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Mixed Metaphor
He was marooned in the jaws of a human minefield, and with every step the noose grew tighter.
— Sports columnist Jerry Izenberg in the New Jersey Star Ledger, as quoted in the Lyttle Lytton Contest of 2007

A character, possibly but not necessarily a Malaproper, mixes two (or more!) metaphors, with generally humorous but sometimes creepy results. May lead to the original point being Metaphorgotten.

Another common component in Buffy Speak, although probably not as common as pure Metaphorgotten. Can be done intentionally for humorous effect.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime 

     Comic Books  

  • In a Simpsons Comics Elseworld story, Homer was working for the Mafia, Comic Book Guy was the local don, and Lou and Eddie were his two flunkies. CBG assigned Homer to kill Milhouse, to which Homer remarked "Don't worry, boss. This little weiner is toast". CBG replied "Good. And please don't mix metaphors. You know it makes Lou nervous".
  • This exchange between a thug and The Penguin in an issue of Batman
    Thug: This is a crime family. A syndicate. You're the top dog on the pyramid and we're all the little fish on the bottom rung of the totem pole.
    Penguin: I understand your point, Marco. Despite the murder of several metaphors to get there.
    • In another issue, one of his goons says, "You know what they say, a penguin never forgets."
  • "Cerebus has made his omelet and now he has to lie in it."
  • X-Force, during the X-Statix run. "Who knows how long this gravy train is going to keep rolling? We have to make hay while the mixed metaphors last."
  • From The Losers:
    Clay: Once we've got our foot in the door, we work our way up the food chain.
    Pooch: Metaphor never was your strong point, boss...

    Fanfic 
  • The narrator to Equestria: A History Revealed directly lampshades the fact that she often mixes up her metaphors.
  • Hivefled: Nepeta gives us the memorable "don’t be such sticks in the mud after the rain on the parade." Rose actually tells her it's a terrible habit, but in Nepeta's defence, she is an alien without much grasp on human culture.
  • The author of In This World and the Next is fond of both metaphors and run-on sentences, making this trope all but inevitable. A reference to "spring[ing] the rat trap" in the "snake's den" led one reviewer to reference Mitch Benn's "Devil and a Hard Place" (see below).

    Film 

  • From Airplane!: "I guess the foot's on the other hand now!"
  • From Hot Shots! Part Deux: "Looks like the upper hand is on the other foot!"
  • Similarly, from The Naked Gun 2: "Well, it looks like the cows have come home to roost!"
  • From the first Austin Powers film: "But unfortunately for yours truly, that train had sailed."
  • Mr. Furious from Mystery Men does this a lot, often in conjunction with Metaphorgotten. "I don't need a compass to show me which way the wind shines."
  • In The Movie of Master and Commander, the entire final battle hinges on a tactical maneuver Captain Aubrey derives by completely mangling the notion of an insect that disguises itself as a stick to evade predators.
    Captain Aubrey: Now to pull this predator in close and spring our trap.
    Dr. Maturin: Jack?
    Captain Aubrey: Yes?
    Dr. Maturin: You're the predator.
  • Biff Tannen from the Back to the Future trilogy: "Make like a tree, and get out of here."
    • Ironically, it was the 2015 Biff that corrects him, saying, "It's leave, you idiot! "Make like a tree and leave." You sound like a damn fool when you say that wrong."
      • And BUFORD. Honestly:
      Buford 'Mad Dog' Tannen: ...I'm gonna hunt you down and shoot you down like a duck!
      Henchman: It's dog, Buford. Shoot him down like a dog.
    • Let's just say it's about as funny as a screen door on a battleship.
  • In The Boondock Saints, the bartender Doc was always doing this.
    Doc: Well, you know what they say... people in glass houses sink sh-sh-ships.
    Rocco: Hey, Doc, I've gotta buy you, like, a proverb book or something. This mix-and-match shit's gotta go.
    Eventually the other characters start making fun of him for it, saying things like
    "A penny saved is worth two in the bush" and "And don't cross the road if you can't get out of the kitchen."
    • Also:
    Doc: Why don't you make like a tree and get the fuck out of here!
  • The Dude from The Big Lebowski
    Jackie Treehorn: Refill?
    The Dude: Does the pope shit in the woods?
  • From the movie North:
    A bird in the hand is always greener than the grass under the other guy's bushes.
  • Disney's Pinocchio:
    Jiminy Cricket: You buttered your bread. Now sleep in it!
  • The Social Network:
    Sean: Ah ha. The shoe's on the other...
    Amy: Foot?
    Sean: ... table, which has turned.
  • In The Whole Ten Yards, Jimmy seems to merge two Bibleic phrases into "Do unto others before you're turned into a pillar of salt". Of course, being a retired hitman, he has a slightly different understanding of "do unto others".

