Proofreading Tips - Metaphorically Speaking

Here’s a look at some similes, metaphors and idioms. 

When proofreading your work in progress you may find you are fonder of your metaphors than your reading public is going to be. Be guided by your crit partner, crit group, editor and/or anyone whose opinion you value (no family members, of course). If your imagery trips up the reader it needs smoothing out. Psychological research has revealed we’re hardwired to appreciate metaphor, though. So keep them well-placed and ringing true, while remembering to avoid cliche and to use sparingly. 

Simile: a comparison using as, like or than (easy for children to understand) 

“its fleece was white as snow” 
“For it is as the air, invulnerable” 
“like a diamond in the sky” 
“if, like a crab, you could go backward” 

Metaphor: an implied comparison (a good one is memorable) 

At night Times Square was the colour of sweets – a gigantic neon-lit bag of treats” (from The Magic Bicycle - Brian Patten/Arthur Robins) 

All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” 

There are various metaphorical subsets to explore, how about synecdoche and metonymy in a future article (I bet you’ll be all ears…)? 

Now let’s rev up the engines and hit the floor running on the vexed subject of mixed metaphors. They have their place – 

For comic and/or satirical effect, or political bombast (intentional or unintentional): “When you open that Pandora’s box, you will find it full of Trojan horses.” 

To suggest a troubled mind: 

…to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them…” 

but, on the whole, avoid.

An idiom is a phrase (sometimes a metaphor) that has been used so often that it has broken free and is understood despite its literal meaning. These are a nightmare for anyone learning English as a second language (over the moon, pulling your leg, etc). 

Here’s a collection of mixed idioms: 

We’re as thick as two peas in a pod” 
from the US TV series Scrubs 

Go and count your sour grapes before they hatch” 
from the UK TV series Father Ted 

you buttered your bread, now sleep in it!” 
from the classic Disney film Pinocchio 

Finally, if you’re going to use an idiom, make sure you’ve got the right spelling: 

A Damp Squid by Jonathan 3D

to give free rein” not to give free reign 
to the manor born” not to the manner born 
a damp squib” not a damp squid 

After all, it’s not rocket surgery.

SCBWI British Isles Winchester Conference.

Excitement is bubbling as the conference gets nearer. We're so thrilled that our very own, and rather wonderful, Catriona will be sharing her knowledge and expertise at this year's conference. Click here for more details. 

Catriona Tippin has been a member of SCBWI since 2006 and helps organise venues for SCBWI North East. Details of her writing and illustrating here. She proofreads study guides, house magazines and publicity material for national educational organisations, in addition to working on a variety of proofreads and copyedits for the growing self-published world. Her monthly column is intended to give you food for thought, remembering “Any correction of the speech or writing of others will contain at least one grammatical, spelling or typographical error” (McKean’s Law, named after its inventor Erin McKean, editor of the Oxford American Dictionary).


  1. This is such a great post - I need a pocket Catriona! Can you answer this one for me - in "I can't bear/bare it" - which spelling????

    1. I can't bear it! The English language has so many homophones - I'll look at some more next month.

  2. Me too! How about a Catriona App - really quite essential for us writers. I love a good metaphor. Fab post - thank you!

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  5. Nowadays we can easily improve our English writing with an advanced Grammar Sentence Structure Checker. English writing is a process that involves with several steps: pre-writing, drafting, revising, and editing. correct sentence in english online


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