Mixed metaphor of the week

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“As the car is hurtling towards the cliff, it’s driving on quicksand,” Levitt said.

The context — Tierney Sneed, "Why The GOP Is Still Playing With Fire With Obamacare Repeal And Delay", TPM 11/29/2016:

[H]ealth care policy experts across the ideological spectrum have warned that even a delayed repeal, if passed without a replacement bill queued up, could wreak havoc on the insurance industry, and harm not just ACA users, but consumers in the broader market. […]

“Republicans are in a bit of box here," said Larry Levitt, an expert on health care law at the Kaiser Family Foundation, "because the individual mandate is an anathema to them, but repealing the individual mandate immediately while keeping the protections for people with pre-existing conditions would likely lead to immediate chaos in the insurance market." […]

“The individual insurance market could collapse in between a repeal vote and a replacement vote,” Levitt said.  

It would be in this environment that lawmakers will be hammering out the hard trade-offs that come with health care policy, and trying to come up with an Obamacare replacement that will likely need some Democratic votes to overcome a filibuster if the GOP can't pass an ACA alternative using reconciliation alone.  

As the car is hurtling towards the cliff, it’s driving on quicksand,” Levitt said. “Keeping insurance in place for people amidst the uncertainty of a replacement debate will be very tough.”


  1. Stan Carey said,

    November 29, 2016 @ 7:58 am

    This article on the rise and fall of quicksand may be of interest.

    [(myl) The similar rise and fall of cliff and quicksand in the Google Books ngram index is spooky:

    The correlation between the two is r = 0.791.

    Compare to the distribution of correlations in a century of refereed publications in social psychology:


  2. Breffni said,

    November 29, 2016 @ 8:34 am

    if passed without a replacement bill queued up

    Shouldn't that be cued up? One bill doesn't make a queue.

    [(myl) I'm not so sure — does a queue or line or stack cease to deserve the word if it only has one thing in it? Or for that matter if it's empty?]

  3. Ralph Hickok said,

    November 29, 2016 @ 9:49 am

    Queueing theory allows a queue to have fewer than 2 elements.

    Typing the word makes me wonder if "queueing" is the only English word that has five consecutive vowels :)

  4. Jonathan said,

    November 29, 2016 @ 10:11 am

    Isn't it just in the queue of *all* bills?

  5. Mara K said,

    November 29, 2016 @ 11:58 am

    Fun fact: "queue" is the only word in English that sounds the same if you delete the last four letters

  6. Robot Therapist said,

    November 29, 2016 @ 12:45 pm

    Is that a mixed metaphor? It seems to me to say: if we speed on we're in trouble, and if we slow down we're in trouble. This may not be an accurate portrayal of the Obamacare situation, but it doesn't seem like a mixed metaphor. The situation is like a vehicle, and there are two (opposite) kinds of dangerous terrain involved.

  7. Stephen Hart said,

    November 29, 2016 @ 1:31 pm

    Breffni said,
    November 29, 2016 @ 8:34 am
    "Shouldn't that be cued up? One bill doesn't make a queue."

    A single bill is queued up when it is in the queue for a vote.

  8. Gregory Kusnick said,

    November 29, 2016 @ 1:49 pm

    Surely the point is that both bills must be queued up consecutively?

    Robot: Hurtling through quicksand sounds like a mixed metaphor to me. And shouldn't the quicksand be at the bottom of the cliff?

    [(myl) Well, the car could be hurtling towards the bottom of the cliff from below rather than from above :-)…]

  9. Bloix said,

    November 29, 2016 @ 3:54 pm

    Fun fact (forgive me if it's obvious – it was fun for me when I learned it):
    The quick in quicksand means alive, not speedy – e.g.,

    "At low tide a portion of the sand is dry and hard … but as the water flows over any part of it, that part becomes, as the sailors say, 'all alive,' all soft and quick, and ready to suck in anything that lodges upon it."
    John Gilmore, "Storm Warriors: or, Life-boat work on the Goodwin Sands," 1875

  10. Max said,

    November 29, 2016 @ 3:57 pm

    The problem with "queued up" in this case is that it doesn't communicate the "ready to go" sense of "cued up," which is surely what Sneed meant. A replacement bill "queued up" could be at the back of the queue, nowhere close to ready.

