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Top 10 Mixed Metaphors

John Rentoul

Ernest Bevin HU 81497 223x300 Top 10 Mixed MetaphorsMy Top 10 in The New Review, The Independent on Sunday magazine, on Sunday was mixed metaphors. The best was possibly Ernest Bevin’s:

I don’t like it. When you open that Pandora’s box, you will find it full of Trojan horses.

This was supplied by the great and wondrous Francis Wheen, at whose feet I learned depressingly little at The New Statesman in the 1980s. What is more it might even be genuine. Bevin (pictured) was quoted by Lord Strang, permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office, in his autobiography, Home and Abroad, 1956, p290. There is no direct evidence that he said it, but Bevin didn’t like the Council of Europe, thinking it would provide a platform for communists, and he used the Trojan horse metaphor on another occasion without Pandora’s box.

I should also apologise for number 3 in the selection, Charlie Elphicke’s description of Labour “fighting like rats in a barrel”. That is not a mixed metaphor, or even a mixed simile, although it confuses two common ones: fighting like rats in a sack or scraping the bottom of a barrel (or possibly even shooting fish in a barrel). Rats could fight in a barrel, just as Enver Hoxha once said that if Albania departed from the path of true socialism it would end like a bucket of crabs.

A few other mixed metaphors didn’t make the final selection:

“Libya’s bloody crackdown on the opposition protesters [has] pushed tensions in the North African country to boiling point.” Independent, 20 February 2011.

The boiling point has nothing to do with tension, as Guy Keleny pointed out in his peerless Errors & Omissions column the following weekend, “and tension occurs when you pull something from both ends; when you push it, you get compression. One thing is for sure – the author of the above sentence could never have designed a steam engine that worked.”

“They are the nascent standard-bearers for British poetry.” Independent, 5 June 2004.

Keleny again: “You can just see them, emerging from the womb waving their little Union flags.”

“Libyan revolutionary forces stormed through the streets of Sirte yesterday, tightening their noose on this last bastion of support for the fallen former leader, Muammar Gaddafi.” Independent, 12 October 2011.

Keleny: “It would be possible to tighten a noose around a bastion, but nothing would be achieved by doing so.”

Finally, I liked this, from Frank on Twitter, quoting a mechanical and electrical consultant on a building site:

“He got the wrong end of the stick and started beating round the bush with it.”

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