52 Mixed Metaphors & Other Language Fails

On April 6, 2014 by Tim Newman


I spend as much time as I can watching “reality” TV. Things like Come Dine With Me, Hotel Inspector, The Undateables, Four In A Bed, Inside Gatwick, Border Patrol etc. For me, there’s something special about watching humans act “normally” whilst under the duress of constant filming and forced situations, whether they’re “fun” or awful.

From my many, many hours of study, what follows are some of my favourite mixed metaphors and failed conversations I have noticed. I will add to this list as I hear them:

1) The Hotel Inspector: “He’s got a lot of pressure on his plate”.

2) “I’ve fallen off the band wagon”.

3) This one fell from the mouth of a work colleague of mine when discussing the age of a customer’s vending machine: “It’s getting a bit old in the tooth”.

4) Come Dine With Me: “You’re so laid back you’re vertical”.

5) First Date: “True love never lies”.

6) My boss gave me this gem just after delegating a new task to me that I had no interest in: “This job is right up your streak”.

7) X-Factor – Louis Walsh: “You couldn’t hear a pin drop”.

8) Come Dine With Me: “I’ve been stepping outside my comfort box”.

9) This one flooded into my ears from the Tannoy at a medieval jousting reenactment (No joke): “There’s been a lot of bloodshed spilled here today”.

10) According to my significant other, I said this: “It’s too difficult to get my grips into it”.

11) This one came from a documentary about speech disorders: “I’ve been getting on with my own devices”.

12) Hotel Inspector: “It’s eating me apart”

13) Undercover Boss (USA): “You will stand with your head tall”

14) Hoarder Next Door; by a woman who was very surprised at how tidy her hoarder friend’s house was: “My mouth is on the floor “.

15) These next three were all from Come Dine With Me:

16) “I’ve got to be above the game”.

17) “I think I might have nailed it on the head”.

18) “She might be the dark card of the competition”.

19) Undateables: “I was shaking like a brick”.

20) Four In A Bed: “It was jaw-stopping!”

21) Debbie Lambert: “I’m on the edge of my pants”.

22) Commentator at a boxing match: “The tables have changed”.

23) Hoarder Next Door:  “You’ve just got to roll up your hands and get on with it”.

24) Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners: “This is off the Richter scale”.

25) Posh Pawn: “We’ve had the phone ringing off the wall”.

26) Work colleague: “… there’s a lot of rumours flying afoot”.

27) A Place In The Sun: talking about the view from one of the properties one chap said “… that’s another plus on the tick list”.

28) Ness, gardener extraordinaire: “I wouldn’t trust him with a barge pole”.

29) Documentary about British Airways: whilst talking about the attributes of manager’s personalities, one chap said that most of them have a “scary streak around them”.

30) On Hotel Inspector one of the hotel owners was showing off a newly decorated room to a prospective customer. Whilst singing it’s praises she claimed that “it’s got an extra touch to it”.

31) Undercover Boss: “You’ve opened a book of worms there”.

32) A documentary about murderers: “He was playing his cards close to his vest “.

33) Someone at work: “We’re snowed off our feet”.

34) Hoarder Next Door: “It’s on the bottom of my to do file”.

35) Me at Eastbourne beer festival: “Is it as dry as a bird?”

36) Work colleague: “I’ve got more cigarettes than you could throw a hat at”.

37) Ghost Adventures: “Below and behold”.

38) Undateables (this one isn’t actually incorrect, but it is wonderful): “Things could go pear-shaped at the drop of a hat”.

39) Haunted Collector: “I took it like a grain of salt”.

40) For The Love Of Cars: “I don’t know what to say, I’m gob-struck!”

41) Ghost Adventures: “[I would lose my temper] In the drop of a pin”.

42) In the office after a major tea bag purchase “we’ve got more tea bags than you could shake a ship at”.

43) Bar Rescue: “I’ve seen things that could make your skin turn”

44) Some kind of dog training program; a woman talking about how her husband uses an excuse to get out of clearing up dog turds: “that’s his escape goat.”

45) Rio Ferdinand: “There were a lot of expectations going into this game, but you’ve got to expect that.”

46) Seen on Facebook: “He certainly does have a way with the fairies.”

47) Slum Landlords: “That sort of scum should be out on the earth.”

48) Overheard conversation on a train: he’s a real “cheap steak.”

49) Documentary about the Jonestown Massacre: “We were waiting on pins and needles.”

50) Come Dine With Me: “You’ve come in like a bull from a China shop.”

51) Come Dine With Me: “This has come from my brain child.”

52) Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares: “I was breath-taken.”

If you hear any yourself please pass them on, yeah?: @timboynewtron

But why are they speaking this way? I have my own theory:

Why Do People On TV Forget How To Speak?

The film crew will interview the “victims” of such programmes about how they “feel” or what they “thought” about some banal situation or other. The Director needs to fill 30 minutes after all. The reality is, people quite often don’t think all that much about what’s just happened to them. The producers can’t have dead air, though, so they probe and probe and force the “victim” to say more. This forced one-sided conversation pulls people’s already drunk/stressed brain in a new and uncomfortable direction.

Most people are happy to bang on all day about themselves, but no one second guesses you in real-time down the pub. What I’ve noticed, after countless hours of study, is that people on TV try to fill out what they’re saying with metaphors and general flowery language.

Deep inside, they know they have nothing worth saying, but they’re being forced to say something. The reality TV interviewees also want what they are saying to seem lucid and flowing and not tooooo backwards. In this situation, a metaphor is a good choice, because it’s non-specific yet “intelligent” sounding.

It’s the same thing when sports people are interviewed. What he really wants to say is “I ran as fast as I could and all my mates did too. The other team got more goals. I am tired.” But, he is forced to embellish and say “at the end of the day, the shoe was on the other foot.” Nonsense.

The problem is, English is full of metaphors and not all of them are that easy to get right. The errors above are a glimpse into the slip-ups of an unconsciously desperate brain.





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