Thursday, April 8, 2010

Untidy metaphors

Untidy metaphors are metaphors that look, sound and feel unfinished. When you use an untidy metaphor, your reader may not fully understand your point. You waste time – yours and your reader’s.

Example of an untidy metaphor

A published interview quoted a New Zealand politician: “…there are dangers in crossing the road [of genetic modification of food] and there are dangers in not crossing it.” The interviewer wrote: “No specifics, just an untidy metaphor prepared by someone less sharp than himself.”

Example of an untidier metaphor

If a speaker uses an impromptu metaphor, it may be so untidy that it suggests incongruous and confusing tangents.

This possibility is humorously demonstrated in a commercial in which a girl asks her mother what a certain word means. Because it is an adult word, the girl’s mother becomes flustered. She tries to give an age-appropriate answer by constructing a bland metaphor. But while she is constructing the metaphor, her daughter keeps interrupting with innocent clarifying questions that lead to humorous tangents.

The Takeaway: Whenever we create a metaphor, we should think it through, from the reader’s or listener’s point of view. In particular, we should try to foresee any tangents that may distract the reader or listener.

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