Wednesday, August 30, 2006

un-mix those metaphors

The Washington Post's political reporter, Dana Milbank, listened with a writer's ear to Senator Charles Schumer (D.-N.Y.), who described yesterday his party's plans for victory in the midterm elections.
To judge from Schumer's presentation, the Democrats will achieve this extraordinary triumph by employing an extended series of mixed metaphors. Schumer himself may have set a record in that department yesterday as he painted the electoral landscape:

"This administration is shrugging its shoulders. . . . It's like 'The Wizard of Oz' -- it showed the man behind the screen. . . . You know which way the winds are blowing. . . . There have been very few bumps in the road. . . . The wind continues to stay at our backs. . . . The idea that there should be no check and balance, no congressional oversight, just isn't flying. They want to try to bring back the 2004 playbook. . . . They're trying to find a new rabbit to pull out of the hat, but so far they've gone back to the old chestnuts."

Chestnuts? In the same hat with rabbits? With the wind at their back on a bumpy road?
Speakers draw on metaphors to make complex points clear, to resonate with audiences, and, more often, because they haven't thought through ahead of time what to say. Piling on too many metaphors tells you that the speaker's either unprepared or unsure his audience gets the point, or both. Cliches in the form of mixed metaphors tell the audience the speaker isn't trying hard enough to be clear or concise. Don't get caught speechless or tongue-tied -- contact Denise Graveline at to get help developing messages memorable for both audience and speaker.

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