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The following sentence from The Great Gatsby strikes me as a mixed metaphor.

The exhilarating ripple of her voice was a wild tonic in the rain.

The author is thus calling her (Daisy's) voice both an "exhilarating ripple" and "a wild tonic." To me, those ideas clash.

A colleague insists that this is a beautiful description of Daisy's voice and not, in fact, a mixed metaphor.

The definition of mixed metaphor, from Merriam-Webster online:

a metaphor that combines different images or ideas in a way that is foolish or illogical

And from Google dictionary:

a combination of two or more incompatible metaphors, which produces a ridiculous effect

Clearly, the sentence in The Great Gatsby combines different images or ideas, so is it simply a matter of personal opinion whether this combination is "foolish" or produces a "ridiculous effect"?

marked as duplicate by anongoodnurse, Edwin Ashworth, user66974, tchrist, andy256 Dec 30 '14 at 4:33

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  • It's not a mixed metaphor because using "was a" makes them two distinct things that are not combining into a single metaphor. And, besides, a tonic can ripple. – Hot Licks Dec 26 '14 at 22:46
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    Doesn't the use of the verb BE equate them? If you look at common examples of mixed metaphors, they are not a single phrase. Indeed, some are more than one sentence (i.e. two distinct "things") – Rusty Tuba Dec 27 '14 at 0:15
  • Addressed (generally) at Can a single metaphor be 'mixed'? – Edwin Ashworth Dec 27 '14 at 1:29
  • @Hot Licks 'If there is a spark of pity in your heart, water it and let it grow' is almost always classed as a mixed metaphor (though logically, it is an incongruous mixing of metaphors). – Edwin Ashworth Dec 27 '14 at 1:31

Yes, I think that mixed metaphors can be subjective.

One common reason is that a metaphor will sometimes be a "dead metaphor" for some speakers — not actually evoking the literal image any longer — while others will still view it as a "live metaphor" (or partially so). I believe that this is the situation with your example; this use of ripple and this use of tonic are both common enough that they appear in major dictionaries without any overt indication that they are considered figurative. (One of Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary's senses for 2ripple noun is 2 b "a sound like that of rippling water <a ripple of laughter>"; and one of its senses for 2tonic noun is 2 b "one that invigorates, restores, refreshes, or stimulates <a day in the country was a tonic for him>".) You may actually be unusual in finding both of these metaphors to still be alive.


My understanding of the common connotation of "mixed metaphor" is that it mixes or garbles elements of two pre-existing metaphors. So the question is whether "wild tonic" and "in the rain" occurred previously and separately as metaphors. The question of whether they conflict with "ripple" would not, IMHO, affect the discussion; many a non-"mixed" metaphor makes a vast leap of comprehension between its terms.


Your Gatsby example is not a mixed metaphor. In fact, I'm pretty sure that neither "exhilarating ripple of her voice" nor "a wild tonic" are metaphors.

From Wikipedia:

"A mixed metaphor is one that leaps from one identification to a second identification inconsistent with the first."

"If we can hit that bull's-eye then the rest of the dominoes will fall like a house of cards... Checkmate."

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