Metaphors in and of themselves are a powerful tool to communicating ideas and concepts efficiently to a reader. However, when multiple metaphors are used in conjunction with each other they can become confusing. This is a common reason why many advise writers to avoid mixed metaphors. However, in this article we’re going to dive into some of the uses of the mixed metaphors that writers overlook. What is a mixed metaphor? This is specifically relevant in the world of storytelling and screenwriting. 

What is a mixed metaphor

First, let’s define mixed metaphor

Mixed metaphors may first appear to have little value to writers, but when used intentionally, they can be a great tool. To better understand its value, let’s take a look at the mixed metaphor definition. 

MIXED METAPHOR DEFINITION

What is a mixed metaphor?

A mixed metaphor is a combination of two or more incompatible metaphors, producing a ridiculous effect. There are two ways for characters to use this technique, also known as a "mixaphor." In dialogue, it would either be used intentionally or unintentionally. In other words, if a character understands that they are combining two phrases, they can appear witty. If they simply don't know better, they can appear ignorant.

What is a mixed metaphor used for?

  • Comedic delivery
  • Reveal character
  • Emphasize a point

There’s no doubt that mixing metaphors in and of themselves can be confusing when used to function as a normal metaphor. But within the realm of writing and literary devices, mixed metaphors can actually be a tool. Let’s take a look at a few examples before diving into the uses in storytelling. 

What is a mixed metaphor

Mixed metaphor examples

Before we dive into a few of the reasons a writer would utilize a "mixaphor," let’s take a look at a few more mixed metaphor examples to get you better acquainted with the literary device. 

  • "Early bird gathers no moss. Rolling stone catches the worm, right?" — The Truman Show
  • “Does the Pope shit in the woods?” — The Big Lebowski
  • “The shoe's on the other… table, which has turned" — The Social Network
  • "That's awfully thin gruel for the right wing to hang their hats on." — MSNBC, September 3, 2009
  • "I knew enough to realize that the alligators were in the swamp and that it was time to circle the wagons." — Rush Limbaugh
  • "Sir, I smell a rat; I see him forming in the air and darkening the sky; but I'll nip him in the bud." — attributed to Sir Boyle Roche, 1736-1807

What is a mixed metaphor used for?

Comedic delivery

In a story, there are many elements that contribute to the story’s tone. Dialogue may be one of the most important. What a character says and how they say is a key determinant to a film’s tone. 

The ridiculousness and nonsensical meaning of mixing metaphors makes them a great tool for comedic relief in a drama or setting a comedic tone.

In this scene from the film The Social Network, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin utilizes the mixed metaphor not only to create the rhythmic dialogue he loves, but also for a bit of comedic delivery.

We brought the screenplay into the StudioBinder screenwriting app to analyze this further. 

The Social Network  •  Funny Mixed Metaphor examples

To see the comedic function of the mixaphor in this scene, it helps to see the action of Sean Parker and how the dialogue changed from script to screen.

The Social Network  •  Funny Mixed Metaphor Examples

In addition to delivering a joke or setting a comedic tone, mixed metaphors say a lot about the character using it. 

Let’s take a look at an additional application: what it reveals about character. 

What is a mixed metaphor used for?

Reveal character 

When a person uses a metaphor, they are often attempting to appear intelligent in the way they craft an argument or an idea. Combining metaphors that usually doesn’t make sense, underscores the character’s desire or belief in the fact that they are intelligent despite falling short. 

Take a look at this example from The Truman Show (spoilers ahead). Truman has just started to figure out there is something suspicious about his life and the world around him. 

This realization has made him a bit frantic to find out whether he is right or not. In this frantic state, Truman combines the metaphors “Early bird gets the worm” and “A rolling stone gathers no moss.”

This is a great example of a mixed metaphor that delivers a joke while simultaneously revealing the state of a character. 

The Truman Show  •  Mixed metaphor examples

Truman’s use of a mixing metaphors reflects his frantic paranoia that something is up. It delivers a joke while also revealing Truman’s emotions and state of mind. 

Most people advise writers to avoid combining or hybridizing metaphors. They may end up confusing or nonsensical. 

However, in the context of storytelling, mixed metaphors can be a great tool to deliver a joke or set a comedic tone. The nonsensical nature of a mixed nature can also reveal a lot about the character saying it. 

UP NEXT

The power of metaphor

Mixing metaphors is only one tool under the umbrella of metaphors. To better understand all types of metaphors and their value to writers, check out our next article. We take a look at the term metaphor, the different types of metaphors, and the distinctions between them. 

Up Next: What is a Metaphor? →
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