Tag Archives: mixed metaphor

So tarred

Nothing wakes me up like a good mixed metaphor. But you already know that; they’re honored all over this place.

This morning, still sleepy, I filled my morning mug while listening to Today’s Professionals, the mildly lame Today show panel of  so-called “professionals,” consisting of a doctor, a lawyer and a PR exec who expound on issues of the day to the benefit of, well, no one really, in my humble opinion.

The topic of the day was Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), and his recent comments about “legitimate rape” not causing pregnancy.

After Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Nancy Snyderman rebuffed the congressman’s theory, the panel’s legal analyst, Star Jones, cautioned that the congressman’s gaffe could harm GOP candidate Mitt Romney, whose campaign could be “tarred with the same feather.”

Did you notice this?

We don’t see much tarrin’ and featherin’ going on these days; thankfully, the hot and sticky mode of torture went out with the horse and buggy.

However, we do see people and things and causes being tarred with the same brush as others, the image being that using a brush to spread tar on something could dirty another object if the same brush were used.

It is said that the expression “tarred with the same brush” refers to the tarring of sheep as a method of branding, in which owners of a flock of sheep marked their wool in the same place with a brush dipped in tar to distinguish them from other flocks. I’m sure there are other theories.

Nevertheless, I envisioned someone trying to spread tar—on anything—with a feather. If Ms. Jones’ words are true, then the Romney campaign is going to be just fine.


Filed under All Things Wordish, Movies, Television and Radio, News, Politics

Ape for annuities

Let’s see. How long is the list of companies whose commercials contain grammatical errors? I can count Boniva, Honey Bunches of Oats, Miller Genuine Draft and a few more I can’t recall at the moment. Today I am adding Honda for its recent tagline: “To each their own.” Sheesh.

Another one has been bugging me, not for its grammar but for its mixed metaphor. What has me puzzled is—as is often the case—how it escaped the smart and well paid execs who craft and place television ads.

Take a look at one of Axa Equitable Life Insurance Company’s most recent spots and tell me if you notice it.

“What do I know? I’m just the 800-pound gorilla in the room.”

Pick one, guys. It’s either “the 800-pound gorilla” or “the elephant in the room.” These expressions mean two different things, the latter being more apt for Axa’s campaign. Perhaps the elephant failed the audition.

Just before Axa Equitable launched the campaign during the 2007 Super Bowl, the company said in a press release that it sought to encourage the approximately 77 million baby boomers in America to “stop ignoring the 800-pound gorilla in the  room” and buy their variable annuities.

 Four years later, the campaign continues. The commercials have won numerous industry awards and still, no one is challenging their metaphorical duplicity. Naturally, retirement planning and life insurance are important subjects that many prefer to ignore; in this vein, the commercials are hitting the intended demographic target. It’s just that Axa has picked the wrong spokesmammal.

Do we need a refresher?

“The elephant in the room” represents a sizeable subject that everyone is aware of but no one wants to talk about. It might be a looming crisis or a relative’s drinking problem. Everyone knows it’s there—it’s too big to ignore—but we pretend not to notice it. 

An “800-pound gorilla” is a bully, a goliath, a behemoth. Just think of the old riddle.

“Where does an 800-pound gorilla sleep?”
“Anywhere he wants.”


Filed under All Things Wordish, Marketing/Advertising/PR

Slippery salmonella

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, sometimes referred to as the “food police,” is the advocacy group we love to hate. In reality, they do mountains of good in heightening public awareness about healthy eating—by telling us the ugly truth about our favorite indulgences, from buttered popcorn to Mexican food.

Yesterday, the group released a study on food safety, showing how well each of our 50 states detects, investigates and combats food-borne illness. I am proud to say that my state was one of only seven to receive an “A.”

That’s neither here nor there.

Call it the curse of the word nymph, but what made me take notice was not the data but the delivery. A word nymph can detect a mixed metaphor faster than a wood nymph can spot a bull thistle.

In announcing the study, CSPI safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal said, “If a consumer calls and says they have a food-borne illness but there’s no one there to investigate the cause, then outbreaks are just slipping under the radar screen.”

Did she mean “slipping under the radar?” Or did she mean “slipping off the radar screen?”

I’d say, technically, the answer could be both, but not in the same sentence.

What’s the difference? The first originates from “flying below the radar,” which is to go undetected or unnoticed. To be on someone’s radar screen is to receive his or her attention. To be off a person’s radar screen means the person is unaware.

The difference in meaning is extremely subtle, so perhaps I niggle. And yet, hearing the mixed metaphor on the news last night left me with a messy mental image. When Ms. Smith DeWaal said that outbreaks are “slipping under the radar screen,” I immediately wanted to swab the radar screen, and the control panel below it, with an antibacterial wipe.

Did anyone else have the same gut reaction?


Filed under All Things Wordish, Food, Health, Marketing/Advertising/PR, News

Malaprop Monday

You could have knocked me over with a 10-foot pole.

That’s not only a real life example, but also my reaction every time I hear a really good malapropism or mixed metaphor.  For whatever reason, my life’s path has been graced by many a modern day Mrs. Malaprop who, God love her, utters well-intentioned phrases with a twisted tongue.  

We know Mrs. Malaprop as the 18th century character in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s play, The Rivals, who personified the habit of inadvertently swapping a word for one with a similar sound, rendering the phrase nonsensical or, more often, really funny.

Everyone knows a Mrs. (or Mr.) Malaprop.

I will never forget one walking into my office distraught; she said tests showed she had fiber-optic tumors.   I thought to myself, ooh, that must be painful.

The same woman once told of a colleague who gave a speech at a conference.  I think what she intended to say was that, after the speech, attendees flocked around him.  Instead, she said his speech was so successful the audience flogged him.

A top executive at that same company once reported that her business unit was making money hand over foot.

Recently, as I discussed this topic with my husband, he confessed to his own high profile slip.  In a division memo on Safety at Sea he reported that, during a shipboard mission, a well known oceanographer was hospitalized after having lost the majority of his hand in a winch (a device used to adjust the tension of a rope or cable).  What’s the malapropism, you ask?  My husband reported that Dr. Smith lost his hand in a wench.

Malapropisms are also associated with mixed metaphors and nothing titillates a word nymph more than a good mixed metaphor.

I once heard “Don’t burn your bridges before they’re hatched” while trying desperately not to picture a bridge being hatched.  Talk about painful.

If you have a favorite malapropism or mixed metaphor you’d like to share, I’ll be here, holding my bated breath.

Note:  Also akin to malapropisms are mondegreens, phrases that are often misheard or misunderstood.  But let’s save those for the next time we talk about (you guessed it!) song lyrics.


Filed under All Things Wordish, Reading