Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Episode 82: Mixed Metaphors Show Notes

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Bunny Trails

Episode 82: Mixing Metaphors

Record Date: June 23, 2020

Air Date: June 24, 2020


Welcome to Bunny Trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase. 

I’m Dan Pugh

Each week, we take an idiom, or other turn of phrase, and try to tell the story from it’s entry into the English language, to how it’s used today. 

This week Shauna and I struggled to find a time to get together and record, so you just get me. And since we are deviating from the norm, I decided to deviate just a smidge bit more and talk about a concept rather than a phrase. Specifically, I want to talk about mixing metaphors. 


OED:   The combination of two or more inconsistent or incompatible metaphors, often with humorous effect

There are several examples of the phrase “mixed metaphors” in the mid to late 1700s, so I’ll use this 1753 example from “The Works of Alexander Pope Esq: Volume IV containing his Satires”, which was published by J and P Knapton. 


These, it is objected, are Infects not of Nature’s creating, but the Poet’s, and therefore such compound images are to be condemned. Ince would think, by this, that mixed qualities troubled the sense, as much as mixed metaphors do the style.  But whoever thinks so, is mistaken. The fault of mixed metaphors is, that they call the imagination from image to image, when it is the writer’s purpose to fix it upon on. 

End Quote


1753   J. Warton in C. Pitt tr. Virgil ├ćneid viii, in J. Warton et al. tr. Virgil Wks. III. 380 (note)    Mr. Spence observes, that there is something of the mixed metaphor (or rather mixed allegory) in this passage.

1795   L. Murray Eng. Gram. App. 214   We should avoid making two inconsistent metaphors meet on one object. This is what is called mixed metaphor.

1800   C. Lamb in Lett. C. & M. A. Lamb (1975) I. 199   It seems the Doctor is invariably against the use of broken or mixed metaphor.

1882   Cent. Mag. May 100/2   He had a way..of ‘dropping’ like his own bobolink, with letting down his fine passages with odd conceits, mixed metaphors, and licenses which as a critic he would not overlook in another.

1915   L. M. Montgomery Anne of Island xxiv. 207   I must gird up the loins of my mind and hoe in. Excuse my mixed metaphors.

1992   Esquire July 52/2   Elder writers are allowed twelve mixed metaphors per thousand words no matter how immiscible or risible.

Mineral Point tribune. [volume], December 16, 1856, Image 4

About Mineral Point tribune. [volume] (Mineral Point, Wis.) 1854-1858

Frostburg mining journal. [volume], July 16, 1904, Image 2

About Frostburg mining journal. [volume] (Frostburg, Md.) 1871-1913

And literally 2 articles lower on the same page of that same paper, the Frostburg Mining Journal


The Day Book Februrary 3, 1912 Chicago

When Packers Were The “Goats”

According to a telegram introduced in the packers’ trial today, the beef barons at one time believed they were “goats”, and proceeded to justify this belief by butting in and hogging the business, which is rather a mixed metaphor. 

The mix here is using the phrase “hogging the business” when talking about beef barons who were butting their way into things like goats. 


The day book. [volume], March 15, 1915, LAST EDITION, Image 15

About The day book. [volume] (Chicago, Ill.) 1911-1917

A Mixed Metaphor

Sir Robert Ball, the famous astonomer, was rather fond of telling the story of a correspondent who wrote to him saying that, although he was a grocers assistant, his great ambition was to become an astronomer. But he got his ideas somewhat mixed, for this was one of his sentences: “My mind finds no rest for the sole of her foot save on one of the heavenly bodies”

A Quick Thank You

This week’s episode is sponsored by our Patrons, with special thanks to our Logomorphology Interns Pat Rowe and Mary Lopez. Your support makes Bunny Trails happen week after week. 

All of our patrons get access to a monthly bonus episode, as well as behind the scenes chats with Shauna and I. But best of all, our Patrons get to know they are helping provide a safe place for your brain for 30 minutes every week. You can find more at

Pop Culture and Modern Examples wrote an article in the Independent - Sunday 16 March 2014 

'Mixed metaphors have been neglected in recent metaphor research,' according to an academic paper on artificial intelligence by the School of Computer Science at the University of Birmingham. So I am grateful to Anthony Polson for suggesting this collection.

1. 'Ahmadinejad wields axe to cement his position' Independent headline, 14 December 2010.

2. 'It would open up a can of worms and a legal minefield about freedom, religion and equalities legislation… It may open up old wounds and put people into the trenches; no one wants that' 

David Burrowes, Conservative MP, on gay marriage, 17 January 2012.

3. 'Labour are fighting like rats in a barrel' 

Charlie Elphicke, Conservative MP, 16 February 2014. Suggested by Steve Van Riel.

4. 'I don't like it. When you open that Pandora's box, you will find it full of Trojan horses' 

Ernest Bevin, Labour Foreign Secretary, on the idea of a Council of Europe, 1948. Nominated by Francis Wheen.

5. 'I'm kickstarting a drive to get employee ownership into the bloodstream' Nick Clegg, 17 January 2012. Thanks to James Chapman.

6. 'Far-right vacuum could trigger "lone-wolf" attacks' 

Independent headline, 29 December 2012. Errors & Omissions editor Guy Keleny had some fun trying to imagine the precise mechanism involved.

7. 'They've put all their eggs in one basket and it's misfired' Paul Merson, Sky football pundit, of West Ham's purchase of Andy Carroll. From Vincent Clark.

8. 'Out of the hat on Monday night the Home Secretary produced the rabbit, the temporary provisions Bill, as her fig leaf to cover her major U-turn' 

Simon Hughes, Lib Dem MP, 2008. Nominated by Saul Minaee.

9. 'To take arms against a sea of troubles,/And by opposing end them' 

Just to show that they are not always bad.

10. 'We're like the canary down the mine. We're the first people who pick up what's going on out there and what we're seeing at the moment is a boiling pot whose lid is coming off' 

Markos Chrysostomou, Haringey Citizens Advice Bureau, on the effects of cuts, 19 November 2012.

Not the sharpest cookie in the jar

You’ve barely scratched the tip of the iceburg

March to your own trumpet

Don’t cry over spilled beans

It isn’t rocket surgery

An eye for an eye leave no stone unturned

A rolling stone gathers no wool

Burning the bridge at both ends

A bird in the hand is the devil’s workshop

The hand that rocks the cradle rules the roost

Christopher Sutton, who describes himself as an aspiring author and PHD Profession posted on Quora that his mother used to say, “Don’t count your bridges until you’ve crossed them”

Which makes me giggle even now. 

Wrap up...

Mixing our metaphors, and having them understood, might be among the height of fluency in a language. It’s almost like an inside joke. You have to understand all of the metaphors in play, what they mean individually, and how they juxtapose together to really make mixed metaphors works. But I’ll leave you with one relatively poignant mixed metaphor, which I found on the WordNik website. And this one, taken in the “now times” kinda makes sense...Times are as tough as nails.



That’s about all the time we have for today. I’d love to hear your favorite mixed metaphors. Post them on Twitter or Facebook and tag us in the post so we can see them!

Thanks for joining us. We’ll both be back to talk to you again next week. And until then remember... 

Words belong to their users.

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