Metaphors are incredibly powerful storytelling tools. Just compare these two phrases:
“The sky is vast and blue.”
“The sky is an endless ocean.”
While the first is factually correct, the latter conveys the author’s meaning much better as it inspires a sense of depth, vastness, and marvel. It’s an excellent way to describe emotions without stating them, not to mention the beauty that blooms in your own imagination as you’re reading the words on the page.
But there’s more to metaphors than meets the eye. Sometimes, writers use the so-called “mixed metaphor”, be it accidentally or on purpose.
Today, let’s have a look at what mixed metaphors are and how they’re used!
What are mixed metaphors?
A mixed metaphor is a figure of speech wherein you combine two or more metaphors into one. And yes, it is as ludicrous as it sounds.
Let’s look at an example:
“It’s not rocket surgery.”
This mixed metaphor is a combination of “it’s not brain surgery” and “it’s not rocket science”, and when used in the right context, it can serve as great comedic relief.
In fact, there are multiple functions that a well-placed mixed metaphor carries.
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How are mixed metaphors used?
Mixed metaphors are ridiculous in essence. They are based on combining elements in an illogical manner, playing on the inherent incompatibility of the two phrases.
This means that when a character in a book or a TV show uses a mixed metaphor, they usually do so out of ignorance or wittiness (depending on the delivery and the character’s overall personality).
Therefore, mixed metaphors are most commonly used to:
- Reveal that a character is ignorant and make the reader laugh at their expense
- Show the character’s brilliance by making them use mixed metaphors effectively and elegantly
- Add more depth to the story by applying a mixed metaphor that perfectly fits the context
- Alter the meaning of singular metaphors by mixing them up with different ones
Mixed Metaphors: Examples & Tips
Metaphors are powerful enough on their own. For example, “You’ve made your bed, now sleep in it” conveys the importance of consequences perfectly.
However, a metaphor gains in strength and comedy when you mix it up with another metaphor that carries a similar meaning, such as, “You’ve buttered your bread – now eat it.”
This is exactly what Jiminy Cricket says in the 1940 Pinocchio movie: “You’ve buttered your bread. Now sleep in it!”
Of course, the idea of sleeping in buttered bread is ridiculous, and so the combination of the two metaphors serves as excellent comedic relief.
What’s more, using mixed metaphors in this way only works if you assume your audience is just as knowledgeable as you are. Therefore, the joke not only makes people laugh but also makes them feel clever.
Similarly, saying “you’re not the sharpest cookie in the jar” – a combination of “a smart cookie” and “the sharpest pencil in the box” – delivers the same hilarious effect, only it’s potentially even funnier because the speaker is doubting someone’s intelligence by revealing their own lack of knowledge.
Some other examples include:
- “But unfortunately for yours truly, that train has sailed” – Austin Powers (“the train has left the station” + “the ship has sailed”)
- “Early bird gathers no moss. Rolling stone catches the worm, right?” – The Truman Show (“the early bird catches the worm” + “a rolling stone gathers no moss”)
Mixed metaphors don’t need to have a similar meaning, either. Just look at these ludicrous examples:
- “every lemon has a silver lining” (“if life gives you lemons, make a lemonade” + “every cloud has a silver lining”)
- “don’t cry over spilled beans” (“cry over spilled milk” + “spill the beans”)
- “an eye for an eye leaves no stone unturned” (“an eye for an eye” + “leave no stone unturned”)
If you decide to use mixed metaphors in your writing, always make sure you know the difference between metaphors and personification, as well as what each metaphor truly means.
Mixed metaphors can be very witty and clever – but only if you use them right.
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If you’re a fan of linguistics and language-based jokes, mixed metaphors might be perfect for your writing. Always remember that a mixed metaphor can reveal your character’s intelligence as well as the lack of it, depending on how you play your cards.
And if you’ve already used mixed metaphors in your writing and are unsure about whether they work or not, don’t hesitate to reach out to First Editing for an editorial review!