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I wrote something was "buried in a sea of data", and an editor flagged it as a "mixed metaphor". To me it sounds idiomatic, and I don't see a problem with it.

I figure the strict thinking here is that you're buried in the sand, and drowned in the sea, but it still doesn't sound or feel off to me.

"buried under the sea" is pretty common, and then water is the medium that does the burying - not the sand at the bottom of the sea.

Isn't this a case of being strict to the point of being wrong?

Can anyone provide reference to whether this is correct or not?

------update------- My understanding is that when a style guide asks to avoid using mixed metaphors, it's because very often they make bad writing.

But when the usage is idiomatic I don't see it as a problem, and I'm not even sure this qualifies as a mixed metaphor.

If there are no two deliberate metaphors conflicting with each other, does it still qualify as a mixed metaphor?

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Aug 23, 2020 at 16:37

2 Answers 2

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This seems to me like a case of what I like to call "editor syndrome", which could be summed up as "I am employed as an editor, therefore I must edit things (whether they really need to be edited or not), in a sort of long winded parody of "Cogito ergo sum". I take a different stance on the issue - in fact I'm rather fond of mixed metaphors. I certainly wouldn't qualify it as "wrong". PS: I also agree with everything Jason posted above.

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    I am actually an editor myself, so I have a professional opinion on this. The context of the type of writing can make a significant difference. But I would never tell an author that their style is "wrong." Style is subjective. I might point out why it could cause a problem, and I might have a discussion if I felt strongly enough about it, but, everything being equal, I'm not the one doing the writing. In any kind of battle of wills with an author, a good editor should always be gracious, state their opinion, and then move on, accepting the author's choice. Aug 13, 2020 at 8:29
  • the editor is the authority, in most situations I work in - whether as a writer, translator, or editor
    – joeav
    Aug 13, 2020 at 8:47
  • How exactly is the 'editor syndrome' supposed to be analogous to what Descartes meant by 'Cogito ergo sum'?
    – jsw29
    Aug 13, 2020 at 18:38
  • Seriously? X, therefore Y.
    – acme_54
    Aug 18, 2020 at 20:30
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First "to be buried at sea" is a standard way of disposing of a body. So that is not metaphorical.

Without any difficulty at all, and using the search term "buried in a sea of", I found the following:Buried in a Sea of Dead Woods; Oh To Be Buried in a Sea of Wildflowers! the Tehama, as seen from the mountain tops, appears buried in a sea of white cloud; Elizabeth Song | Buried in a sea of paper; Gas drilling leaves villages buried in a sea of mud. The metaphor here is "sea" - a very large quantity [of something], the metaphor is not "buried".

That said, there is nothing wrong with "buried in a sea of data", but you should give the actual example that was criticised because not all uses are idiomatic. Your image: "I imagine something buried in a sea of confetti-like data." is not idiomatic. I should be either "I imagine something buried in a sea of confetti like data" or "I imagine something buried in a sea of confetti like data."

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  • that was my own imagining, not the text.
    – joeav
    Aug 13, 2020 at 8:21
  • @joeav Could you please give the sentence that contains the example that was criticised?
    – Greybeard
    Aug 13, 2020 at 8:22
  • ...we will examine how machine learning can help us gain insight into patterns and extract the key pieces of information buried in this sea of data
    – joeav
    Aug 13, 2020 at 8:24
  • Thanks. Hmm... I have to assume that the sentence is preceded by something like "Image that you have a terabyte of detailed data on a population..." If you follow this with we will examine how machine learning can help us [...] extract the key pieces of information buried in this sea of data you will have repeated "data" in an awkward way, and "...key pieces of information buried within it" would be better. If you have not mentioned the data before, it is hard to see how "this" can be justified.
    – Greybeard
    Aug 13, 2020 at 8:42
  • it actually starts with "in this article" and follows with the above
    – joeav
    Aug 13, 2020 at 8:44

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