A mixed metaphor is a combination of figures of speech that unintentionally results in an incongruous or impossible image. This anecdote supplies a perfect example of the error:
A sportswriter interviewing a basketball player asked how his team was doing. "The ship be sinking," he replied. How far could it sink? "Sky's the limit."
Here are a few other mixed metaphors, culled from my routine reading:
- "I'm going to milk the gold rush as long as I can."
- "This will take the edge off the nail biting."
- "Flying under the radar, we don't do everything with a splash."
- "By 2011, Mr. Robinov plans for DC Comics to supply the material for up to two of the six or eight tent-pole films he hopes Warner Bros. will have in the pipeline by then."
- "I'm the last of the Mohicans and I'm hanging on by a thread."
- "We saved for a rainy day, but... the depth of this emergency means there are no longer any sacred cows."
- "I had issues with the DNA of the project... there were so many chefs in the kitchen."
- "Just before the ax fell, lightning struck and my life changed...."
In your writing and speaking, be sure to avoid mixing or mashing your metaphors, lest you produce embarrassing results like those above. Aside from that caution, feel free to "push the envelope out of the box"!