  11. J.W. Brewer said,

    November 29, 2016 @ 4:31 pm

    This usage of "queued up" sounds odd to me but I infer from some of the discussion above that it may make sense not only in a "standing in line if you happen to be British" sense but in some computer-jargon sense. That's not a jargon I know very well, but the alternative possibility "cued up" makes metaphorical sense to me from possibly-now-old-timey radio DJ jargon. When you used analog two-turntables-and-a-microphone technology for over-the-air broadcasting, you wanted to get the next song you were going to play "cued up" in advance, meaning not only was the relevant vinyl record already placed on the not-currently-on-the-air turntable, but that the needle was physically down on that record and positioned at exactly the right spot in the groove for you to smoothly segue into that song (whether coming out of the prior song spinning on the other turntable or coming out of a mike break) at just the right moment. That metaphor works reasonably well here — the political goal is to avoid what is pejoratively called in radio "dead air," i.e. a problematic pause caused when one thing stops before the next thing is immediately ready to be started. Which is why you want to have the next thing cued up in advance.

  12. Gregory Kusnick said,

    November 29, 2016 @ 4:47 pm

    Note that "cued up" in J.W.'s sense also carries a connotation of pipelining and sequential processing: the cued-up track is at the head of the play queue.

    If this were a transcription of someone's spoken remarks, perhaps a plausible case could be made that "cued up" was meant, but was heard by the transcriber as "queued up". But that doesn't seem to be the case here; "queued up" is what Sneed wrote, presumably intentionally, and it makes sense in context.

  13. Breffni said,

    November 29, 2016 @ 5:14 pm

    J. W. Brewer's sense of 'cued up' is what I had in mind. If you're in a queue you're just waiting your turn, whenever it might come, but cueing up involves readiness for a smooth, often a split-second transition. That seems to fit the legislative situation (as I understand it) better.

    In fact it might be a subtle eggcorn. Google turns up several cases of 'had it queued up' in reference to video and audio recordings where 'cued' was clearly intended. (Digital devices muddy the waters, since a recording might be queued or cued up, maybe both simultaneously.)

  14. J.W. Brewer said,

    November 29, 2016 @ 7:08 pm

    By the way, "driving on quicksand" (even w/o the other piece of the metaphor) sounded a bit weird to my ear, like not at all a conventional metaphor or fixed phrase. Googling reveals only 24 hits, more than half of which seem to be references to this very post.

  15. Chester Draws said,

    November 29, 2016 @ 8:56 pm

    makes me wonder if "queueing" is the only English word that has five consecutive vowels


    And some technical words, like euouae and zooeae, that most people would not have in their vocabulary.

  16. Graeme said,

    November 29, 2016 @ 11:42 pm

    Lucky Trump will be Infrastructure President. Cursed is the land where roads lead to precipices via quicksand.

  17. Gwen Katz said,

    November 30, 2016 @ 12:13 am

    If you were hurtling towards a cliff, hitting quicksand might be a good thing if it would stop the car.

  18. Jon said,

    November 30, 2016 @ 5:01 am

    George Mikes, in 'How to be an alien' (he was a Hungarian refugee in England) described an Englishman at a bus-stop "forming an orderly queue of one".

  19. KevinM said,

    November 30, 2016 @ 1:03 pm

    On the rise and fall of quicksand, at least in popular entertainment:

  20. Michael Robertson said,

    November 30, 2016 @ 1:22 pm

    This discussion has really taken the steam out of my sails.

  21. David Scott Marley said,

    November 30, 2016 @ 7:34 pm


  22. Xmun said,

    December 1, 2016 @ 11:23 pm

    But try getting five consecutive vowels in English written in IPA. In phonetic spelling Miaoued would be [miau:d] or [mja:u:d], wouldn't it? And Cooeeing would be begin [ku:i:…] (I can't find the IPA characters for "…ing".)
    Correct me if I'm wrong: my use of the phonetic alphabet is rusty.

  23. David Marjanović said,

    December 3, 2016 @ 2:11 pm

    "In 1945… we stood… at the edge of the abyss… Since then… we've made… a great step forward…!!!"
    – Ascribed to Marshal Tito, Yugoslavia personified, when he was getting senile but still insisted on not preparing his speeches.

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