Mixed metaphor of the week

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Andrew Lopez, "David Griffin on staff changes, team makeup and his relationship with Danny Ainge", The Times-Picayune 4/23/2019:

"We’re certainly going to add infrastructure. There’re really good bones there, they had some very good people here. I don’t look at this as a situation where we have to come in a sweep everything away to the studs, but I think what we’re going to do is we’re going to make sure we get all the right people on the bus. If we do that, titles aside, we get everybody in the right frame of mind and heading in the right direction, then we’re going to be successful."



  1. M. Paul Shore said,

    June 10, 2019 @ 11:28 am

    This guy clearly never met a phor he didn’t like.

  2. Thomas Rees said,

    June 10, 2019 @ 11:52 am

    I never heard of David Griffin. I figured either sports or management; maybe politics. Turns out he’s been sports management since before he took his degree in poli sci. This is his mother tongue!

  3. DWalker07 said,

    June 10, 2019 @ 12:35 pm

    If we're not all on the same page about these metaphors, then we need to take a good hard look at ourselves and separate the wheat from the chaff.

  4. DWalker07 said,

    June 10, 2019 @ 12:38 pm

    There are more gems in the article.

    "So how does Griffin feel about going up against Ainge in potential trade negotiations?

    “I think to some degree you are mindful of what his tact is. You’re very mindful if you’re doing this right. You’re very aware of what everyone’s tact is,” Griffin said. “The negotiating tactics that someone uses and employs, you’re going to be aware of that."

    Does he think that tact is related to negotiating tactics? Tact can be a tactic, but I'm not sure he knows what he is saying. ("what everyone's tact is"???) Although that one was possibly a transcription error.

  5. ScottW said,

    June 10, 2019 @ 12:52 pm

    @DWalker07: I have encountered this usage of "tact" a couple of times before. I've always thought it was related to "tack". This is almost an eggcorn, I suppose, in that "tack", as a sailing term, is not very transparent. I've never quite understood, though, how "tack" got transformed into "tact". I am now very willing to believe that people do indeed think that it might be related to "tactics".

  6. KevinM said,

    June 10, 2019 @ 1:25 pm

    @DWalker07. I think "tack" was probably said or meant. It's a common error in speaking or transcribing.

  7. Joe said,

    June 10, 2019 @ 1:28 pm

    @DWalker07: This may be "tack" instead of "tact" – ie, another metaphor (sailing, this time) .

  8. Terry Hunt said,

    June 10, 2019 @ 2:05 pm

    I sometimes get the impression that English mostly comprises a deep layer of composted metaphors, many no longer analysable, overlying a bedrock of literalness.

  9. Steve said,

    June 10, 2019 @ 2:12 pm

    There are many awkward juxtapositions of metaphors here, but the strangest one to me is “sweep everything away to the studs.” Is this the titular mixed metaphor? Or just an expression I’m not familiar with? Or just a strange statement?

  10. V said,

    June 10, 2019 @ 3:00 pm

    I'm would like to note here that I am very disappointed in language log's handling of the Th**d*r* B**le case. You are not required to be aware or society in general, but giving platform to racists is out of the pale to me.

    [(myl) You seem to be confused. By "Th**d*r* B**le" it seems that you must mean "Theodore Beale", who writes under the pseudonym "Vox Day". The document on the alleged IE origins of alphabet, which Victor was misled into posting a couple of days ago, was written by "John V. Day", which as far as I can tell is the real name of a real person who is entirely different from Beale.]

  11. V said,

    June 10, 2019 @ 3:01 pm

    I am only commenting here because comments are already closed in the original discussion.

  12. Bloix said,

    June 10, 2019 @ 4:06 pm

    Perhaps everyone knows this, but worth saying if not – bones and studs are a single metaphor. A house with good bones in one that has well-constructed frame resting on a solid foundation – might need a new roof, new kitchen, new electrical, plumbing, flooring -but the "bones" are good. Sweeping away to the [wall] studs means replacing everything down to the frame – new drywall, floors, windows, wiring, but keeping the structure as defined by the wooden framing members.
    Then he switches metaphors and we're on a bus.
    So the idea is, we're not going to fire everyone but we are going to fire a whole lot of people and keep only those who can and will carry out our new plans.

