Sunday, July 12, 2009

Mixed metaphors (2)

Mixed metaphors can reduce the clarity of your writing in two ways. First, mixed metaphors can make your readers pause to wonder what you meant by combining two or more metaphors in an incongruous way.

Second, mixed metaphors can make your readers pause to laugh at the incongruity. Every time you make your readers pause, every time you distract them, you run the risk that they will miss your main point, or even stop reading.

In addition to reducing your clarity, mixed metaphors can reduce your credibility. The more intelligent of your readers will think, “He’s careless with words; maybe he’s careless with facts.”

Example of a mixed metaphor

Here’s a simple example of a mixed metaphor:

“Stockton, California is one of many flash points of the housing bubble.”

A flash point is not a place; it is a temperature. It is “[t]he lowest temperature at which the vapor of a combustible liquid can be made to ignite momentarily in air.”

When, as in the example, the metaphor flash point is combined with the metaphor bubble, readers will become confused. Is the flash point the point at which the bubble forms or the point at which the bubble becomes so large that it bursts? Neither of these events involves ignition. The sentence is nonsense.

The Takeaway: Whenever you write, pay attention to the metaphors you are using. When you combine metaphors, double-check the definition of each metaphor and make sure there is no chance of a mixed metaphor. Mixed metaphors will confuse and distract your readers. They will also damage your credibility with the more intelligent of your readers. These readers are keenly aware of your diction. They are judging you, line by line. Always strive to win their esteem.

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