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

Conflation occurs when the identities of two or more individuals, concepts, or places, sharing some characteristics of one another, become confused until there seems to be only a single identity — the differences appear to become lost.[1] In logic, the practice of treating two distinct concepts as if they were one does often produce error or misunderstanding, as a fusion of distinct subjects tends to obscure analysis of relationships which are emphasized by contrasts.[2] However, if the distinctions between two concepts appears to be superficial, intentional conflation may be desirable for the sake of conciseness.


Communication and reasoning

The result of conflating concepts may give rise to fallacies of ambiguity, including the fallacy of four terms in a categorical syllogism. For example, the word "bat" has at least two meanings: a flying animal, and a piece of sporting equipment (such as a baseball bat or a cricket bat). If these two 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.

Conventional conflations

Selecting an illustrative example from the panorama of current events, the international press features recurring news stories about the G8, which refers to a "group of eight" composed of nine members.[3] The initial "Group of Six" has been conflated with the subsequent "Group of Seven" and today's "Group of Eight."[4]

The 34th G8 Summit at Toyako, Japan (2008).

While it may be obvious that the G7 and the G6 were explicitly distinguishable in 1976, and the G8 and the G7 were readily differentiated in 1998 … something unforeseen happened in the intervening years. Without being too specific about how and when these conventional terms came to have commonly accepted meanings, the fact-of-the-matter is that the most recent summit of G8 leaders which was held in Hokkaido, Japan is identified as the "34th G8 summit." Furthermore, plans for an upcoming "35th G8 summit" in Italy and for a "36th G8 summit" in Canada are widely reported in the international press and elsewhere. These ordinal numbers implicate a process of counting backwards through the years and this also requires conflating the G6 and the G7 and the G8 — deliberately ignoring that each of the terms refers to distinctly different amalgamations.[5]

G8 members, since 1997

G7 members, since 1977

G6 members, 1975

European Communities (EC) were reformed into the European Union (EU) as the Maastricht Treaty came into effect in November 1993.

Logical conflation

Conflating words with different meanings can help to clarify or it can cause real confusion. The elasticity of verb meaning in English can be illustrated by instances in which a conflation of motion is merged with manner or a conflation of causation with manner,[6] e.g. The bride floated towards her future.

In an alternate illustrative example, respect is used both in the sense of "recognise a right" and "have high regard for". We can recognise someone's right to the opinion that the United Nations is secretly controlled by alien lizards on the moon, without holding this idea in high regard. But conflation of these two different concepts leads to the notion that all ideological ideas, for example, should be treated with respect, rather than just the right to hold these ideas. Conflation in logical terms is very similar to, if not identical to, equivocation.

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. All conflations fit into one of two major categories: "congruent" conflations and "incongruent" conflations.

Congruent conflations

Congruent conflations are the more ideal, and more sought-after, 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.

An illustrative conflation brings together two Roman Catholic saints named Lazarus. One, a lame beggar covered with sores which dogs are licking, appears in a Biblical New Testament story at Luke 16:19–31.[7] The other, Lazarus of Bethany, is identified in John 11:41–44[8] as the man whom Jesus raised from the dead. The beggar's Feast Day is June 21, and Lazarus of Bethany's day is December 17.[9] However, both saints are depicted with crutches, and the blessing of dogs (associated with the beggar saint) usually takes place on December 17, the date associated with the resurrected Lazarus. The two characters' identities have become conflated in most cultural contexts, including the iconography of both saints.[10]

Incongruent conflations

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 kid in a candy store" and "a bull in a china shop." The former root expression paints a picture of someone who is extraordinarily happy and excited, whereas the latter root brings to mind the image of a person who is extremely clumsy. The conflation expresses both of these ideas at the same time without making the speaker's intention entirely clear.

An illustrative conflation seems to merge disparate figures as in Santería. St. Lazarus is conflated with the Yoruba deity Babalu Aye, and celebrated on December 17,[9] despite Santería's reliance on the iconography associated with the begging saint whose Feast Day is June 21.[10] By blending the identity of the two conflated St. Lazarus individuals with the identity of the Babalu Aye, Santería has gone one step further than the conflation within Catholicism, to become the kind of religious conflation known as syncretism, in which deities or concepts from two different faiths are conflated to form a third.

Humorous conflations

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."

by combining two popular expressions:

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

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.[11] As this is not a religious concept, it is an example only of conflation, not of syncretism. The way the names were combined is an example of portmanteau.[citation needed]

Taxonomic conflation

In scientific taxonomies, a conflative term is always a polyseme.[12]

See also



External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Conflation — Con*fla tion, n. [L. conflatio.] 1. A blowing together, as of many instruments in a concert, or of many fires in a foundry. [R.] Bacon. [1913 Webster] 2. a fusing together; merger of two or more things or ideas into one. [PJC] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Conflation — (v. lat.), Schmelzung …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Conflation — Conflation, lat., Schmelzung durch Feuer …   Herders Conversations-Lexikon

  • conflation — index merger Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • conflation — 1620s, from L.L. conflationem (nom. conflatio), noun of action from conflare (see CONFLATE (Cf. conflate)) …   Etymology dictionary

  • conflation — [kən flā′shən] n. [ME conflacioun < LL conflatio < L conflare, to blow together < com , together + flare, to BLOW1] a combining, as of two variant readings of a text into a composite reading …   English World dictionary

  • conflation — conflate ► VERB ▪ combine into one. DERIVATIVES conflation noun. ORIGIN Latin conflare kindle, fuse …   English terms dictionary

  • conflation — kənˈflāshən noun ( s) Etymology: Late Latin conflation , conflatio, from Latin conflatus + ion , io ion : the process or result of conflating : blend, fusion; especially : a composite reading or text …   Useful english dictionary

  • conflation — noun Date: 15th century blend, fusion; especially a composite reading or text …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • conflation — /keuhn flay sheuhn/, n. 1. the process or result of fusing items into one entity; fusion; amalgamation. 2. Bibliog. a. the combination of two variant texts into a new one. b. the text resulting from such a combination. [1400 50; late ME < LL… …   Universalium