    PS- I was at a meeting this morning at which someone said, "by the way, I want to thank Lindsay for jumping into the fray, she did a great job of plugging the holes in the dike …. "

  13. Gregory Kusnick said,

    June 10, 2019 @ 4:51 pm

    Terry Hunt: Darmok and Jalad at Tenagra!

  14. DWalker07 said,

    June 10, 2019 @ 4:53 pm

    Um, “sweep everything away to the studs”? If you're removing everything but the studs, you'll need a sledgehammer or something. And you can't very well sweep with a sledgehammer!

    Or maybe I'm being too literal.

  15. David Marjanović said,

    June 10, 2019 @ 5:14 pm


    Let me just add to a discussion that spun off from the previous post that I find myself in complete agreement with Benjamin Orsatti. :-)

    Which made me think about PRE-modern written Japanese. Is Manyogana a true "writing system", or more of an "aide-memoire". That is, would two people, each reading:


    …both know that the text "means"…


    …and both know that it is to be pronounced?:


    Oh yes. Every syllable is spelled out in manyogana; they're kana, just like hiragana & katakana – the only difference is that their shapes aren't modified from the original kanji whose sounds they represent. This is why texts written in manyogana have made detailed studies of Old Japanese possible – the only thing we really don't know about OJ (but can only infer from early "Middle Japanese") is its tone system. Obviously, if you represent a language that closely, you also represent the meaning it conveys, or the lack thereof as in "colorless green ideas sleep furiously".

  16. Andrew Usher said,

    June 10, 2019 @ 6:18 pm

    I confess I don't understand 'V', but if he gave a name that's not to be uttered here it's not enough simply to put asterisks in it; it shoudl be removed. I do see that comments were closed; unfortunate, because civil, on-topic discussion was still going on, and it spilling over to other threads just looks dumb to me; one discussion ought to be in one place.

    "Bones" and "studs" _may_ be a single metaphor. We can't be sure what he had in mind; if he's willing to mix metaphors anyway, there's no reason to think he was being consistent there, either. "Sweep everything away to the studs" is not something I've ever heard either.

    Terry Hunt:
    Every language is, I think. That's a main way language evolves. What do you the origin of any given word is ultimately? If it's not imitative or compositional, it must be figurative of some sort.

    Finally, I'll add a personal annoyance. Did the man really say "there're" and not "there's"? Probably not, and that's the kind of correction I dislike. It doesn't make a subject look better – which should not be a journalist's job anyway – it simply stands out. The phrase "there are" does exist but it's not normally contracted.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo dot com

  17. maidhc said,

    June 10, 2019 @ 8:22 pm

    I have to admit that I don't see how it would be possible to have people on a bus, but NOT have them all heading in the same direction.

  18. Terry Hunt said,

    June 11, 2019 @ 10:01 am

    @ Andrew Usher
    Every language is [composed largely of metaphor], I think. That's a main way language evolves. What do you [think?] the origin of any given word is ultimately? If it's not imitative or compositional, it must be figurative of some sort.

    This was also my suspicion, but I'm not sufficiently familiar with other languages than English to be able to see it in them for myself. Are there any academic texts that explicitly examine this issue, I wonder?

  19. Bloix said,

    June 11, 2019 @ 10:50 pm

    One does not "Sweep away" to the studs. One "tears down" to the studs. see, e.g. https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/360695/meaning-of-i-tore-the-place-down-to-the-studs
    So, yes, sweep is a mangled cliche. He's mixing up clean house – a new broom sweeps clean – and tear down to the studs.
    But studs and bones are the same metaphor. The team is a house that has been allowed to go to seed. But the foundation is sound and the framing is good.
    There are other metaphors in there that are not part of the house metaphor. Infrastructure isn't quite right, and bus of course is a completely new concept.
    But we know exactly what he means. He's about to fire a shitload of people. He thinks the staff is full of deadwood and malcontents and he's going to get rid of them. Anyone who says they can't figure this out is being obtuse.

