Mixed Metaphor — Definition and Examples

Daniel Bal
Written by
Daniel Bal
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Courtney Adamo
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Paul Mazzola

What is a mixed metaphor?

A mixed metaphor occurs when an author combines two incompatible metaphors, forming an absurd or irrational comparison. In a mixed metaphor, there is no connection between what the author compares. Mixed metaphors sometimes make use of clichés and malapropisms and typically produce a humorous or ridiculous effect.

Deliberately used mixed metaphors are usually parodies of metaphors, poking fun at the ludicrous comparisons.

Mixed metaphor definition
Mixed metaphor definition

A mixed metaphor’s unintentional use often stems from a person's familiarity with the figurative meaning of the combined phrases rather than the literal one. They do not recognize the absurd comparison they have created based upon the literal meaning.

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Mixed metaphor examples

Examples of mixed metaphors can be found in everyday speech and within popular culture, especially in movies. The following are examples of general mixed metaphors along with the individual metaphors they contain:

Examples of mixed metaphors
Mixed metaphor Metaphor 1 Metaphor 2
The test is easy; it’s not rocket surgery. It's not rocket science. It's not brain surgery.
You can't change the spots of an old dog. A leopard can't change its spots. You can't teach an old dog new tricks.
You're sailing close to thin ice. You're sailing too close to the wind. You're on thin ice.
They’ve taken the horns by the scruff of the neck. They've taken the bull by the horns. They were taken by the scruff of their neck.

Mixed metaphor examples
Mixed metaphor examples

An example of a mixed metaphor is a figure of speech that just doesn't make sense. Writers often intentionally include misused metaphors to produce a comedic effect, showcasing a character’s ignorance or naivety.

Examples of these metaphors occur in the following movies:

Examples of mixed metaphors from movies
Origin Mixed meatphor Metaphor 1 Metaphor 2
The Social Network (Sean) "The shoe is on the other table that has turned." The shoe is on the other foot. The tables have turned.
Back to the Future (Biff Tannen) "Make like a tree and get out of here." Make like a tree and leave. Get out of here.
Pinocchio (Jiminy Cricket) "You've buttered your bread; now sleep in it." You've buttered your bread, now eat it. You've made your bed; now lie in it.
The Truman Show (Truman Burbank) "Early bird gathers no moss. Rolling stone catches the worm, right?" The early bird catches the room. A rolling stone gathers no moss.
Austin Powers (Austin Powers) "But unfortunately for yours truly, that train has sailed." The train has left the station. That ship has sailed.

Mixed metaphor examples in movies
Mixed metaphor examples in movies