Monday, May 12, 2014

While You’re Up, Mix Me A Metaphor

The attempt to write vividly carries many inherent verbal pitfalls, one of which is the mixed metaphor. That is an expression in which two or more figurative idioms are used together without considering how their juxtaposition may suggest improbable images.  A classic example, from a 1790 speech in the Irish Parliament:
            Mr. Speaker, I smell a rat.  I see him floating in the air.
     But mark me, sir, I will nip him in the bud. 

A scientist once described a new subject of research as “a virgin field pregnant with possibilities.”

The New Yorker magazine has an occasional filler item called “Block That Metaphor!”, from which came this example:
            So now what we are dealing with is the rubber 
     meeting the road, and, instead of biting the bullet on 
     these issues, we just want to punt.

The estimable columnist Frank Rich once wrote in The New York Times:
            Top Bush hands are starting to get sweaty about 
     where they left their fingerprints. Scapegoating the rotten 
     apples at the bottom of the military's barrel may not be a 
     slam-dunk escape route from accountability anymore.

Another metaphorical stew quoted in The New York Times:
            As I look at it with a broad brush, there are a lot of 
     things going south at the same time. There’s no silver 
     bullet out there.

The Tulsa World attempted to get cute in a rhyming headline:
            STEP UP TO THE PLATE
            AND FISH OR CUT BAIT

The champion metaphor-mixer, in my view, is Curtis Sliwa, the anti-crime activist who founded the Guardian Angels.  He was quoted as saying rather graphically:
            I’ve spent a lot of time in the subways. It’s a dark and 
     dank experience….The moment that you walk into the 
     bowels of the armpit of the cesspool of crime, you 
     immediately cringe.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou likes to mix metaphors almost as much as he likes to mix gin and vermouth.  But not quite.

            Your horse is of another color,
            And your pig is in a poke.
            Than dishwater you could not be duller,
            And where there’s fire, there’s smoke.

            You let the cat out of the bag,
            And also spilled the beans.
            And now you want to chew the rag--
            Tell that to the Marines.

            You’ve got your knickers in a twist,
            And you waved the bloody shirt,
            For someone’s mill you’ll just be grist,
            Yes, grist that’s old as dirt.

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