  20. Gregory Kusnick said,

    June 12, 2019 @ 11:17 am

    I don't see anyone here saying they can't figure it out.

    While "good bones" is a metaphor often used in the remodeling trade, that's scarcely its only or original meaning. So that by itself doesn't demonstrate that Griffin consciously meant to relate the bones metaphor to the studs metaphor that came later. Rather, my sense is that he was simply reaching repeatedly into a grab-bag of stock managerese phrases, without regard to thematic unity. If two of his randomly chosen metaphors happen to coordinate, that's sheer coincidence.

  21. Philip Taylor said,

    June 12, 2019 @ 2:24 pm

    Andrew U. I don't personally have any problem with "there are" being contracted to "there're" in speech, and I am reasonably certain that that is how I would normally pronounce it in a casual context (e.g., /ðeərə ˈmeni ˈriːzənz waɪ aɪ dəʊnt θɪŋk ðæts ə ɡʊd aɪˈdɪə/), but what I say and what I write are two entirely different things, so if I were to express the idea in (e.g.,) an e-mail, I would write "There are many reasons why I don't think that's a good idea".

  22. Andrew Usher said,

    June 12, 2019 @ 8:58 pm

    Gregory Kusnick:

    That's exactly what I said: the fact that two of his random metaphors happened to be able to be fit together doesn't mean they were intended to.

    As far as "can't understand", yes, we can see what he means (as far as he means anything) , though he may not actually do it when it comes down to the actual implementation. In that kind of BS following through it not necessarily a high priority. You can see how that kind of managerial cult (?) exists in both business and sports: a business's success in the market, like a team's on the field, in mostly due to factors it doesn't have much control over – but owners are always wanting to listen to anything that promises 'this time it's different', so yeah this is what you get. If you want to know why there's no such bullshit in the world, start with that.

    Philip Taylor:
    I can't tell if this is an American/British difference, or what. The phrase you used is itself not very casual, so I don't know if I can accept that as really what you would say 'casually'. I would definitely say "there's" (as would most Americans) and I would also write it, unless making an effort not to. And for your example, what I'd really say casually is something like "there's a lot of reasons not to do that". I realise someone like you would want to deny that 'plural' there's exists, but it's as firmly established (at least over here) as 'singular' they with indefinites, although _possibly_ not as universal.

    Last I'm disappointed I can't know more about the policy on closing comments. Obviously, that John Day thread was a special case but I just checked an old thread I was posting on and discovered that my opponent got the last word! Surely the 'clock' – if that's what it is, it looks like two weeks – should be suspended as long as anyone is posting non-spam comments.

  23. Bloix said,

    June 12, 2019 @ 10:05 pm

    Terry Hunt –
    "I sometimes get the impression that English mostly comprises a deep layer of composted metaphors, many no longer analysable, overlying a bedrock of literalness."

    Of course it does! Just look at what you wrote. You were consciously using a geological metaphor, but were conscious that you used the metaphor impression? Or the metaphor comprises (from Latin via Old French, to grasp together)? Or the metaphor analyze (from Greek unloose, loosen)? Or the metaphor literal (meaning originally "pertaining to the letters of the alphabet")?

  24. Andrew Usher said,

    June 13, 2019 @ 9:36 pm

    Precisely! And the last three would not be recognisable as non-literal from English alone – I'll add, though, that 'literal' is a bit doubtful, since it's not certain that the original meaning of L lit(t)era was 'letter of the alphabet'.

    In addition, I also agree that his use of 'tact' was the above-mentioned eggcorn; he used it in a manner strongly suggestive of its supposed derivation from 'tactic' (right next to that word, in fact).

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