“Me fail English? That’s unpossible,” declares Ralph Wiggins from The Simpsons cartoon series. On the other hand, Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein theorized, “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.”
Why is language so often a barrier to effective communication? And, yes, we often use odd figures of speech, such as metaphors to similes, by way of explanation. A metaphor is a figure of speech that describes an object or an action in a way that isn’t literally true but helps explain an idea or make a comparison. A metaphor is different from a simile in that a simile uses like or as to compares two unlike things to explain a third thing and is more obviously a figure of speech.
Metaphor – You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog.
Simile – It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.
English, with its odd idiomatic expressions, like “It’s raining cats and dogs,” is difficult enough without mixing metaphors, which are often simply funny turns of phrase. Even out of context, see if you can figure out what the speaker is trying to say.
- That doctor has the biggest chip on his block I’ve ever seen.
- I think you’re trying to pull the sheep over my eyes.
- I heard it out of the corner of my ear.
- First, we need to get all of our eggs in a row.
- I don’t care. It’s no skin off my teeth.
- Don’t let the little things sweat you.
And here are a few more mixed metaphors gathered from around the internet.
- All good things come full circle.
- We could stand here and talk until the cows turn blue.
- You could have knocked me over with a fender.
- He was watching me like I was a hawk.
- I wouldn’t eat that with a ten-foot pole.
- I told him he could take a flying hike.
- I shot the wind out of his saddle.
- A loose tongue spoils the broth.
- It’s all moth-eared.
- I can read him like the back of my book.
- From now on, I’m watching everything you do with a fine-tuned comb.
- It’s as easy as falling off a piece of cake.
- He’s like a duck out of water.
- These hemorrhoids are a real pain in the neck.
- It’s time to grab the bull by the tail and look him in the eye.
- I wouldn’t be caught dead there with a ten-foot pole.
- It’s time to step up to the plate and lay your cards on the table.
- He’s burning the midnight oil from both ends.
- You can’t change the spots on an old dog.
- It sticks out like a sore throat.
- It’s like looking for a needle in a hayride.
- People are dying like hotcakes.
- He’s a little green behind the ears.
- We have to get all our ducks on the same page.
- The fan is gonna hit the roof.
- I have a lot of black sheep in my closet.
- I’m sweating like a bullet.
Pretty funny, eh? Although these expressions are probably baffling to a non-native English speaker, you know exactly what they mean.
Is there a regional expression from your “neck of the woods” that, when you say it, people look at you and go, “Huh?” Send it to us at email@example.com. We will add it to our list for a future article.