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January 25th, 2024 (Permalink)

Alarming Headline

By using stale metaphors, similes and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself. This is the significance of mixed metaphors. The sole aim of a metaphor is to call up a visual image. When these images clash…it can be taken as certain that the writer is not seeing a mental image of the objects he is naming; in other words he is not really thinking.1

The following headline raises mixed metaphor alarm bells:

Ted Cruz Poll Raises Alarm Bells in Texas Election2

Wouldn't it be better to ring them? It looks as though the phrase "raises an alarm" has gotten mixed up with that of "sounding the alarm", or "ringing bells".

A way to avoid mixing metaphors is to picture them in your mind before committing them to paper. If you did that in this case, you'd picture someone raising up alarm bells, but what good would that do? It's probably because ringing bells in order to raise an alarm is what George Orwell called a "stale metaphor" that it didn't create a bizarre picture in the headline writer's mind that would have prevented it from being published―in other words, the editor was not really thinking.

Fortunately, someone who was thinking noticed the mixed metaphor and the headline has since been changed to:

Ted Cruz Poll Sets Off Alarm Bells in Texas Election3

This is better, but why mention bells at all if you're not going to talk about ringing them? "Bells" could be eliminated and the headline shortened to: "Ted Cruz Poll Sets Off Alarms in Texas Election".


  1. George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language", The Orwell Foundation, 4/1946.
  2. Katherine Fung, "Ted Cruz Poll Raises Alarm Bells in Texas Election", Newsweek, 1/19/2024. This is the Internet Archive's copy of the page which has since been edited to change the headline.
  3. Katherine Fung, "Ted Cruz Poll Sets Off Alarm Bells in Texas Election", Newsweek, 1/19/2024. The current page with new headline.

January 23rd, 2024 (Permalink)

Misquotes in the Media

I've previously mentioned that Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, and Martin Luther King, Jr. are quote magnets1, that is, people who often didn't say what is attributed to them. Churchill, of course, tends to be ascribed quotes about politics, Einstein usually gets ones about science, and MLK ones about race relations. Here's some recent examples ripped from today's headlines.


  1. See:
  2. "Quotes Falsely Attributed to Winston Churchill", International Churchill Society, 1/17/2023.
  3. Ron DeSantis, "'Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.'-Winston Churchill", X, 1/21/2024.
  4. Anne Lamott, "Age makes the miracles easier to see", The Washington Post, 1/17/2024.
  5. The Expanded Quotable Einstein, collected and edited by Alice Calaprice (2000), p. 319.
  6. Ann Althouse, where I first saw these "quotes", comes to much the same conclusion about the supposed MLK quote: "Things maybe not said by Albert Einstein and Martin Luther King Jr.", Althouse, 1/22/2024.

January 19th, 2024 (Permalink)

Q&A: The Taxicab Fallacy

Q: "I've encountered a supposed fallacy by the name of 'taxicab fallacy' and I'm unable to find it in any textbook or your site. It's a counter to the composition fallacy and I've only seen religious folks use it. Is there such a thing?"1

A: I had never heard of this alleged fallacy until you brought it to my attention with your question. The Fallacy Files has no entry for it, nor does any standard text or reference work on logical fallacies that I'm familiar with, which is most of them.

Here's one of the few explanations I've found of the supposed fallacy:

Taxicab Fallacy–Let me note that this fallacy is really only used in the context of Christian apologetics, so it’s difficult to nail down. It is roughly the fallacy of accepting a claim or principle up until you’ve reached your desired destination. It’s a claim of inconsistency. For example, some atheists hold that all contingent things have explanations up until they arrive at the universe. They see where the argument is going (to God) and hop out right before.2

This confirms your observation that the "fallacy" is mentioned only in religious contexts, which may be one reason why it's not found in the usual sources. Unfortunately, the few online sources that mention it are very unclear, and are written as if the reader already were familiar with it.

As mentioned in the quote, above, the alleged fallacy is supposed to occur in the context of a particular argument that goes something like this:

Premiss 1: For everything that exists, there must be a reason for its existence3.

Premiss 2: The universe exists.

Conclusion: There is a reason for the universe's existence.

Let's call that reason "God" and, voilà, we've "proven" the existence of a god. This is a valid argument and premiss 2 is clearly true, so if premiss 1 is also true, then we have a sound argument for the existence of a god. But is premiss 1 true?

The "taxicab fallacy" is supposedly committed by those who see the conclusion coming and "hop out" of the argument before arriving at it. Since the argument is valid it's inconsistent to accept the premisses and then reject the conclusion, but is this what those who jump out of the taxi do? It's not inconsistent to notice where an argument is headed and reject one of the premisses that is leading there. In fact, one of the most common forms of argument in logic and mathematics is the reductio ad absurdum, in which one argues to an obviously false or otherwise unacceptable conclusion, then uses that fact as a basis for rejecting a premiss.

Even if we suppose that those who hop out of the taxi accept inconsistent claims, even for a second, that is not a logical fallacy. Inconsistent beliefs are certainly bad things to have because they cannot all be true, but logical fallacies are not psychological. A logical fallacy is a common type of uncogent argument. While believing inconsistently is bad, it's not a fallacious argument because it's not an argument at all. So, if the charge of "taxicab fallacy" is that those who commit it are inconsistent, that's a bad thing to be, but it's not a logical fallacy.

