What is it about?

Mixing metaphors in language is considered bad style, and may be unintentionally funny, as in "Go ahead. Spew it off your chest," and "Mr. Speaker, I smell a rat. I see him floating in the air. But mark me, sir, I will nip him in the bud" (attributed to Boyle Roche, in the Irish Parliament) . This chapter explores whether it is possible to have metaphors in visuals as well.

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Why is it important?

Much has been written in the past 20-30 years about visual metaphors. Theorizing visual metaphor usually departs from exploring to what extent the principles underlying verbal metaphor can be "translated" to images, and where the analogy collapses because of fundamental differences between the ways language and visuals communicate. It will thus help our understanding of both metaphor and visuals to see whether it makes sense to talk about "mixed visual metaphors."


My conclusion is that it does not really make sense to postulate “mixed metaphors” in pictures, which is partly due to the fact that visuals do not have, like language, a "grammar" and a "vocabulary" (although they have '"structures" and "elements"). The examples discussed in the chapter that initially might seem to be examples of visual mixed metaphors are better analysed in terms of metaphors that compare something to two things at the same time (technically: "have two source domains"), or in terms of hybrids (technically: "blends").

Dr Charles Forceville
Universiteit van Amsterdam

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This page is a summary of: Chapter 11. Mixing in pictorial and multimodal metaphors?, March 2016, John Benjamins, DOI: 10.1075/milcc.6.11for.
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