He literally wrote the book on OWI defense and then proceeds to throw it at prosecutors by deftly picking apart their cases, point by point.

Does "literally" conflict with the figurative reference at the end of this sentence?

  • 1
    It's a mixed metaphor.
    – Barmar
    Feb 5, 2022 at 1:18
  • 1
    Or ... did he literally write the book and figuratively throw it at them? Is it fair to grant the reader some intelligence in catching the shift from literal to figurative?
    – Sue
    Feb 5, 2022 at 1:25
  • It's possible he did literally write the book. But they're still depending on that play on words to use the "throw it at" metaphor. "Picking apart" is also a metaphor
    – Barmar
    Feb 5, 2022 at 1:50
  • It's not clear what you're asking or what your problem is, which is probably why this has 2 votes to close. Please edit the question to include your specific concerns and what reference books/sources you have consulted. Are you concerned it's ungrammatical? That it will fall foul of the "literally" police who take offence at what they consider misuse of the word? That it is incomprehensible or hard to understand? That it's inelegant or breaks some rule of good style? That the tenses or number or some other aspect are wrong? That it's suboptimal or could be phrased better?
    – Stuart F
    Feb 6, 2022 at 14:25
  • The generality of the idea of “conflict” is sufficient to cover many possible causes of concern. It is not necessary for the PO to enumerate them all. The question may be answered on the basis of “conflict” as exemplified by the answerer. Leave open.
    – Anton
    Feb 7, 2022 at 14:08

2 Answers 2


It might not be a mixed metaphor after all. Literally can be used simply for emphasis sometimes, but it is true that such a use is informal:

used for emphasis while not being literally true.

  • I was literally blown away by the response I got. (OxfordL)

So when the author says

He literally wrote the book on OWI defense ...

It can mean that he knows it so well, as if he had written the book, as if he was the author. Only the greater context will tell you if he is actually the author or not, if this is a mixed metaphor or not.

However, M-W sheds some light on how "informal" this figurative use really is:

Is it ever okay to use literally to mean "figuratively"?

F. Scott Fitzgerald did it (“He literally glowed”). So did James Joyce (“Lily, the caretaker’s daughter, was literally run off her feet”), W. M. Thackeray (“I literally blazed with wit”), Charlotte Brontë (“she took me to herself, and proceeded literally to suffocate me with her unrestrained spirits”) and others of their ilk.

If you read on this article from the M-W, you will see that there is a whole controversy about the figurative use of literally, which I find fascinating. Here is the core of it:

Since some people take sense 2 to be the opposite of sense 1, it has been frequently criticized as a misuse. Instead, the use is pure hyperbole intended to gain emphasis, but it often appears in contexts where no additional emphasis is necessary. The use of literally in a fashion that is hyperbolic or metaphoric is not new—evidence of this use dates back to 1769. Its inclusion in a dictionary isn't new either; the entry for literally in our 1909 unabridged dictionary states that the word is “often used hyperbolically; as in, he literally flew.”

  • The defense attorney actually DID write a book on OWI .... my hope was that the first metaphor could be taken literally, in the real sense of the term ... and that it would be clear that the second metaphor is to be taken figuratively with the sentence's ending: ... "deftly picking apart their cases, point by point." Could it be rewritten this way: He wrote the book on OWI defense, then throws it at prosecutors by deftly picking apart their cases, point by point. Or is there no salvaging it ...lol.
    – Sue
    Feb 5, 2022 at 18:18
  • The mixture of past and present in the two clauses is awkward. Do you really have to use literally?
    – fev
    Feb 5, 2022 at 18:38

Mixing the literal with the figurative is often a nice bit of humor, except the meaning here isn’t compatible. “Throwing the book” at someone means (a prosecutor) charging a suspect with several crimes. That's not what you’re describing. Since it's a book on some sort of defense & not prosecution, I don't think it can be resolved to keep the throwing metaphor.

  • It's not uncommon that a mixed metaphor will also misuse one of the metaphors. It needs to be stretched to fit in with the other one.
    – Barmar
    Feb 5, 2022 at 9:57
  • 1. He literally did write the book. It is not a metaphor. 2. He figuratively throws it at the prosecutors, using the arguments he describes in his book to decimate the prosecution's accusations. 3. The expression "Throwing the book" is not limited to a judge/defendant scenario. Consider this headline: NHL could throw the book at repeat offender Duncan Keith 4. No way to salvage? Even by removing "literally": He wrote the book on OWI defense, then throws it at prosecutors by deftly picking apart their cases, point by point.
    – Sue
    Feb 7, 2022 at 15:58

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