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Mixed metaphor

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" There was a rustling up in the front seat [of Biff's car]. This was it! Old Biff was going to show him [young Biff] the almanac! / 'See this book?' Old Biff continued. 'This book will tell you the outcome of every major sports event 'til the end of the century. All you have to do is bet on the winner and you'll never lose.' / 'That's very nice,' the teenager replied, as if he was sure now that the old man was crazy. 'Thank you very much.' His voice gained a hard edge as he added: 'Now why don't you make like a tree and get outta here!' / 'It's "leave", you idiot!' Old Biff shouted back at him. ' "Make like a tree and leave!" You sound like a damned fool when you say it wrong!' "
—From Back to the Future Part II by Craig Shaw Gardner (quote, page 152)

Mixed metaphors were a common problem amongst members of the Tannen family.

Biff's mixed metaphor

Biff Tannen was infamous for missing the joke in a humorous expression, and then reciting it back incorrectly (although he did get better at them as he got older).

Examples:

  • "Why don't you make like a tree... and get out of here." What Biff had heard before was the pun "Make like a tree, and leave".[1]
  • "That's about as funny as a screen door on a battleship." As Marty noted from a distance, the joke was about "a screen door on a submarine".[2]
  • When confronted by aliens (actually Marty, along with Jules and Verne Brown) in 1967 and told not to reveal their visit to the planet, Biff promised to keep quiet. When questioned on his promise, he responded "Cross my heart and hope to live", instead of "Cross my heart and hope to die".
  • "I'm not one to look a gift horse in the butt." What Biff heard before was "I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth".[3]
  • "It's time to race the music." Marty responds, "It's face the music, you idiot."[4]
  • By 1991, Biff continued to mangle phrases. While breaking into the Institute of Future Technology, he knocked down some guards and yelled, "Have a nice trip! See you next WINTER!!" although the joke is "See you next fall!".[5] When talking about a satellite dish, he referred to getting "one of those satellite plates".[6]
  • In 1992, Biff showed the deed to the Parker family ranch to prove his ownership of it while saying "Read it and cry". What Biff heard before was "Read it and weep".

In the 1986B timeline, Marty while disguised as a guard at the Citizen Plus ward, came upon Biff's cell. Finding that the intercom didn't work on his end, Marty states that if it was working, he'd be hearing nothing but cursing or mixed metaphors.[7]

Other Tannens' mixed metaphors

Buford Tannen used the mixed metaphor "I'll hunt you and shoot you down like a duck" instead of "like a dog". He was corrected by one of his gang members.[8]

In 1926, D.W. Tannen despite claims of putting a dummy in the barrel going down the waterfall, plans to keep 4-year-old Emmett Brown in there. He stated that he wanted it to look like "The Real MacDonald". His employee corrected him asking if he meant "The Real McCoy".

Within the 1986A timeline, Riff Tannen upon explaining where he and Cliff come from answered "It's called the bird and the bugs." No one here provided him with the correct expression ("Bird and the bees").[9]

By 2091, Biff's great-great-grandson Ziff Tannen said "I'm going to make like a banana and skedaddle", although the joke is "make like a banana and split".

Behind the scenes

  • By 1985, people were no longer saying "Make like a tree and leave". Biff's bullying threat to Marty drew laughs anyway, partly because it was such a strange thing to say, and partly because it broke the tension caused by the confrontation. In Part II, Biff repeated the statement, and this time, old Biff explained the joke, adding, "It's leave, you idiot! Make like a tree and leave! You sound like a damn fool when you say it wrong!".
  • The Tannens might not have been alone in getting a statement wrong. In 2015, Marty said to Griff Tannen, "What are you, deaf and stupid?" rather than "deaf and dumb".[2] "Dumb", in the context of "deaf and dumb" refers to being unable to talk (as in the case of a deaf and mute person), rather than stupid.  Various possibilities are that Marty had mangled the phrase; or that he had heard it said that way; or that he actually believed that deaf people are stupid; or that he was not referring to the phrase and deafness and stupidity were just two traits Griff had.

Appearances

Notes and references

  1. Back to the Future
  2. 2.0 2.1 Back to the Future Part II
  3. Back to the Future: The Game Epsiode 1 "It's About Time"- Biff messes up the metaphor when asked by Marty why he's at Doc's estate sale if approached before checking out the model of the town.
  4. Back to the Future: The Game Episode 3 "Citizen Brown"- If you take long to stop Biff, then he'll say the aforementioned metaphor.
  5. Back to the Future: The Ride
  6. "Hill Valley Brown-Out"
  7. Marty makes this statement when the player first uses the intercom on Biff's cell in Episode 4 "Double Visions".
  8. Back to the Future Part III
  9. Back to the Future: The Game - Episode 2: Get Tannen!

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