    Literature 

  • Philippa Gordon from the Anne of Green Gables series does this in Anne of the Island, in a letter to Anne:
    I have a huge pile of letters to answer, so I must gird up the loins of my mind and hoe in.
    Excuse my mixed metaphors. I'm fearfully sleepy.
  • Lampshaded in The Stainless Steel Rat's Revenge: Inskipp says they "must get a man to Cliaand to root out the problem at the core of the woodpile and cut the Gordian knot." Slippery Jim replies, "Other than being contained in a mixed and disgusting metaphor I think the idea is a suicidal one."
  • Happens constantly in the Aubrey-Maturin books. Usually in the form of Jack mixing a metaphor, Stephen "helpfully" correcting him, and Jack becoming even more confused. To wit...
    'Why, as to that,' said Jack, blowing on his coffee-cup and staring out of the stern-window at the harbour, 'as to that ... if you do not choose to call him a pragmatical clinchpoop and kick his breech, which you might think ungenteel, perhaps you could tell him to judge the pudding by its fruit.'
    'You mean, prove the tree by its eating.'
    'No, no, Stephen, you are quite out: eating a tree would prove nothing.'
  • Used a lot in Discworld, primarily by Mustrum Ridcully and Nanny Ogg - example from the latter "The worm is on the other foot now!" (mixing 'the worm has turned' with 'the boot is on the other foot now').
    • Granny Weatherwax tries to tell a joke (A man orders an alligator sandwich and says "Make it snappy!"), but she never quite gets the punchline right ("And make it fast!" "And it'd better be quick!" etc.).
  • The troll Ed in the book Once Upon a Marigold is fond of mixed metaphors, such as "Let's get this show on the ball" and "He'd buttered his bread, and now he had to lie in it."
  • In Stephen Colbert's book I Am America (And So Can You!), the character admits that he's "not the smartest knife in the spoon."
  • This is one of the things that George Orwell criticizes in his famous essay "Politics and the English Language." His most famous example (presumably made up) is The fascist octopus has sung his swan song.
  • Dave Barry likes to mix his metaphors. One impressive example: Dave Barry Slept Here describes the Great Crash of 1929 as the day when "the nation's seemingly prosperous economy was revealed to be merely a paper tiger with feet of clay living in a straw house of cards that had cried 'wolf' once too often."
  • Nicholas Van Rijn of Poul Anderson's Polesotechnic League stories, along with malapropisms, often mixed metaphors. Particularly appealing was his reference to forcefully seeking something he wanted "like a bulldozer going after a cowdozer."
  • Lampshaded in Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, after Michael Wenton-Weakes's mother is described as a battle-axe: "She had been waiting patiently — or at least with the appearance of patience — in the wings all this time, being the devoted wife, the doting but strict mother. Now someone had taken her — to switch metaphors for a moment — out of her scabbard and everyone was running for cover."
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, the spymaster Varys is known as the Spider, but his spies are called his "little birds."
  • A line describing Coruscant's defenses, from Wedge's Gamble: "the shields make this place a tough nut to crack, but chewing up the meat isn't going to be any easier."
  • In The Lost Fleet series, the metaphors "the witch is dead" and "the fat lady sings" have somehow been merged into "the witch sings". While the novels take place in the distant future, the merging has only happened a few decades before the events, as evidenced by Geary's surprise. Having been stuck as a Human Popsicle for the last 100 years, he tries to explain that the two metaphors used to be different, only for his officers to start throwing wild guesses as to why the fat witch might be singing because she's dead. The exasperated Geary tries to explain that the two sayings have nothing to do with one another, then gives up.
    • Later, someone mentions the old "Catch 42". Obviously a mix of Catch-22 and the Ultimate Answer. Except the new saying goes "the meaning of life is that, in the end, you always get screwed".