For there to be a logical fallacy of inconsistency, the inconsistency must occur within an argument. There are two places that inconsistency could occur:

  1. In the Premisses: The set of premisses is jointly inconsistent. In this case, the argument would technically be valid, since it's impossible for all the premisses to be true and the conclusion false, because it's impossible for all the premisses to be true. However, such an argument could not be sound and would, therefore, be uncogent.

    This is a plausible candidate for a formal fallacy, but is it common?4 How often do people argue from inconsistent premisses? Not often, I think. Moreover, are those who are accused of committing the taxicab fallacy arguing from inconsistent premisses? Clearly not, since they're rejecting an argument rather than making one.

  2. Between the Premisses and the Conclusion: This would mean that the premisses of the argument actually imply the negation of its conclusion. Such an argument would not only be invalid, it would be "anti-valid"5. Anti-valid arguments are the worst kind of arguments; in fact, they're so bad that they're never mentioned in books on logic6, presumably because people never argue anti-validly. In any case, this is clearly not what is happening in the taxicab case.

So, the "taxicab fallacy" does not appear to be a logical fallacy of inconsistency. However, not everything called a "fallacy" is a logical fallacy; for instance, the "sunk cost" fallacy is a supposed mistake in economics rather than logic7. The taxicab fallacy may not be a logical fallacy but some other type of mistake, or it might itself be a mistake. If anyone actually does act in the manner posited by the fallacy, that might indicate a personal inconsistency in accepting the premisses of a valid argument while refusing to accept its conclusion, which might be called a psychological fallacy.

Is it possible that those who accuse others of inconsistency are themselves committing a logical fallacy? Jeremy Bentham, in his handbook of political fallacies, treats the "Imputation of Inconsistency" as a form of what he calls "vituperative personalities", that is, ad hominem8.

Is it an ad hominem to charge people with committing the "taxicab fallacy"? If the "fallacy" is simply a charge of holding inconsistent beliefs, then it's certainly a personal attack. Whether it's a fallacy depends on whether the personal attack is used as a reason to dismiss the arguments of the person attacked. I'm not ready to conclude that it is a fallacious ad hominem because, as I've already indicated, I'm not sure what the "taxicab fallacy" is supposed to be.

One last issue: You also mentioned the relationship of the proposed fallacy to the fallacy of composition9, a fallacy which sometimes comes up in relation to arguments similar to that discussed above. For instance, one might hold a modified version of premiss 1, namely, that there is a reason for the existence of everything in the universe, but not the universe as a whole. The fallacy is most obvious where "reason for existence" means cause, that is, premiss 1 says that there is a cause for every event in the universe. To reason from premiss 1 alone to the conclusion that the universe itself must have a cause would commit the fallacy of composition. As far as I can see, the "taxicab fallacy" does not counter this claim, unless what "counter" means is simply responding to the charge of fallacy with a counter-charge of fallacy.

In conclusion, unless and until someone explains the taxicab fallacy in a way that makes sense of it as a logical fallacy, it has no place in The Fallacy Files.


  1. A reader, e-mail, 1/14/2024.
  2. Cameron Bertuzzi, "The Ultimate List of Apologetics Terms for Beginners (with Explanations)", Capturing Christianity, 9/14/2018.
  3. This is one formulation of what is called "the Principle of Sufficient Reason"; see: "Principle of Sufficient Reason", Encyclopaedia Britannica, accessed: 1/19/2024.
  4. There's a formal fallacy of "Contradictory Premises" included in Madsen Pirie's How to Win Every Argument: The Use and Abuse of Logic (2006), pp. 38-39, but that's the only source I've found for such a fallacy.
  5. This is my term for it.
  6. At least, I've never seen a reference to anti-validity, as far as I can remember.
  7. Jamie Ducharme, "The Sunk Cost Fallacy Is Ruining Your Decisions. Here’s How", Time, 7/26/2018.
  8. Bentham's Handbook of Political Fallacies, revised, edited and with a preface by Harold A. Larrabee (1971), pp. 87-88
  9. See: The Fallacy of Composition.

January 3rd, 2024 (Permalink)

Crack the Combination VI*

The combination of a lock is three digits long and each digit is unique, that is, each occurs only once in the combination. The following are some incorrect combinations.

  1. 810: One digit is correct and in the right position.
  2. 198: Two digits are correct but both are in the wrong position.
  3. 679: One digit is correct but in the wrong position.
  4. 408: One digit is correct but in the wrong position.

Can you determine the correct combination from the above clues?

*Previous "Crack the Combination" puzzles: I, II, III, IV, V.

Recommended Reading
January 1st, 2024 (Permalink)

Illiberal Journalism & Tea with Terrorists

Disclaimer: I don't necessarily agree with everything in these articles, but I think they're worth reading as a whole. In abridging them, I have sometimes changed the paragraphing and rearranged the order of the excerpts in order to emphasize points.

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