A mixed metaphor is a combination of figures of speech that creates an incongruous or absurd image. The results are often amusing, although the humor is usually unintentional.
Consider these classics: “He’s out of the frying pan and into hot water.” “The sacred cows have come home to roost.” “His victory is a springboard to rekindle his campaign.” “It’s on the back burner in a holding pattern.”
Even Shakespeare occasionally mixed his metaphors: “Or to take arms against a sea of troubles.” But writers who aren’t as skilled can’t pull it off quite so elegantly. Here are a few choice samples I spotted in the media:
- “It does not push the envelope over the edge.”
- “If the shoe was on the other foot, I’d be peeling you off the ceiling.”
- “It is his job to nail me down, but we are on the same page.”
- “We operate close to the bone by the skin of our teeth.”
- “It’s just ham-fisted salami-slicing by the bean counters.”
In your writing, be careful to avoid mixing metaphors – and creating consequences like those above. Here’s how: When you review or proofread your work, visualize any metaphors it contains. See them as if they were literal. If the images are contradictory or ludicrous, rewrite or delete.
This procedure will help you iron out all the bugs. And that’s the whole kettle of fish in a nutshell![Ed Note: For more than three decades, Don Hauptman was a direct-response copywriter. He is author of the wordplay books Cruel and Unusual Puns and Acronymania, and is now writing a book that also blends language and humor.]