over je tong piest = as if an angel is peeing on your tongue.
Feel free to post your guesses in the comments below!