In this article on Cracked.com, I discovered this gem of a phrase:

...Batman is the personality-shelf where Bruce Wayne stores the crazy-plates...

...and I thought it was a fantastic phrase. Then I looked at it some more, and I wondered if it was just a simple metaphor, or whether there was a name for this kind of imagery.

My thinking is that to be a metaphor, it could have simply been:

...Batman is the shelf where Bruce Wayne stores his crazy...

The Batman persona is a shelf, and the crazy is a thing that goes on the shelf. That's a metaphor.

The line in the article, however, invents two new things that clearly refer to existing ideas, but aren't the same as them.

So they've invented the concept of "personality-shelf", and said that's what Batman is. The same with "crazy-plates": even though it seems like pure whimsy, it provides some symmetry, clarifying the image and serving as the punch-line.

I looked up "inventaphor", but that's not a word that Google knows, so I assume that's not what this is called.

  • 1
    It's just a metaphor, being explicit about what maps to what. That's all.
    – Mitch
    Commented Nov 13, 2013 at 13:40
  • It is a metaphor, but I'm not convinced that that's all it is. Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 17:00

2 Answers 2


It's an analogy using coinages formed from similes:

To be a plainer metaphor it would not have been as you suggested, but rather:

…Batman is the shelf where Bruce Wayne stores his plates…

The problem being, that it's too far from the intended purpose for anyone to get the metaphor. A simile that states the comparison more directly would be:

…Bruce Wayne stores his crazy in Batman much as one would store plates on a shelf…

Which is just ridiculously weak, and shows just how stupid the analogy is.

Instead they create a concept of crazy-plates and a concept of personality-shelf as if there was some sort of natural analogy between them, and uses them accordingly. These newly coined concepts originate in a simile, but once coined their use is then plain: If crazy-plates and personality-shelves made any real sense, then the use of them would not be similes, though they themselves would be similes (similes rather than metaphors as they state their comparison explicitly)

Comparably, I'm not using any metaphors in structuring the sentence "I rebooted the firewall", though I am using a metaphor in each of reboot and firewall, most server rooms having neither bootstraps nor steam engines.

This case stands out more than "rebooting a firewall" partly because its fresher (boot[strap] and firewall are dead metaphors that have become new general senses of those words) and partly because it's an extremely bad simile, though that is a success in itself as it derives its humour from being deliberately bad.

  • So, to be clear, "personality-shelf" is coined from the simile "a personality that's like a shelf", and "crazy-plates" is coined from the simile "craziness like plates". Commented Nov 13, 2013 at 12:06
  • Well more "an aspect of ones personality that is like a shelf" and "craziness, being plate-like in its how it is stored on personality-shelves". It doesn't really make much sense, but it is meant to be funny, after all.
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Nov 13, 2013 at 12:09
  • I'd say "Batman is the shelf" is one metaphor, while "his crazy is the plates" is another. So to turn the whole thing into metaphors, it becomes "Batman is a shelf in Bruce Wayne's mind, and craziness is the plates he stores on it." That makes two metaphors. "Batman is the shelf where Bruce Wayne stores his crazy" is still a metaphor, except it's implied that the crazy is some sort of storable object, rather than explicitly stated that it has to be made up of plates. Commented Nov 13, 2013 at 12:13

It refers to shelves in china cabinets, which many households use to display artisanal and decorative plates,like this:

enter image description here

That feature collectible, decorate plates like this:

enter image description here

enter image description here

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