Words and phrases: Good and bad figures of speech

in-nuce.com: Mixed Metaphor
"Joe was crushed by a cloud of misfortune."
From Li'l Abner, by Al Capp
Bad Figures

Not all metaphor is good metaphor. A metaphor that combines unrelated images becomes a jumble of confused associations, and the result is a mixed metaphor.

Samuel Johnson, in his Life of Addison, complains of a misguided metaphor in Joseph Addison's "Letter from Italy."
I bridle in my struggling Muse with pain,
That longs to launch into a nobler strain.
From Beginnings of Rhetoric and Composition, by Adams Hill:

“To bridle a goddess,“ roars the old Doctor, “is no very delicate idea; but why must she be bridled? because she longs to launch; an act which was never hindered by a bridle: and whither will she launch? into a nobler strain. She is in the first line a horse, in the second a boat; and the care of the poet is to keep his horse or his boat from singing.“
Johnson's second example is from Pope's “Eloisa to Abelard “: —
The well-sung woes shall soothe my [pensive] ghost;
He best can paint them who shall feel them most.
“Perhaps,“ adds Johnson, "woes may be painted; but they are surely not painted by being well-sung: it is not easy to paint in song, or to sing in colours.“
Other failures in the use of metaphors come from less distinguished writers : —
1. Under this religious trait is an undercurrent of keen, dry humor cropping out occasionally and flavoring his talk.
2. We must bring the viper to his knees and force him to apologize.
3 Mrs. Traff and her eldest flower took up the thread of life once more.
4. The revival of learning in Italy first woke the germs of that harmony which later blossomed into Elizabethan literature.
5. The Bible needs no smoothing-iron to make it palatable to delicate ears.
6. We see now that old war-horse of the Democracy waving his hand from the deck of the sinking ship.
In these examples, the so-called figures of speech are not figures in any just sense.
What figures of speech should do
If the object of writing is to convey a thought from one mind to another, the only reason for using figurative language is that it 
1. explains
2. illustrates, or 
3. enforces the thought
Usually it serves one of these purposes, not directly, but by suggestion through the association of ideas.
A good figure springs naturally out of the subject which it illustrates; it is not dragged into the text by the head and shoulders. It is not an end in itself; it is a means to the general end in view. In so far as it enables the reader to see more clearly or to feel more strongly what the writer sees or feels, it is useful; in so far as it does not, it either interrupts or obscures.
A figure, then, like other things in this world, may be good in one place and bad in another. A good figure, to borrow Emerson's words about a good quotation, “illuminates the page.“
If you use a figure of speech, be sure that it is a good one.

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