Mixed Metaphors

Burn your bridges when you come to them?

Mignon Fogarty,
December 6, 2008
Episode #146

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Today's topic is mixed metaphors.

Politicians often provide good fodder for language commentary, and one of Barack Obama's comments during the debates has been rattling around in my head for a while now. He made a comment that some people think he's "green behind the ears," and that struck me as a mixed metaphor.

What Is a Metaphor?

I'll back up. First, a metaphor is a way of comparing two unrelated things to make your point more vivid. For example, Shakespeare said, "All the world's a stage." He compared the world to a stage to make his point that we're all like actors in a play. That's a metaphor.

Another example of a well-known metaphor is to say someone is walking on thin ice. It is a way of saying someone is doing something dangerous and creates a vivid image of a person needing to behave carefully to avoid falling through an ice covered lake.

The big difference between a metaphor and a simile is that a metaphor doesn't use the word "like" and a simile does. For example, it's a metaphor to say "All the world's a stage," and it's a simile to say "All the world is like a stage." Not a big difference in meaning, but it's the kind of thing you can get tripped up on if you're in school and you have to take a test about similes and metaphors.

You can remember that similes use the word "like" because "simile" has the letter "l" in it.

But now that you know what a metaphor is, why is it so bad to mix them?


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