     Live Action TV  

  • The Mayor on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: "This year is too important to let a loose cannon rock the boat. Loose cannon. Rock the boat. Is that a mixed metaphor? Boats did have cannons. And a loose one would cause it to rock."
  • Common on Yes, Minister, with Bernard usually lampshading them:
    Jim Hacker: If I can pull this off, it will be a feather in my cap.
    Bernard: If you pull it off, it won't be in your cap any more.
    • There was a clusterbomb of mixed metaphors in episode 4 of season 2:
    Sir Desmond: If you spill the beans, you open up a whole can of worms. How can you let sleeping dogs lie, if you let the cat out of the bag? Bring in a new broom, and if you're not careful, you'll find you've thrown the baby out with the bath water. If you change horses in the middle of the stream, next thing you know you're up the creek without a paddle.
    Jim Hacker: And then the balloon goes up.
    Sir Desmond: Obviously.
    Jim Hacker: "So they insult me and then expect me to give them more money?"
    Sir Humphrey: "Yes, I must say it's a rather undignified posture. But it is what artists always do: crawling towards the government on their knees, shaking their fists."
    Jim Hacker: "Beating me over the head with their begging bowls."
    Bernard Woolley: "Oh, I am sorry to be pedantic, Prime Minister, but they can't beat you over the head if they're on their knees. Unless of course they've got very long arms."
    • One in which Bernard goes to a lot of trouble to point out the implausibilities of the metaphor:
    Jim Hacker: Furthermore, Sir Mark thinks there may be votes in it, and if so, I don't intend to look a gift horse in the mouth.
    Sir Humphrey: I put it to you, you are looking at a Trojan Horse in the mouth.
    Jim Hacker: You mean, if I looked inside the Trojan Horse, I would find Trojans inside?
    Bernard Woolley: If you had looked inside the Trojan Horse, you would have found Greeks inside.
    Jim Hacker: What do you mean, Bernard?
    Bernard Woolley: Well, the Greeks gave the Trojan Horse to the Trojans, so technically, it wasn't a Trojan Horse at all, it was a Greek Horse. Hence the phrase timeo Danaos et dona ferentes which as you would recall, is usually and inaccurately translated as Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. Or doubtless, you would have recalled, had you not attended the LSE.
    Jim Hacker: I suppose Greek tags are all right in their own way, but can we stick to the point, please?
    Bernard Woolley: Greek tags, minister?
    Jim Hacker: Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. I suppose the EEC equivalent would be Beware of Greeks bearing an olive oil surplus!!
    Sir Humphrey: Excellent, Minister!
    Bernard Woolley: Um, just as the Trojan Horse was in fact Greek, what you described as a Greek tag is in fact Latin. It's obvious, really: the Greeks wouldn't suggest bewaring of themselves, if we could use such a participle, bewaring, that is. And it's clearly Latin, not because timeo ends in -o, because the Greek first person also ends in -o. Although, there is a Greek word τιμαω, which means 'I honour'. And the -os ending is the singular nominative termination of the second declension in Greek, while it is the accusative plural in Latin. And 'Danaos' is not only the Greek for Greek, its also the Latin for Greek, it's quite interesting really...
  • Life On Mars:
    Gene: Look, when a big shark dissapears from the scene, smaller fish want to climb the ladder.
    Sam: You're using mixed metaphors
    Gene: Right, whatever, the smaller fish want to enter the hunting grounds.
  • After Chris' death in the sixth season of The Sopranos, Tony has to dispel a rumor that he killed him (he did so as a mercy killing after a car crash). He starts off by saying, "Okay, we gotta deal with the 500-pound elephant in the room..."
  • Nina from Just Shoot Me!: "A bird in the hand is worth two if by sea" and "Denial is not just a river in England."
  • Magda from Brazilian sitcom Sai de Baixo, being from the ditzy kind of stupid, has some of these such as "Who plants the wind, reaps blood, sweat and beers" and "everyone in life must plant a son, have a book and write a tree!".
  • Kelly Bundy from Married... with Children is chock full of these, being The Brainless Beauty of her family. This site has a near-complete list of them.
  • Cyril Bryson on Chef "This is the eye of the needle that breaks the camel's back!"
  • The Seventh Doctor on Doctor Who started out doing this a lot. "A bird in the hand keep the doctor away." "A memory like a kangaroo." "Time and tides melt the snowman." It was initially intended to be a consistent quirk but, after he'd come to grips with himself, he (or rather, the writers) grew out of it.
    • People forget that the Fourth Doctor did it too (just never in such a high concentration). "While there's life, there's six of one, half a dozen of the other."
  • Michael Scott of The Office does this just about Once an Episode.
    "Ryan is now at corporate where he is a little fish in a big pond. Here, I am still top dog. So which is better... being a dog, or a fish?"
  • Serena on Gossip Girl talks about how her mother adapts to each new husband:
    Serena: The second he starts to call the shots these gloves come off and the nails come out. I just mixed metaphors, didn't I?
  • One of El Chapulín Colorado's trademark gags: every time he tries to cite a famous saying he gets it mixed with another one, and ends up saying "...Well, you get the idea."
  • Lampshaded on Mad Men when Bert Cooper calls Don in to tell him they can't fire Pete Campbell because his family is too old and important. He starts off about how New York City is like a fine watch full of tiny, precise parts and always ticking away. Don says it sounds more like a bomb. Cooper says that if they fire Pete word will get around to the Dykeman-Campbells' million connections around the city and the agency will lose some of its establishment cred, and when Don objects to this kind of nepotism, Cooper tells him, "You'll have to have a stronger stomach if you want to be back in the kitchen seeing how the sausage is made." Don, after a beat: "I thought it was a big watch."
  • Something Inspector Grim is good at in The Thin Blue Line. For example in the episode "Night Shift", he informs everyone that he is looking for:
    A fat cat, spinning his web with his tentacles in every pie.
  • Shawn Micallef does this in Talkin' 'bout Your Generation: "And next up, something that will literally blow the socks off your mind."
  • On True Blood Jason is famous for these "If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, it's still a tree isn't it!"
  • On Peep Show, Jez discovers that his bisexual girlfriend Elena already has a girlfriend named Gail, but (initially) thinks that sharing Elena will work out: "Me and this Gail, we're just eating from different sides of the plate. I play woodwind, she's on brass."
  • Emerson Cod from Pushing Daisies was prone to these.
  • Scrubs: "We're as thick as two thieves in a pod."
  • On Fresh Meat, when the housemates are chewing out Josie for hiding the fact that she got their stuff stolen, Vod tells them that they need to lay off:
    Vod: Don't cast the first stone at the fucking kettle black.
  • In Father Ted, Ted tells Dick Byrne, "Go and count your sour grapes before they hatch."

