What Is a Mixed Metaphor? | Definition & Examples

A mixed metaphor is a figure of speech that combines two different metaphors in a nonsensical, oftentimes comedic, way.

The original meanings of the two metaphors are usually lost once they are combined into a mixed metaphor. Mixed metaphors can be created either by accident—by a writer who has confused their metaphors—or on purpose in order to create humor.

Mixed metaphor examples
A watched clock never boils.
Let’s get our ducks on the same page.

We’ll cross that bridge when we burn it.

What is a mixed metaphor?

The definition of a mixed metaphor is the fusion of two different metaphors to create an illogical comparison. While a metaphor uses consistent language and imagery (e.g., “He’s got a chip on his shoulder;” “He’s got something up his sleeve”), a mixed metaphor blurs the imagery by combining two dissimilar or impossible things (e.g., “He’s got a chip up his sleeve”).

Mixed metaphors vs metaphors
Mixed metaphor: He’s not the sharpest bulb in the box.
Metaphors: He’s not the brightest bulb + He’s not the sharpest crayon in the box.

Mixed metaphor vs extended metaphor

A mixed metaphor also differs from an extended metaphor.

  • An extended metaphor is logical, like a simple or regular metaphor, but it continues for multiple lines or even paragraphs.
  • A mixed metaphor can be short or long and combines two different metaphors in an illogical or incompatible way.

Mixed metaphor examples

When used intentionally, mixed metaphors can be used for comedic relief or characterization in a piece of writing.

Funny mixed metaphor examples

In 1940’s Pinocchio, Jiminy Cricket creates a mixed metaphor by combining “know which side one’s bread is buttered on” and “you’ve made your bed, now lie in it.” The character is a stand-in for conscience and is chastising Pinocchio for making a poor decision.

Mixed metaphor example in Pinocchio
“You buttered your bread. Now sleep in it!”

In the film North, standup comedian Joey Fingers combines the metaphors “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” and “the grass is greener on the other side” in an attempt to encourage the film’s protagonist on his journey.

Mixed metaphor example in North
“A bird in the hand is always greener than the grass under the other guy’s bushes.”

Frequently asked questions about mixed metaphor

What is the purpose of a mixed metaphor?

Mixed metaphors are often created by accident. However, when they are created intentionally, it is often for comedic effect. 

For example, an unintelligent character might mix up their metaphors and say something like, “I’ll wait ‘til the cows turn blue.” This combines “until the cows come home” and “until I’m blue in the face.”

What is the difference between a mixed metaphor and a regular metaphor?

A mixed metaphor is the combination of two metaphors and their related imagery. A metaphor is more straightforward, making a comparison with one type of imagery. 

Example: Let’s get our ducks on the same page. 

This is a combination of “let’s get our ducks in a row” and “let’s get on the same page.”

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Paige Pfeifer, BA

Paige teaches QuillBot writers about grammar rules and writing conventions. She has a BA in English, which she received by reading and writing a lot of fiction. That is all she knows how to do.