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Chock full of metaphors

Recently to hand, i never metaphor i didn’t like by Dr. Mardy Grothe (Collins, $14.95). It is a book of quotations with occasional interpolated comments, and reading it is like eating popcorn.

But first, the caveats: The silly pun and pointless lowercase affectation in the title, along with the author’s brandishing of his degree in psychology on the cover, are minor irritants. A more substantial difficulty is that the quotations are presented without much in the way of citation of sources. This is a problem with many popular books of quotations and particularly with quotations on Internet sites; the reader cannot verify that the remarks are accurately quoted and properly attributed.

English-major anxieties aside, this book has some good stuff on nearly every page, particularly the snarky bits:

Denis Healy on Sir Geoffrey Howe: “His speech was rather like being savaged by a dead sheep.”

Sir Thomas Beecham on the harpsichord: “Like two skeletons copulating on a corrugated tin roof.”

Clive James on Judith Krantz’s Princess Daisy: “As a work of art, it has the same status as a long conversation between two not very bright drunks.”

John Randolph on Edward Livingston: “He shines and stinks like a rotten mackerel by moonlight.”

The “life-altering metaphors” chapter, however, is as tedious as Polonius:

Nathaniel Hawthorne: “Happiness is a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” And that’s one of the better ones.

The “sex” chapter is a little too risque for the sober and responsible Sun, but I’ll sneak one line in:

Brett Butler: “My mom always said, ‘Men are like linoleum floors. You lay them right, and you can walk on them for thirty years.’ “

There is advice and rueful awareness in the chapter “the literary life”:

F. Scott Fitzgerald: “Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own joke.”

Lawrence Kasdan: “Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life.”

H.L. Mencken: “I write to attain that feeling of tension relieved and function achieved which a cow enjoys on giving milk.

Robert Traver: “A writer judging his own work is like a deceived husband—he is frequently the last person to appreciate the true state of affairs.”

There are also many clinkers throughout, which I don’t intend to risk my wrists to keyboard. This book is a buffet; move down the line, sample, and take what you like.



Posted by John McIntyre at 9:13 AM | | Comments (2)


The Beecham quote brings to mind a quip by a now deceased professor at a university I once attended, who is credited with having described a certain building designed by Le Corbusier as "two pianos copulating." I actually like the building in question, but I can see his point.

What a lovely, literate, and useful column, one which I wish I had discovered much earlier. I shall return when I have time to peruse all your good 'views; but, in the meantime (which seems to grow ever meaner in the twenty-worst century), might I point out the "metaphor" of the title was much more punnaciously deployed by one of the twentieth century's greatest thinkers? Of course, given your own erudition, you will appreciate knowing CANADIAN Dr. Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) did pose the following zinger word-slinger:

"A man's reach should exceed his grasp or what's a metaphor?"

Just so you know. (And, I abso-deffo agree with you, as an Anguish Major with three degrees below zero, attribution and citations make *all* the difference.)

Thank you, Mr. McIntyre, truly.
p.s. I shall be sure to brag a swaggadocio about your column in the blog I share with "the" inimitable Frank Wilson, your Po/e Rival :)

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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