Chapter 4. Tackling mixed metaphors in discourse

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We offer an analysis of a small corpus of mixed metaphor excerpts taken from “The New Yorker” magazine’s column titled “Block That Metaphor!” (BTM). Our aim was to explore the main hypothesis that people interpret mixed metaphors as being meaningful and coherent because of their abilities to engage in elaborate reasoning about the source domains explicitly mentioned in these texts. A first study investigated the different individual metaphorical expressions in this series of mixed metaphorical narratives. We found that most of these have been employed, and conveyed metaphorical meanings, in other kinds of discourse, and that the metaphors within the BTM vignettes were, indeed, mixed, and done so in a variety of ways. A second study asked university students to write out their interpretations of the different phrases in these excerpts, one-by-one as they read through each vignette. Analysis of participants’ protocols showed tremendous consistency in how people understood the individual metaphors and that the mixed metaphors in these narratives made good sense. The specificity of people’s understandings of verbal metaphors in narratives is aided by their rich social and cultural knowledge of the source domains referred to explicitly in language. Even if the underlying conceptual metaphors for these verbal metaphors appear to clash, people make use of their elaborate source domain information to create specific concepts and images that often make mixed metaphors perfectly coherent and, at times, delightful to hear and read.


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