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mixed metaphor

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mixed metaphor

Senator Jack Kingston, quoted in the Savannah Morning News, November 3, 2010

Definition:

A succession of incongruous or ludicrous comparisons.

Although many style guides condemn the use of mixed metaphors, in practice most of the objectionable combinations (as in the examples below) are actually clichés or dead metaphors. Note the observations at the end of this article.


See also:

Examples:

  • "That's awfully thin gruel for the right wing to hang their hats on."
    (MSNBC, Sep. 3, 2009)


  • "Her saucer-eyes narrow to a gimlet stare and she lets Mr. Clarke have it with both barrels."
    (Anne McElvoy, London Evening Standard, Sep. 9, 2009)


  • "I don’t think we should wait until the other shoe drops. History has already shown what is likely to happen. The ball has been down this court before and I can see already the light at the end of the tunnel."
    (Detroit News, quoted in The New Yorker, November 26, 2012)


  • "[Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben] Bernanke set the standard for muddled metaphors when he parried reporters' questions that day. Certain economic data, he said, 'are guideposts that tell you how we're going to be shifting the mix of our tools as we try to land this ship on a--in a smooth way onto the aircraft carrier.'"
    (Nick Summers, "Lost in Translation." Bloomberg Businessweek, July 8-14, 2013)


  • “I conclude that the city’s proposal to skim the frosting, pocket the cake, and avoid paying the fair, reasonable, and affordable value of the meal is a hound that will not hunt."
    (a labor arbitrator, quoted by the Boston Globe, May 8, 2010)


  • "'Obviously, it's been a very difficult two days for us,' Nelson said. 'We kind of saw the writing on the wall Friday night. It's just apples versus oranges, and it's not a level playing field by any means.'"
    ("Seabury’s Football Team Done for the Season." Lawrence Journal-World, Sep. 22, 2009)


  • "The committee was tired of stoking public outrage with fortnightly gobbets of scandal. It decided to publish everything it had left, warts and all. Now everyone is tarred with the same ugly brush, and the myth that forever simmers in the public consciousness--that the House shelters 435 parasitic, fat-cat deadbeats--has received another shot of adrenalin."
    (Washington Post, 1992)


  • "I knew enough to realize that the alligators were in the swamp and that it was time to circle the wagons."
    (attributed to Rush Limbaugh)


  • "A lot of success early in life can be a real liability--if you buy into it. Brass rings keep getting suspended higher and higher as you grow older. And when you grab them, they have a way of turning into dust in your hands. Psychologists . . . have all kinds of words for this, but the women I know seem to experience it as living life with a gun pointed to their heads. Every day brings a new minefield of incipient failure: the too-tight pants, the peeling wallpaper, the unbrilliant career."
    (Judith Warner, The New York Times, April 6, 2007)


  • Grace Adler: You can't control your competitive nature any more than I can.
    Will Truman: That is . . ..
    Grace Adler: Yes, you just like to play the cool Will Truman while I'm all the intense crazy one. Well, once the bowling shoe is on the other foot, look who's the good cop and look who's the bad cop.
    Will Truman: That is the worst mixed metaphor you have ever uttered.
    (Debra Messing and Eric McCormack, "Alley Cats." Will and Grace, 1999)


  • "There is no man so low that he has in him no spark of manhood, which, if watered by the milk of human kindness, will not burst into flames."
    (quoted by Willard R. Espy in The Game of Words. Grosset & Dunlap, 1972)


  • "Sir, I smell a rat; I see him forming in the air and darkening the sky; but I'll nip him in the bud."
    (attributed to Sir Boyle Roche, 1736-1807)

Observations:

  • "I am tempted to believe that the indiscriminate condemnation of mixed metaphors arises more often from pedantry than from common sense."
    (Edward Everett Hale, Jr. Constructive Rhetoric, 1896)


  • "[T]o the fertile mind that thinks up a series of comparisons one gives admiration--and defense against those who misunderstand the ban on mixed metaphors."
    (Wilson Follett and Erik Wensberg, Modern American Usage, rev. ed. Macmillan, 1998)


  • "What is called mixed metaphor . . . is the coming into consciousness of a mixing that goes on all the time, a consciousness that offends our sensibilities because it 'calls attention to the device' and perhaps might reveal the inexplicable bases of our worldview."
    (Dale Pesman, "Some Expectations of Coherence in Culture Implied by the Prohibition of Mixed Metaphor." Beyond Metaphor: The Theory of Tropes in Anthropology. Stanford Univ. Press, 1991)


  • "Mixed metaphors may be stylistically objectionable, but I cannot see that they are necessarily logically incoherent. Of course, most metaphors do occur in contexts of expressions used literally. It would be very hard to understand them if they did not. But it is not a logical necessity that every metaphorical use of an expression occurs surrounded by literal occurrences of other expressions and, indeed, many famous examples of metaphor are not."
    (Mark Johnson, Philosophical Perspectives on Metaphor. Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1981)
Also Known As: mixaphor
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