Just the other day some friends were talking about a new game they had developed in their office. More intellectual than wadded-paper-and-trash-can basketball, or the uber-nerdlinger four square that's now popular in Silicon Valley, this game is all about mixed metaphors. The objective is to come up with a combination that, while failing to make sense, is funny.
The oldest example of this kind of mixed metaphor that I can recall is "smokes like a fish," which combines "smokes like a chimney" (logical) with "drinks like a fish" (not really logical since it refers to alcohol consumption and I don't think fish really hit it that hard, except on weekends.) That one's been around a long time, and I have a feeling somebody came up with on purpose. Likewise, "that's not rocket surgery!" which always tends to get a delayed laugh, feels like a line that belongs to some stand up comedian.
Most of your most entertaining mixed metaphors just happen. This topic started cooking with gas on my front burner yesterday when I read somebody's reference to a "carrot on a rope." (Feasible, if not as conceptually pure as the more common "carrot on a stick." And honestly if you want to lure people, rather than horses, to some forward objective, you might be better off with a cheeseburger on a stick or rope, as the case may be.)
Once you start thinking about these linguistic gymnastics, you can get addicted. Here are few faves I found here.
- A rolling stone is worth two in the bush.
- Dirty laundry is coming home to roost. (Sourced to Ray Romano.)
- He clams up tighter than a drum. (From a "Walker, Texas Ranger" script. That's a double MM.)
- I can read him like an open can of worms.
- I'm no Monday morning shortstop.
- If you let that sort of thing go on, your bread and butter will be cut right out from under your feet. (Sourced to British foreign minister Ernet Bevin)
- Now that the ball is in our court, let's go for the touchdown.
- No use beating him over the head with a dead horse.
- You buttered your bread, now sleep in it! (Jiminy Cricket)
- You can take that to the bank and smoke it. (Stephen J. Cannell)
- That fish won’t hunt.
- That really hacks me to a crisp.