AskDefine | Define conflate

Dictionary Definition

conflate v : mix together different elements; "The colors blend well" [syn: blend, flux, mix, commingle, immix, fuse, coalesce, meld, combine, merge]

User Contributed Dictionary



1541: from cōnflātus, from conflo; con + flo.


  • a UK /kənˈfleɪt/|/kɒnˈfleɪt/, /k@n"fleIt/
  • a US /kənˈfleɪt/
  • Rhymes with: -eɪt


  1. To bring things together and fuse them into a single entity.



Fuse into a single entity


Extensive Definition

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.


In language, 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.

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.


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 show.


In logic, conflation is the error of treating two distinct concepts as if they were one. 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 is clearly intended as a joke (pun):
  1. All bats are animals.
  2. Some wooden objects are bats.
  3. Therefore, some wooden objects are animals.
Conflating words with different meanings can cause real confusion. For 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 humanity is controlled by alien lizards in human form, 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.


In cartography, conflation refers to the act of combining two distinct maps into one new map. It is similar to the practice of image mosaicking. It is usually carried out by registration of an overlapping area.


In physics, conflation refers to two distinct universes being combined and fused into one new universe.


  • There are 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.Luke 16:19-31 in Roman Catholic New Advent Bible. The other, Lazarus of Bethany, is the man identified in John 11:41-44John 11:41-44in Roman Catholic New Advent Bible. 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. 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.
In Santeria, St. Lawrence is conflated with the Yoruba deity Babalu Aye, and celebrated on December 17, despite Santeria's reliance on the iconography associated with the begging saint whose Feast Day is June 21. By blending the identity of the two conflated St. Lazarus individuals with the identity of the Babalu Aye, Santeria 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.
  • 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. 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.
  • A commonly encountered conflation in American politics is the idea that only whites are capable of in-group racism, because they have more social power, whereas blacks are incapable of in-group racism because they do not have equivalent social power. This conception conflates racism (an attitude based on in-group preference) with power (an attribute), as though they were incapable of separation.

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