Whacked out, wrung dry, can’t forget

“She was as whacked out as a towel would be when it was wrung dry by Tommy’s situation.”

I will not poke fun at the person who spoke these words (a public figure), or make any snide references to the situation which gave rise to this comment (a serious medical issue).

Let’s just stick with the language issues here.

I’ll begin by saying: Aaaaaugh!!

Now, a few clear-eyed observations as to what this statement might teach us:

  1. Be careful of your metaphors. Whacked out as a towel, whether wrung out or not, is not exactly an example of an elegantly expressed word-picture. But let’s ignore this detail for the moment.
  2. The phrase when it was wrung dry needs to be in the present tense, not the past: She was as whacked out as a towel would be when it is wrung dry. Better yet (because the appearance of the word it is often a signal that a sentence has been constructed flabbily): She was as whacked out as a towel would be when wrung dry. Even better (because the appearance of the word would is often a signal that … oh, never mind; let’s just say it’s a red flag): She was as whacked out as a towel wrung dry. (Whenever you write it or would, look for a cleaner, sharper way to say what you mean.)
  3. The final phrase, by Tommy’s situation, is floating out there. We don’t know what it modifies. I don’t think the towel was wrung dry by Tommy’s situation, was it? I think the intended meaning is She was as whacked out by Tommy’s situation as a towel wrung dry. Which makes the meaning clearer — but it still doesn’t salvage that awful wrung-dry towel metaphor, does it?

In the speaker’s defense, this comment was spoken, not written. It probably made perfect sense in the moment, in the context of the conversation.

In my own defense, I just couldn’t leave it alone. Because somebody quoted this person in print. And now, I’ll never be able to un-see it.

I may need a hot towel. Or something stronger.

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