Mixed Metaphors (5 Examples in Literature)


Metaphors are influential devices in all kinds of discourse that help us understand complex ideas by making analogies to familiar ones. They are considered as crucial tools in language. However, when these metaphors are incorporated in an illogical and inconsistent manner, they create mixed metaphors.

What are Mixed Metaphors?

A mixed metaphor is a mixture of two or more dissimilar, figurative elements, like metaphors, similes, and idioms, which in turn, lead to the silly or even confusing effect. This is likely to occur when you are creative and borrow ideas from various quarters or contexts potentially rendering your statement nonsensical or with disjointed ideas.

Mixed metaphors can occur in two ways:

  1. When factually the usage of figurative devices is unintentional among the speaker or writer and he is not actually aware of the inappropriateness of those elements..
  2. Intentionally, to create humorous and satirical effect.

Impact of Mixed Metaphors on Communication

Mixed metaphors can have a significant impact on communication:

Confusion: A conflict of metaphors might lead the audience to misunderstand the intended meaning of the speech, because the two incompatible elements create an unclear message.

Distraction: The humor inherent in the contrasting metaphors’ abusers may pull the audience’s attention away from the main message, as they are drawn into thinking about the inappropriate use of figurative components.

Undermining credibility: The improper conjunction of the metaphors from different domains can weaken the point of the speaker or the writer, suggesting their poor artistry and knowledge, and, consequently, reducing their credibility.

Humor: There are some cases where these metaphors can be used intentionally for fun effect specially in the situation which are informal or sarcastic.

Examples of Mixed Metaphors in literature


“Hamlet” by William Shakespeare

“To be, or not to be, that is the question—Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune, Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles, And by opposing end them?”

Hamlet is really thinking hard about whether it’s better to live or die. Shakespeare uses mixed metaphor to explain tough ideas. Hamlet first talks about “Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune” to describe how life can feel like you’re being attacked with rocks and arrows. He then talks about “take Arms against a Sea of troubles,” which shows that he is thinking about fighting back against a huge wave of problems. The idea of using weapons to fight the ocean sounds is strange. This mix imagery of battle and ocean is known as mixed metaphor. The author uses two different comparisons that don’t literally match up but help to paint a picture of facing challenges of the life.


“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot

“Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;”

The speaker uses a mixed metaphor to set out the evening sky. The first metaphor compares the evening sky to something that is “spread out.” It describes a flat and expansive surface. The second metaphor compares the evening sky to a patient who has been anesthetized (etherized)and is lying on a table likely in preparation for surgery. Both metaphors aim to describe the appearance of the evening sky. They create different images that do not quite fit together logically. A sky that is spread out like a flat surface does not easily align with the image of a person lying on a table. However, by combining these metaphors, the speaker creates a sense of disorientation and unease. This mixed metaphor sets a tone of uncertainty and anxiety. It reflects the speaker’s state of mind as he embarks on a journey through the evening with his companion.


“The Sound and the Fury” by William Faulkner

“Quentin and Shreve stared at the table, blotted with whiskey and cigarette ashes, as though it were a kind of geographical map of the doomed expedition, Shreve’s legs twisted and sprawled under the table as if they were vine roots.”

The first metaphor compares the table to a “geographical map of the doomed expedition.” It shows that the table is a representation of a failed journey. The second metaphor compares Shreve’s legs to “vine roots”. This suggests that Shreve is somehow rooted to the table or to the conversation taking place around it. The writer creates a sense of confusion and disorientation by combining these metaphors. This mixed metaphor reflects the characters’ own confusion and uncertainty as they attempt to piece together the events of the past.


“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

“A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling, and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea.”

The writer combines the metaphors while describing the ceiling as a “frosted wedding-cake” and the shadow on the rug as being like “wind does on the sea”. The combination of these dissimilar images creates a sense of movement and texture, however the metaphors do not blend seamlessly.


“Moby-Dick” by Herman Melville

“There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness. And there is a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces.”

Here, the author uses mixed metaphors by referring to a “Catskill eagle in some souls” that can “dive down into the blackest gorges” and “soar out of them again.” The combination of the eagle metaphor with the metaphorical description of diving into gorges and soaring out of them creates a complex and conflicting image.

Mixed Metaphors Examples in Literature
Mixed Metaphors Examples in Literature

How to Avoid Mixed Metaphor?

Stick to one metaphor at a time: Take issues of being contextual or pertaining to particular domains and leave out blunders that can happen when bring populations and elements that are not in-sync with the metaphor group together.

Be aware of common metaphors and idioms: Study metaphors and idioms diligently so as to be able to use them instead of providing them in-full each time.

Revise and edit your work: Spend enough time to make sure that there is no mixed metaphors and no meaningless figures of speech. Thus, you will complete your assignment more effectively.


Mixed metaphors occur when two different metaphors lose their combined connotation and instead produce an unclear or ridiculous context. People get crossed up with such by not having a proper knowledge which result on to less communication. The knowing of the mixed metaphors and the idea of how they affect the voice of your message can assist in improving the level of proficiency of your speech. The creative writers do something else by using metaphors as their tool of modeling the redundant information or utilizing the metaphor for purpose in the literature or media. This could illustrate how the speech differentiates between the characters, emphasize some humorous detail, or serve for experimental styles.

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