i’ll burn that bridge when i come to it

Exit 153. Good advice from a bad application.

I recently came across a meme, a screen shot of a conversation about malaphors.  A malaphor is the mixing of two or more familiar expressions.  The origin of the word seems to be a mixing of the suffix mal-, from Latin for “bad,” with the word metaphor, ultimately derived from the Greek for “apply,” as in applying a word to something else that it does not mean literally.  So a malaphor is literally a “bad application.”

A commonly cited example of a malaphor is “I’ll burn that bridge when I come to it.”  The actual saying is “I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it,” meaning not to worry about things that might not even happen.  The burning part comes from the saying “burning bridges,” which means walking away from something and leaving no possibility of turning back, just as literally burning a bridge would leave one permanently on one side of the water with no possibility of crossing back to the other side.

Shortly after I saw this meme, I overheard someone talking about having had a really rough day.  The incident that set her over the edge was not necessarily something all that serious in and of itself, but given a buildup of little things that had previously happened, that incident led to a huge argument.  She referred to it as “the needle that broke the haystack.”  I was amused with that description, because that is another malaphor.  The actual phrase she intended to use is “the straw that broke the camel’s back” (or the shorter variation “the last straw”), meaning a minor event that causes a major reaction because of the buildup of other minor events.  A camel can easily carry a straw on its back, but when already laden with hundreds of pounds of straw, or other burdens, one straw may be enough to break the camel.  She got this phrase confused with “finding a needle in a haystack,” referring to an extremely difficult and arduous task.

This morning, I was thinking about recent changes in my life and social circles, and wondering whether it is time to cut off certain potentially toxic individuals entirely.  I hate to cut people out of my life.  If I was once close with someone, or if I once saw something good in someone I didn’t know well, I often wish that things could be the way they once were and we could be close again.  And if I do happen to run across any of these people again, I don’t like the awkward situation of possibly having to explain why I cut them out of my life.  But on the other hand, I need to take care of myself, and it seems dangerous to give people opportunities to do or say hurtful things, especially in cases when I’ve been hurt before.

And then it hit me.  A thought crossed my mind from one of these malaphors.  Good advice from a bad application.

I’ll burn those bridges when I come to them.

As I said before, there have been some changes lately, the kind of changes in which I am naturally growing apart from the people who are making me feel conflicted about this.  So it might not really be an issue at all.  I might see these people so infrequently going forward that I won’t have to worry about any toxic interactions.  A lot of this is all in my head.  So maybe the best decision is to just wait and see.  To let former friendships die a natural death.  And if any of these people do cross paths with me again, if things end up being hurtful, then maybe I’ll say something face to face and/or block them from all social media.

I’ll burn those bridges when I come to them.