Metaphor mixture of the week

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From the discussion on Facebook:

The quote is from Matt Flegenheimer, "In City She Shook, Stormy Daniels Speaks About Path to ‘Full Disclosure’", NYT 12/3/2018. The full paragraph

From its inception, the Trump presidency has doubled as a kind of perpetual arm-wrestling match between a capital full of institutions and a man set on bulldozing them, bending Official Washington to his rhythms and mores with every overnight Twitter missile and gilded indiscretion.

In fairness to Mr. Flegenheimer, at least half of recent uses of arm-wrestling and bulldozing in the NYT have been metaphorical, so (as usual with mixed metaphors) he probably didn't have the original meanings in mind at all.

The rest of the article is relatively literal, though it does talk about "dissect[ing] a tome" — and also treats us to nice instance of NYT taboo-skirting:

“You have turned ethics and values and morals around, upside down, in this country,” Ms. Quinn said at one point. “You — Stormy Daniels the porn star — are the one who is the ethical person.”

Ms. Daniels smiled. “How messed up is that, yo?” she responded. (She did not say “messed.”)

[h/t Geoff Nunberg]



  1. MattF said,

    December 7, 2018 @ 7:34 am

    The fact that it got past an editor suggests that the NYT approves. Or… maybe it's self-parody. Or… maybe Flegenheimer is the editor's nephew.

    Geoff N: Well, or the editor's darling, anyway: Dean Baquet described Flegenheimer earlier this year as "one of the most gifted stylists at the Times."

  2. Andy Stow said,

    December 7, 2018 @ 7:39 am

    Surely the editor would have caught "capital" for "capitol"? Or maybe it's supposed to be a pun.

  3. Tom Dawkes said,

    December 7, 2018 @ 8:01 am

    The "capital" is Washington as seat of federal government, so appropriate here. I doubt is the "Capitol" can properly be said to be " full of institutions"

  4. Lukas said,

    December 7, 2018 @ 9:03 am

    Language is 99% metaphor anyways. Very little of what we say is truly literal, it's all mixed metaphors. I think we should learn to be more comfortable with this, particularly when this fact becomes strikingly obvious, as in the original quote – which, by the way, I love.

  5. Robert Coren said,

    December 7, 2018 @ 10:26 am

    Formerly common, now exceedingly rare: "Fillers" in The New Yorker under the heading "Block That Metaphor!"

  6. BillR said,

    December 7, 2018 @ 10:53 am

    Doesn’t the whole metaphor-mixing issue fall under the descriptivist vs. prescriptivist umbrella?

  7. J.W. Brewer said,

    December 7, 2018 @ 11:00 am

    My four-year-old likes to arrange elaborate highway-accident tableaux on the floor of our family room with his collection of toy cars, trucks, and construction equipment, so I think the arm-wrestling-with-a-bulldozer concept would be an artistic inspiration to him.

  8. Rube said,

    December 7, 2018 @ 12:31 pm

    @J.W. Brewer: I am suddenly imagining a totally awesome Calvin & Hobbes Sunday strip.

  9. Jerry Friedman said,

    December 7, 2018 @ 4:30 pm

    Lukas: Language is 99% metaphor anyways.

    Well, some of it is hyperbole.

    BillR: Doesn’t the whole metaphor-mixing issue fall under the descriptivist vs. prescriptivist umbrella?

    It's style advice, which is almost always prescriptive. Some people are probably too picky about mixed metaphors, but quite a few people will consider the current specimen excessive.

  10. john burke said,

    December 7, 2018 @ 5:54 pm

    A letter to the San Francisco Chronicle several years ago–I can't supply an exact citation or a screenshot, sorry–included the following:

    "With the clock running on venture capital financing fumes, the fire is hot under the designer duds for these image-makers to roll the dice with the biggest chunk of capital on the tricky task of market packaging before the cash evaporates."

    I think this may hold the indoor record.

  11. 번하드 said,

    December 7, 2018 @ 8:23 pm

    Re: "(She did not say “messed.”)"
    OK, I can somehow get the perceived necessity to do what was done here.
    But in another piece of news on the BBC, I was tickled the wrong way because at least for me, it introduced ambiguity and prompted a different interpretation:
    "after media reported that Mr Tillerson had called the president an expletive-laced moron"
    So Mr. Tillerson said that Asset Orange loves to use foul language?

  12. John Swindle said,

    December 8, 2018 @ 6:03 pm

    BBC did say that the media had reported Rex Tillerson calling the American president an "expletive-laced moron". Sure, that could be misread as an allegation that the president was full of expletives, very funny. But what's the alternative reading? Does anyone call someone an [expletive]-laced moron? Did the media in fact say Tillerson had done so? Surely the president is rather an [expletive]-faced moron.

  13. BZ said,

    December 10, 2018 @ 2:04 pm

    This gives me the opportunity to quote two of my favorite TV shows:
    "If we hit that bullseye, the rest of the dominoes will fall like a house of cards. Checkmate" –Zapp Brannigan
    "you never know which way Lady Luck is going to spit – you just hope it's not in your breakfast." — Jackson Burley

  14. Lukas said,

    December 11, 2018 @ 3:18 am

    >Lukas: Language is 99% metaphor anyways.
    >Well, some of it is hyperbole.

    Perhaps, but the 99% is probably undercounting it. Unless you're a caveman, very little you say is truly literal. Language is just layers and layers of abstraction built on top of each other. Just look at the sentence I just wrote. What layers? How are they built? What does "on top of" mean for concepts? It's all metaphors built on metaphors built on metaphors.

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