    Magazines 

  • The New Yorker often fills up extra space at the end of an article with a short excerpt from another publication, filed under "Block That Metaphor!" if it fits this trope. ("The moment that you walk into the bowels of the armpit of the cesspool of crime, you immediately cringe.")
  • Mixed metaphors are one of the richest veins for the sports-commentator gaffes that Private Eye refers to as "Colemanballs".

    Music 
  • A well-known example is Taylor Swift's "Love Story", which randomly adds a reference to The Scarlet Letter in an otherwise Romeo and Juliet-themed song. She does it again in "Sparks Fly", whose first line is "The way you move is like a full-on rainstorm / And I'm a house of cards".
  • This was part of what made Elton John's Princess Diana version of "Candle in the Wind" so notorious. She's a candle, but she's also a rose and a golden child, capable of leaving footprints on England's green hills, plus equipped with wings of compassion. Cause of death was wind, rain, and/or the fading of the sunset.
  • Kathy Mattea's "Clown in Your Rodeo" completely derails its rodeo metaphors in the second verse:
    Hand me my feather duster
    I'm cleaning house out of the gate
    Before my heart starts caving in
  • Kenny Chesney's "Better as a Memory" has a verse that starts out with "Goodbyes are like a roulette wheel" and ends with "You're left holding a losing hand". What version of roulette uses cards?!
  • Martina McBride's "Ride" has "Life is a roller coaster ride / Time turns the wheel and love collides." Wait, what?
  • The second and third verses of "Run-Around" by Blues Traveler are constant strings of these.
  • "Suspended in Gaffa" by Kate Bush has a biblical version: "There's a plank in my eye/with a camel/that's trying to get through it"
  • Madonna's "I'll Remember" gives us this confusing verse implying among other things that children have wings:
    Inside, I was a child that could not mend a broken wing
    Outside, I looked for a way to teach my heart to sing

    Radio 

  • Inspired a song by Mitch Benn on The Now Show after he heard a spokesman described global warming by saying the world was "standing on the precipice of a runaway train". Listen to it here.
    And now I've got a snowball's chance in a handcart
    And it's a different kettle of ball games...
  • In an episode of Unnatural Acts, Jeremy takes various mixed medicines, with predictably spaced-out results. His speech pattern changes to reflect this, with mixed metaphors being one of the symptoms.
    Jeremy: Blast! I knew I shouldn't have tried to rub elbows with the small potatoes when I should be chewing the cud with the big fish!
  • In Hamish And Dougal, Dougal taunts the Laird with "Hah! So you don't like it when the boots are down and the chips are on the other foot!"

