I come across many kinds of English mistakes that fall under the heading of misused idioms and expressions. Here's one I came across completely at random from a gaming forum post.

...the game should have lots of "meat and potatoes" and it doesn't. http://us.battle.net/d3/en/forum/topic/17902110041

In the few sentences I can easily tell that the author is a little sloppy with language all around. The context of the thread was about some game designers departing from their motto and not building a lot of depth into recent titles. The motto refers to "Bushnell's Law" and that "All the best games are easy to learn and difficult to master." The focus here is not about just covering the basic or essential parts.

So it's pretty apparent to me that just the word meat alone was intended rather than meat and potatoes. The substituted expression changes the meaning although it still makes a certain amount of sense which is probably a big reason for the confusion and why it's sometimes difficult to prove that the usage was "wrong".

I have investigated this many times before. Is there a name for this type of error? I am aware of the concept of malapropism but I don't believe that fits here. And beyond this question if you had any pointers to references on this topic that would be great.


While I think I can make a case for the distinction in meaning I see, my purpose was not to split hairs that way. Apparently I chose an example that was a little too grey. Before writing my question I spent a great deal of time pouring over dictionaries to convince myself there was a distinct difference in meaning.

The difference in meaning though was not the point of my question and I thought I had adequately pointed that out. I have no desire to be pedantic about this, it is simply an interesting topic of linguistics that I have tried to explore and I thought that example was interesting enough to use.


meat and potatoes: ordinary but fundamental things; basic ingredients. (Google)

The sense of meat that I had in mind may have come from the Bible. It did not seem to me to be obscure to hear it with the meaning of depth, weight, substance.

1 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, as unto babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not with meat; for ye were not yet able to bear it: nay, not even now are ye able; (1 Corinthians 3:1-2 American Standard Version)


After studying the subject and several dictionaries I still believe these do not share identical meanings. It's particularly evident in the adjective forms.

meat and potatoes [https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/meat_and_potatoes]
n. : 2. (US, informal) The essential part or parts of something.
adj.: 1. normal, average, typical, unexceptional, or nondescript in description

meat [https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/meat]
n. : 8. (colloquial) The best or most substantial part of something. [from 16th c.]
We recruited him right from the meat of our competitor.‎

meaty [https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/meaty]
adj.: 4. Substantial.

For the adjective form I find these synonyms for meaty: interesting, thought-provoking, three-dimensional, stimulating; substantial, satisfying, meaningful, deep, profound (Google)

Forgive that I'm belaboring this point. The fact that there is so much potential for the meanings to bleed together is one of the reasons I'm interested in this class of words.

  • 2
    This doesn't answer your question, but that particular idiom isn't really being used incorrectly. Meat and potatoes (often, meat-and-potatoes) refers to basic or fundamental. So, the game in question was probably missing whatever the standard gameplay mechanics are for its particular genre.
    – VampDuc
    Aug 22, 2016 at 17:36
  • 1
    I think your assessment of the gamer's usage is at the very least pedantic, if not out-and-out misguided. I find even just the tiny fragment you've given here easy enough to understand, because the metaphoric need for meat and potatoes isn't at all uncommon. But reducing it to just meat seems a bit too obscure (as would be the case with The game should have lots of beef, which I wouldn't instantly recognize as an allusion to the idiomatic Where's the beef?, implying a lack of "substance"). Aug 22, 2016 at 17:41
  • @FumbleFingers I have upvoted a very large number of your posts and comments because I have found you to be knowledgeable about a lot of things. But I think you missed the point of my question and I'm certainly a little frustrated at the pedantic charge. Since you're very prominent on this forum, can I tell you quite honestly that contributing to this forum is very intimidating and I am really at the point of giving up on it?
    – shawnt00
    Aug 22, 2016 at 18:09
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    @shawnt00: I'm sorry if you feel intimidated - that certainly wasn't my intention. I haven't seen the full context of your cite (is it available?), but I see that even as I was composing my comment, VampDuc was making much the same point. It doesn't seem unreasonable that the writer deliberately and validly referenced "meat and potatoes" as a single indivisible concept metaphorically alluding to the necessary basics (in much the same way as we might say "A is the bread and butter of B"). Aug 22, 2016 at 18:19
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    @EdwinAshworth - hold down the fort is even worse if you want to see me and others quibble about the taxonomy of misused idioms... And I agree with the OP here. meat and potatoes is completely misused. It doesn't mean "substantive content," it means "lacking complication."
    – stevesliva
    Aug 26, 2016 at 3:01

2 Answers 2


When someone uses the wrong word, especially one that sounds like the right word, that's called a malapropism. I'm fairly sure that works for wrong sequences of words too.

  • 2
    The word is in the question and has been since the first iteration. Thus it might be good for you why it does work in spite of the OP's reservations.
    – Helmar
    Aug 23, 2016 at 11:47

I'd say you're coming across some mixed metaphors:

Mixed Metaphor: An overreaching or contradictory combination of two distinct metaphors, similes or idioms.

Example: "They’re diabolically opposed

With maybe a few eggcorns:

Eggcorn: an idiosyncratic substitution of a word or phrase for a word or words that sound similar or identical in the speaker's dialect. The new phrase introduces a meaning that is different from the original but plausible in the same context.

Example: "old-timers'disease" for "Alzheimer's disease".2

Eggcorns are different than malapropisms because Eggcorns sound plausible, whereas malapropisms create nonsense phrases.

We know what the writer means and it's correct in context, yet the idiom just doesn't seem quite right, maybe due to nuances that someone has overlooked, or perhaps, in their haste, someone chose the wrong expression.

  • 1
    Thanks. I'm aware of those. Unfortunately I think the example I chose above doesn't quite represent my class of mistake as well as I thought it might. I appreciate your contribution though.
    – shawnt00
    Aug 22, 2016 at 18:46
  • 1
    I don't think your example is really a mixed metaphor. Aug 22, 2016 at 19:54
  • Maybe it's isn't that the idiom is misused; maybe the phrase itself doesn't quite fit the context.
    – lll
    Aug 22, 2016 at 19:57
  • "Mixed metaphor" is often used loosely to mean any kind of unsuitable or ill-fitting metaphor, not just the classic case where 2 different metaphors are. See e.g. this answer. Whether this applies to the OP's problem is another question.
    – Stuart F
    Apr 13, 2023 at 10:04

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