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As a sometime poet, I can’t deny that I love metaphors. When I’m reading, little delights me more than coming across a figure of speech that’s well crafted and well placed. Of course, metaphors and other figurative language have a robust life outside the narrow furrows of poetry. Using a good metaphor in a section of prose can be like adding a bit of butter or a handful of fresh herbs to a recipe: it can elevate the other elements and make the dish as a whole taste better. However, as is true in the kitchen, you have to carefully consider the other ingredients, and a little experience at the stovetop doesn’t hurt.

It’s worth noting, too, that even the best cooks slip up occasionally.

During my commute to work on Tuesday, I was listening to a story on NPR’s Morning Edition about increasing violence in Turkey. Early in the piece, I heard the reporter say this:

In June, rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, declared the cease-fire over. Since then, newscasts have once again featured a steady diet of spilt Turkish and Kurdish blood. [emphasis mine]

Yikes! As you can imagine, my mind quickly responded with a vivid and unsavory image, which distracted my attention long enough that I lost track of the narrative. My reaction, I’m sure, wasn’t what the news editors at NPR were hoping for. And while I’m reluctant to criticize any journalist with a beat as challenging as Peter Kenyon’s, this was one unfortunate juxtaposition that needed a rewrite.

Part of the issue here is that the phrase a steady diet is used often enough that it’s become a fixed expression in the collective lexicon — a cliché whose figurative meaning (“consistent input or output”) has lost touch with its original literal meaning. (More poetically, we might say that the metaphor’s tenor has eclipsed its vehicle.) And therein lies the danger.

Thoughtful writers and editors can try on various personae, imagining how different audiences might react to their work. This is a perfect example (and trust me, I’ve encountered many) of why it often pays to review your prose through the eyes of a ten-year-old boy. If anything makes him giggle or gross out, it’s probably a good idea to consider some revision.

With that in mind:

In June, rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, declared the cease-fire over. Since then, newscasts have once again featured countless stories of spilt Turkish and Kurdish blood.

In June, rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, declared the cease-fire over. Since then, newscasts have once again featured a steady diet of violence and bloodshed.

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