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Flag of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, a heraldic emblem which displays conflated or "con-joined" images.

Conflation is the merging of two or more sets of information, texts, ideas or opinions into one, often in error.[1] Conflation is defined as 'fusing blending', but is often used colloquially as 'being equal to' - treating two similar but disparate concepts as the same. Merriam Webster suggested this shift in usage happened relatively recently, entering their dictionary in 1973.[2]

In logic, it is the practice of treating two distinct concepts as one, which produces errors or misunderstandings as a fusion of distinct subjects tends to obscure analysis of relationships which are emphasized by contrasts.[3] However, if the distinctions between the two concepts may appear to be superficial, intentional conflation can be desirable for the sake of conciseness and recall.

Communication and reasoning[edit]

The result of conflating concepts may give rise to fallacies and ambiguity, including the fallacy of four terms in a categorical syllogism. For example, the word "bat" has at least two distinct meanings: a flying animal, and a piece of sporting equipment (such as a baseball bat or cricket bat). If these meanings are not distinguished, the result may be the following categorical syllogism, which may be seen as a joke (pun):

  1. All bats are animals.
  2. Some wooden objects are bats.
  3. Therefore, some wooden objects are animals.

Logical conflation[edit]

Using words with different meanings can help clarify, or can cause real confusion. English words with multiple (verb) meanings can be illustrated by instances in which a motion is merged with or a causation with manner,[4] e.g. the bride floated towards her future. In this example, the bride may be married on a boat, airplane, or hot-air balloon, etc.[5] She could be walking the aisle towards matrimony.[6] The verb "float" has multiple meanings, and both verb meanings in the example may be proper uses of a bride "floating" toward a future. The "manner" of the scene, described by further context, would explain the true meaning of the sentence.

In an alternate illustrative example, respect is used both in the sense of recognizing a right and having high regard for someone or something. We can respect someone's right to an opinion without holding this idea in high regard. But conflation of these two different concepts leads to the notion that all ideological ideas should be treated with respect, rather than just the right to hold these ideas. Conflation in logical terms is very similar to equivocation.[citation needed]

Deliberate idiom conflation is the amalgamation of two different expressions. In most cases, the combination results in a new expression that makes little sense literally, but clearly expresses an idea because it references well-known idioms.[citation needed]


All conflations fit into one of two major categories: "congruent" conflations and "incongruent" conflations.[citation needed]

Congruent conflations[edit]

Congruent conflations are the more ideal examples of the concept. These occur when the two root expressions reflect similar thoughts. For example, "look who's calling the kettle black" can be formed using the root expressions "look who's talking" and "the pot calling the kettle black". These root expressions really mean the same thing: they are both a friendly way to point out hypocritical behavior. Of course, "look who's calling the kettle black" does not directly imply anything, yet the implication is understood because the conflation clearly refers to two known idioms.

Incongruent conflations[edit]

Incongruent conflation occurs when the root expressions do not mean the same thing, but share a common word or theme. For example, "a bull in a candy store" can be formed from the root expressions "a bull in a China shop" and "a kid in a candy store". The latter expression paints a picture of someone ("a kid") who is extraordinarily happy and excited, whereas the former brings to mind the image of a person ("a bull") who is extremely clumsy, indelicate, not suited to a certain environment, prone to act recklessly, or easily provoked. The conflation expresses both of these ideas at the same time. Without context, the speaker's intention is not entirely clear.

Humorous conflations[edit]

Idiom conflation has been used as a source of humor in certain situations. For example, the Mexican character El Chapulín Colorado once said

"Mas vale pájaro en mano que Dios lo ayudará, no...Dios ayuda al que vuela como pá bueno, la idea es esa."


"A bird in the hand will get the, wait...The early bird is worth two in the well, that's the idea."[whose translation?]

by combining two popular expressions:

  • "Más vale pájaro en mano que cientos volando" ("A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.")[whose translation?]
  • "Al que madruga Dios lo ayuda" ("The early bird gets the worm.")[whose translation?]

This was typical of the character, and he did it with several other expressions over the course of his comedy routine.[citation needed]

In popular culture, identities are sometimes intentionally conflated. In the early 2000s, the popular American actors Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez were dating, and the tabloid press referred to them playfully as a third entity, Bennifer.[7]

Taxonomic conflation[edit]

In taxonomies, a conflative term is always a polyseme.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Haught, John F. (1995). Science and Religion: From Conflict to Conversation. Paulist Press. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-8091-3606-3.
  2. ^ "The Sometimes Subtle Difference Between 'Conflate' and 'Equate'". Retrieved 2022-07-23.
  3. ^ Haught, John F. (1995). Science and Religion: From Conflict to Conversation. Paulist Press. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-8091-3606-3.
  4. ^ Alexiadou, Artemis (2002-01-01). Theoretical Approaches to Universals. John Benjamins Publishing. pp. 211–2. ISBN 978-90-272-2770-6.
  5. ^ "Float". Verb, item 3. Retrieved 25 September 2015. to rest or move in a liquid, the air, etc.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  6. ^ "Float". Verb, item 4. Retrieved 25 September 2015. to move lightly and gracefully{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  7. ^ Sigman, Michael (September 10, 2010). "Inflation May Be Under Control, But Watch Out for Conflation". Huffington Post. Retrieved 25 April 2011.
  8. ^ Malone, Joseph L. (1988-01-01). The Science of Linguistics in the Art of Translation: Some Tools from Linguistics for the Analysis and Practice of Translation. SUNY Press. p. 112. ISBN 978-0-88706-653-5.


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