I was thinking deeply about figurative language today, and I read a sentence that must be an example of a specific type of figurative language, but I didn't remember learning about it and couldn't find it on a reference I use.

The sentence, from Street Love by Walter Dean Myers, is:

Could it even withstand the voltage of / His mother's shock?

Myers builds the metaphor of voltage off of one definition of the word shock, while also calling the other to mind, since the mother would be surprised/upset at this event.

It seems to me that there ought to be a word for this! Any ideas?

I found a similar example, too. It was used as an example of parallelism on the site I was referencing:

She liked sneaking up to Ted and putting the ice cream down his back, because he was so cool about it.

It ins't a metaphor, but it similarly uses both meanings of the word (cool, in this case). I thought it might be helpful as a clarifying example.

  • 1
    Btw, this isn't double entendre, it's just pun for fun.
    – Kris
    Commented Nov 12, 2012 at 4:26
  • I don't think there's a special term for the two processes, metaphor and double entendre/pun put together. You'd just call it a metaphorical pun. In some sense, a pun is kind of a metaphor anyway; there's a literal meaning and a related non-literal meaning.
    – Mitch
    Commented Nov 12, 2012 at 14:28
  • Paronomasia/Paronomastic writing, if you want to get highfalutin about it. Commented Nov 12, 2012 at 15:26

2 Answers 2


I would describe it as wordplay through the use of puns.

While not exactly the same, the following are all examples of Tom Swifties:

  • "Pass me the shellfish," said Tom crabbily.
  • "That's the last time I'll stick my arm in a lion's mouth," the lion-tamer said off-handedly.
  • "Can I go looking for the Grail again?" Tom requested.

A Tom Swifty (or Tom Swiftie) is a phrase in which a quoted sentence is linked by a pun to the manner in which it is attributed. Tom Swifties may be considered a type of wellerism.

The name comes from the Tom Swift series of books (1910–present), similar in many ways to the better-known Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series, and, like them, produced by the Stratemeyer Syndicate. In this series, the young scientist hero, Tom Swift, underwent adventures involving rocket ships, ray-guns and other things he had invented.

A stylistic idiosyncrasy of at least some books in this series was that the author, "Victor Appleton," went to great trouble to avoid repetition of the unadorned word "said"; elegant variation used a different quotative verb, or modifying adverbial words or phrases. Since many adverbs end in "ly" this kind of pun was originally called a Tom Swiftly, the archetypal example being "We must hurry," said Tom Swiftly. At some point, this kind of humor was called a Tom Swifty, and that name is now more prevalent though incorrect.


They're not really double entendres (words or phrases open to two interpretations, one of which is usually risqué or indecent).

I would just say they're mixed metaphors Even metaphorically, the mother's shock/horror can't meaningfully generate any voltage, and cool/suave dudes have a blood temperature of 37° C just like the rest of us.

It's often assumed that a mixed metaphor must be "bad" - but as OP's examples show, they can be used wittily (depending on how you define that - but at least, as deliberate wordplay).

  • If your temperature is 38° C, then you have a fever. Average human temperature is 37° ± ½° C.
    – tchrist
    Commented Nov 12, 2012 at 14:05
  • @tchrist: I vaguely thought the "nominal" value was 37.5°, but the easiest way for me to get hold of that ° character for my text was to Google "body heat" (I just cut & pasted the first result). But of course you're right - the standard value is 37, so I'll change it. Commented Nov 12, 2012 at 14:12

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