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Mixed Metaphors

Burn your bridges when you come to them?

By
Mignon Fogarty,
Episode #146

metaphor

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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About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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