Metaphor-Mixers Seek a Hand–and a Leg Up

WASHINGTON.  Tom Salerno has been a Washington Capitals fan since he was a little boy, which means he’s watched his hometown team play twenty-six years without winning a Stanley Cup.  “We can’t seem to get over the hump,” he said as he watched his team tie their current playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, who defeated the Capitals in the Eastern Conference finals last year.

“Sidney Crosby stinks–literally!”


As Tom sputters on about lucky bounces and bad calls by referees over the years, his face takes on a vacant look and he launches into stream of consciousness tirade that calls to mind glossolalia, the phenomenon known as “speaking in tongues.”  “Our backs are on the ropes up against the corner of today’s wall because there’s no tomorrow,” he says, then bursts into tears as he realizes he has once again lapsed into metaphor-mixing, a neurological ailment that causes a speaker to confuse and conflate multiple and conflicting figures of speech.

“You can’t fish or cut bait between a rock and a hard place, now can you?”


“Metaphor-mixers live lives filled with shame and self-hate,” says Dr. Joan Storrs of the Center for the Study of Figurative Language Disabilities in Cambridge, Mass.  “People giggle behind their hands at mixed metaphors, and if a smart-aleck New Yorker writer happens to hear what you say, it ends up in one of those little ‘Block That Metaphor’ squibs.”

“If you’re the sun, I should probably put on some SPF 50 lotion.”


A metaphor is a figure of speech in which one thing, for example Shakespeare’s Juliet, is equated with another, the sun, suggesting aspects of resemblance between the two, such as the fact that Romeo’s world revolves around both objects.  A metaphor differs from a simile, which is like a comparative figure of speech that like uses “like” or “as” and is like commonly employed by poets and like inarticulate teenagers.

“Now Timmy, I don’t think you meant to say ‘split the baby and throw it out with the bathwater’–did you?”


Metaphor-mixing can be corrected if caught early enough, say speech pathologists, but school administrators say they have no room in their budgets for figurative speech impediment therapy.  “We need more federal government funding to solve this problem,” says Earl Byrum, assistant principal at Everett Dirksen High School in Centralia, Illinois.  “Otherwise we’re just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic and we’re going to hit the wall at the tip of the iceberg.”


Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “I Hear America Whining.”

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One thought on “Metaphor-Mixers Seek a Hand–and a Leg Up”

  1. I’ve always been told that simile and metaphor is apples and oranges, but sometimes I like to throw them against the wall and see what sticks.

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