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In his travel book A Turn in the South, he writes, "The magazine in my hotel room, mixing its metaphors, said that Nashville was 'the buckle of the Bible Belt.'"

Was he correct? I can't figure out his reasoning.

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    If the belt is like one that holds your pants up, the buckle is indeed the star. If belt means the continuous loop in an engine with no buckle -- mixed metaphor. I've also heard of Bible belter in terms of using religion as a weapon -- mixed, too. Even if the image is mixed, though, it's close enough to me to make a good pun. Apr 13, 2021 at 23:30
  • Ah, I see his reasoning now. He was thinking that "belt" in "Bible belt" refers to a generic belt, not a belt used to hold up one's pants. But if one means by the phrase "Bible belt" a pant's belt, then there is no mixed metaphor, and thus "buckle of the Bible belt" makes perfect sense.
    – Michael
    Apr 13, 2021 at 23:44
  • One could argue that it's a mixed metaphor because "belt", in this sense, refers to a more-or-less east-west land area, while "buckle" refers to something that fastens things together. In some senses Nashville serves to help tie together this region.
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 14, 2021 at 0:18
  • It wouldn't be felicitous. Wikipedia even discusses the 'Buckle of the Bible Belt'. It's better considered as an extended metaphor rather than a mixed metaphor. Apr 14, 2021 at 13:10
  • It is not a mixed metaphor. Some belts have buckles. That's it.
    – Mitch
    Apr 14, 2021 at 16:24

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It doesn't meet the strict definition of a mixed metaphor, but the term "mixed metaphor" in popular use has expanded to refer to any situation which involves yoking together terms from different contexts or combining a metaphor with a literal term from a different context.

Wikipedia says "Bible Belt" was coined by H L Mencken in 1924 to refer to a region of the US. A sense of "belt" meaning "II. A relatively long and thin or encircling region of sea, land, sky, space, etc." goes back to the 17th century, but Mencken's usage most closely approximates this OED definition, common since the second half of the 19th century.: "b. With preceding modifying word. A zone or region of distinctive character; spec. one which is notable for the production of a particular product. Chiefly U.S. in early use." (Source: OED, Belt, n.1)

Hence "Bible Belt" isn't really a metaphor, it's an example of a commonly used sense of the word "belt".

"Buckle" in the quote is a metaphor: if you think about the functions of a buckle, it's something in the middle, or that ties a belt together, as a city may unite a region or provide connections, but it can also be a decorative thing, with belts with large, decorative buckles often associated with a simple American folk culture (particularly in cowboy or western wear). I'm not sure exactly what the authors intended, but either way it's metaphorical.

But what is a mixed metaphor? Merriam-Webster defines it as "a figure of speech combining inconsistent or incongruous metaphors". This would seem to require two different metaphors. As I've shown, "buckle in the Bible Belt" doesn't really contain two metaphors, but only one ("buckle"). However, while the definition suggests two metaphors, in practice the term "mixed metaphor" is often used more loosely, for instance when a metaphor is incongruous with the rest of the sentence, often occurring when a word has multiple meanings.

Merriam-Webster's main example is "If we want to get ahead we'll have to iron out the remaining bottlenecks". In this case "iron out" might be a metaphor, but "bottleneck" is a common term for a point of blockage that has long since passed from being a metaphor to being an ordinary meaning of the word.

They also have a section "Recent examples on the Web" which includes "Eye strain, like neck, back, or wrist strain, is nothing to be sneezed at, to use a very mixed metaphor." In this case, you have one metaphor "to be sneezed at" (although again it may be moving from metaphor to ordinary meaning) and something which definitely isn't a a metaphor (strain in various parts of the body).

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  • Sorry; 'Bible Belt' is a metaphorical usage; the prototypical sense of 'belt' is a physical girdle. Being included as a derived sense by dictionaries doesn't disqualify the 'metaphor' classification of a later common usage. See T A Pasaribu at ResearchGate, for instance. Apr 14, 2021 at 13:13
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    Buckle stands for "in the middle," not "tie together." Apr 14, 2021 at 14:41
  • Thanks, it's not clear without context exactly why it's the buckle; I came up with some guesses.
    – Stuart F
    Apr 14, 2021 at 15:12

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