    Stand-up Comedy 
  • Mae Martin, as a lesbian in a relationship, often finds herself asked "which one of you is the man". She compares this to asking a vegetarian "which part of your salad is the pork chop" and decides the answer is "every vegetable wears a strap-on".

    Theater 

     TV Tropes 

  • All-Devouring Black Hole Loan Shark, the former trope title. Sharks and black holes both have a well-deserved reputation for devouring and destruction—but surely they don't have anything else in common. Perhaps this status as a mixed metaphor is one reason why the "all-devouring black hole" part is now a mere alternate title for the trope, but it could be argued that this makes the trope more fun since comparing anything to a black hole is a very colorful metaphor.

    Video Games 
  • In a random conversation in Kid Icarus: Uprising, Pit may say "A bird in the hand keeps the doctor away?" and "The squeaky wheel gets the worm!"

     Web Comics  

     Web Original  

  • Ross O'Donovan, AKA "Rubber Ninja", has a tendency to do this quite often on Steam Train. Notable "Rossisms" include:
    It's like listening to a mirror.
    Don't count your chickens before they egg.
    That train has sailed.

     Western Animation  

  • Zapp Brannigan of Futurama: "Once we hit that bullseye, the rest of the dominoes will fall like a house of cards. Checkmate."
    • Also from "Future Stock".
    That Guy: There are two kinds of people - sheep and sharks.... I am proud to be the shepherd of this herd of sharks.
  • Abe Linclon on Clone High had a few.
    Combining this trope with Double Entendre: ""It's everything I've been wadding up in the sad chamber of my heart, and now I'm shooting that wad. Thirty-five millimeter.""
    • Also:
    Abe: You sold us all a bill of goods, and those goods turned out to be bad. Then you sold me up the river.
    Joan: That may be, but I sent you up that river with my heart as a paddle!
    Abe: But you took that paddle and smacked me in the face, and I wear my heart on my sleeve, so when I wiped my face, I got heart all over it."
  • And of course, this classic courtesy of Mama Luigi:
    "Well like they say in Brooklyn, early to bed early to get the worm... or is it the bagel?"
  • From Dan Vs. "The Dentist,":
    Dan: [The dentist]'s a long term strategist! He's playing fourth-dimensional chess, and we're his ball of string!
    Chris: I think you're mixing up games.
    Dan: Go fish! I'm in horrible pain!
  • From an episode of The Simpsons:
    Homer: They ran away like schoolgirls with their tails between their legs!
  • In Ben 10: Alien Force: Rath's food is accidentally blown away by Octagon Vreedle, prompting Rath to say "A man's food is his castle!" (Octagon calls him out on it, using the page title).

     Real Life  

  • There is a famous quote from the time of king Louis-Philippe of France: "Le char de l'État navigue sur un volcan!" (The chariot of the State is sailing on a volcano!) Chariots can't sail, especially on volcanoes...
  • A few years ago, this quote from a participant in a symposium about AIDS: "We are sitting on a volcano and running toward disaster!" Here, the translator may be to blame. Or else they were doing That Russian Squat Dance... towards something that's somehow more dangerous than a volcano.
  • From a Newt Gingrich press release:
    The literati sent out their minions to do their bidding. Washington cannot tolerate threats from outsiders who might disrupt their comfortable world. The firefight started when the cowardly sensed weakness. They fired timidly at first, then the sheep not wanting to be dropped from the establishment’s cocktail party invite list unloaded their entire clip, firing without taking aim their distortions and falsehoods. Now they are left exposed by their bylines and handles. But surely they had killed him off. This is the way it always worked. A lesser person could not have survived the first few minutes of the onslaught. But out of the billowing smoke and dust of tweets and trivia emerged Gingrich, once again ready to lead those who won’t be intimated by the political elite and are ready to take on the challenges America faces.
  • In Stephen Pinker's book The Better Angels of Our Nature, the author notes that the European colonization-era condemnation of the "savagery" of Native American warfare "looks like a black pot in a glass house casting the first stone".


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