News-Record & Sentinel, January 2020
TV pundits love metaphors. They probably throw 100 people a day under the bus. But sometimes their talking gets ahead of their thinking, and their metaphors get mixed.
Like: “Nancy Pelosi has a lot of tools left in her quiver.”
No, son, she doesn’t. She either has tools in her toolbox or she has arrows in her quiver. It sounds dumb to mix them.
Another big-time commentator said, “He didn’t raise the red flag as loudly as he should have.” We understand what he means. Red flags signal danger — but so does “sound the alarm,” which you want to do big and loud. Keep them separate.
Mixed metaphors are excusable. They happen accidentally when the mind lags behind the tongue.
Mangled metaphors, on the other hand, can’t be excused as easily. We hear them when the speaker doesn’t understand the metaphor he’s using. He’ showing his ignorance.
Some mangled metaphors are so common they only annoy us for a moment. We hear, “He has a tough road to hoe,” and our minds see this poor goof chopping away at asphalt. It’s properly “a tough row to hoe” – a garden metaphor, not a roadwork metaphor.
Sportscasters lament that a losing team needs to “get untracked.” Untracked? “Track” says it’s a railroad metaphor, for heaven’s sake. If a train is untracked, it’s not going anywhere. The metaphor they mangle is “get on track,” that is, get going in the right direction.
I cheered out loud when one of ESPN’s ex-jock commentators said, “They need to get on track, and they need a conductor,” meaning a quarterback. He understood the metaphor and extended it!
“We really are in unchartered waters,” said Northwestern-educated Peter Alexander of NBC News. Peter lad, waters aren’t givben charters; they have charts. We’re in uncharted waters, not unchartered waters!
In this time of congressional hearings, we aren’t surprised to hear that “many more shoes will drop,” meaning simply, “There’s more to come.” The metaphor pictures the person in the apartment above us dropping a shoe, one shoe, and we brace ourselves because the other shoe will certainly drop. The metaphor doesn’t work if the guy upstairs is emptying his closet.
I’ll close now with a metaphor used by a sportscaster of my youth, Al Helfer, when the count was three balls and two strikes: “The string has run out.”