If a pyramid has rungs, does a ladder have steps?

A brief post, simply to scratch a linguistic itch.

Gliding very gently into first place as the worst mixed metaphor of the week is:

“You’re the lowest rung on the pyramid.”

As bad mixed metaphors go this is pretty tame, not even really cringe-worthy. Maybe a 3 out of 10? If that’s the worst I had to cope with, then this was a very good week indeed.

Obviously, the two metaphors that were mixed here are “lowest rung on the ladder” and “bottom step of the pyramid” (or something very similar). It’s not a terrible slip to make, but one of those things that when a reader (or listener) encounters she’s very likely to stumble for a beat or two — assuming that the reader is reading carefully. And the assumption should always be that your reader is very careful. It should also always be a writer’s aspiration to write in ways that encourage the reader to engage even more fully, and therefore read even more carefully, as they move through the work. Anything that detracts from this engagement and immersion is a problem.

As with many mixed metaphors, especially in the conversational and often humorous style that prevails in most contemporary media, it’s easy enough to believe that the user of this one meant it in a jokey way. But I’m certain from the context that there was no attempt at humor or irony; it was simply a careless error. Fortunately, not a terrible one.

Whether you’re on the bottom rung, taking the first step, or your elevator doesn’t make it all the way to the top floor, remember to think about the visual images your words convey. Most mixed metaphors (such as this one) only act as small speed bumps in your writing (and speech). But the more you let the little ones slide, the more likely you are to let through a real whopper. It’s one thing to hit a small pothole at 30 miles per hour, but quite another to drive into a river because the bridge is out.

And, having strained (but not badly mixed, I hope) my metaphors to this point, I’ll leave you until next time.

Thanks for reading!


About thebettereditor

Chris holds a BA degree in history from the University of Virginia and a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) Degree in writing from the University of Southern Maine (Stonecoast). He has worked extensively with professional and semi-professional writers and enthusiastic amateurs for about 20 years. He has several years experience in scientific publishing, but has also worked in information technology, insurance, health care, and education (he taught writing at the university level for a number of years). Since 2011, he's also specialized in helping small business meet their writing and editing needs on a budget.
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2 Responses to If a pyramid has rungs, does a ladder have steps?

  1. Pingback: When is a dwarf not a dwarf? | thebettereditor

  2. Pingback: If your eyes are on the ground, where did you put your boots? | thebettereditor

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