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. 

Watch: What is a Metaphor — 8 Types Explained

Subscribe for more filmmaking videos like this.

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. 


What is a mixed metaphor?

A mixed metaphor is a combination of two or more incompatible figurative elements, producing a ridiculous effect. These elements can be metaphors, malaphors, or idioms. 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 mixed metaphor, 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
  • "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. 

Here's an interesting example from Austin Powers. In a rare moment of earnest vulnerability, Austin describes a lost love by mixing two metaphors: "the train has left the station" and "that ship has sailed."

Austin Powers Mixes Metaphors

Austin's delivery is straight but the line is funny. This is the kind of clever mix in tone that make comedians great.

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 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. 


The power of metaphor

A mixed metaphor 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? →
Solution Icon - Screenplay and Documents

Write and produce your scripts all in one place.

Write and collaborate on your scripts FREE. Create script breakdowns, sides, schedules, storyboards, call sheets and more.

Tags: , ,
  • Kyle DeGuzman graduated from San Diego State University with a Bachelor of Science in Television, Film, & New Media. He currently resides in Denver, Colorado spending his time writing, filmmaking, and traveling.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Copy link