By Jacqueline Schaalje
Analogies come in handy in cases you’d like to describe an experience, person, place, or thing. Instead of saying they are big, boring, exciting, etc., you can compare this thing’s qualities to the qualities of some other thing (or person etc.). Analogies is when you compare important qualities of one thing to something important that another person or thing possesses.
Similes and Metaphors
Similes and metaphors are forms of analogies that are commonly found in works of literature. You can find them in poetry but also in fiction and non-fiction. But we also use them in everyday speech. They are an imaginative way to highlight the defining qualities of something by comparing it to something that may be seen as very different. Unless they’re cliches, such as saying you’re as pretty as a picture, they can be great ways of showing something in a completely new light.
If you want to make an analogy with a simile, you can say one thing is like another thing or use an adjective and say that one thing matches that adjective as much as a different thing. Here are some examples of simile:
“The sky is like the ocean: blue, tranquil, and expanding out further than the eye can see.”
“My sister ran as fast as a cheetah during her marathon last weekend!”
It is easy to see that the sky and the ocean are very different things, and that a person is very different from a cheetah, but describing one in terms of another emphasizes the importance of the qualities they both share through use of contrast.
In the example about the ocean and the sky, they are both blue and calm.
The sister and the cheetah are both ultra fast.
A metaphor, on the other hand, claims that something “is” literally something else. This is symbolic, of course, but it is a stronger use of language than a simile., You might prefer to use a metaphor when you want to point at really striking (= strong) qualities about the main object of your focus. Here is an example of a metaphor:
“That bully at school is a monster!”
A person cannot literally be a monster, but if you think about the qualities of a monster: frightening, vicious, mean and angry, you can easily relate these qualities to a bully at school.
Analogy in Everyday Speech
Everyday English speech is full of analogies. There are a lot of English expressions that make use of similes and metaphors to express humour, friendliness or wisdom. Here are some examples:
Life is a journey.
You are the apple of my eye.
This is easy as pie.
She was barking up the wrong tree.
I slept like a baby.
No man is an island.
Juliet is the sun (Romeo says this in Shakespeare’s play “Romeo and Juliet”).
He’s king of the hill.
The sky of his thoughts began to darken.
Some of these similes and metaphors may be easier to understand than others when you think about qualities shared between the two things being compared. As you get more comfortable with the English language, you will find that you will get into the habit of using many similes and metaphors in your everyday speech.
Advanced Stuff and Further Reading
Underneath are some more similes and metaphors that I found when I was reading only a couple of pages in Time Magazine. It shows you how often analogies are being used. In fact, they’re used so often that we stop thinking about them as being analogies.
- “Middle East revolutions and civil wars are to religious fanatics what stagnant ponds are to mosquitoes.” This is a classic analogy, where two things are being compared in parallel. Here the emphasis is on the attractiveness of revolutions and wars to religious fanatics: they find them as attractive as mosquitoes look for places with still water.
- “The death spasms of the Roman Empire.” This is a special kind of metaphor; when a thing is imagined to be like a person. It’s called personification.
- “A balance of power.” Power doesn’t really balance, not on its toes and not on scales. It’s a metaphor.
- “The American Freedom agenda included toppling Muammar Gaddafi in Libya under a humanitarian banner.” The word topple started out as a metaphor, because topple means become unsteady or cause to fall. It is now regularly used for removing a government. The second metaphor in this sentence is the word “banner.” A banner is a sort of flag. The US don’t really use a flag when they set out to work regime change. The collocation (= word combination) “humanitarian banner” is often used together, and you’re supposed to understand this as a declaration of principles; in this case humanitarian ones, i.e. people-loving.
- “Kissinger is a lion in winter.” This metaphor comes from a play with the same title. It means a strong, sharp person at the height of his powers, even though he is old (in the “winter” of his life).
- “The smartphone business had died.” A business can’t really die like a person or a living thing does, so this is a metaphor.
- “Like a pushy date, the Apple Watch wants to get intimate with us in a way we’re not entirely used to and may not be prepared for.” Nice simile: the new watch is like a pushy date who wants to be on your arm.
- “We like our watches dumb.” You see how often personification is used. Only people can be said to be dumb. Not devices.
- “It’s intoxicating and also a bit disconcerting to have this much functionality perching on your wrist, like one of Cinderella’s helpful bluebirds.” The Apple Watch is now compared to a bird. It sits (“perch”) on your wrist in the way of birds.
- “Nobody anticipated the way iPhones exert a constant gravitational tug on our attention.” The iPhone has gravitational tug = our eyes are “pulled” to what’s going on on our screens. There is no real tug, so this is a metaphor.
As you can see, similes and metaphors are hugely useful.
From the above examples you can see how effective similes and metaphors are. You can also see how ubiquitous (= existing everywhere) they are. Imagine you’d have to explain to people you talked to what it means when political forces are keeping each other in check. Instead, you talk about the balance of power, and everybody with some education will immediately grasp your idea.
Or take the idea that a smart watch sits on your wrist like a wise and helpful Cinderella bird. This is an absolutely brilliant image that tells you lots of information about what kind of watch this is; including that it causes an uncomfortable feeling, because who really wants to have a bird sitting on his arm all the time?
In conclusion, we use metaphors and similes so universally, that it would be hard to talk without using them. The wealth of similes and metaphors, incidentally, makes it also hard for computers to understand us. Even more so as clever and creative people invent new similes and analogies all the time.
Cliché Similes and Metaphors
As I’ve mentioned above, there are also lots of similes and metaphors that have been used so often that they’ve become clichés. You’d be well advised to avoid them. Here are some:
Thinking outside the box (which box?)
Singing from the same hymn-sheet
On the radar
Hit the ground running.
A ball-park figure.
The bottom line.
I bet you haven’t even thought of these tired phrases as metaphors, have you?
Now do the Quiz.
The first one is with routine analogies that people use a lot.
The second quiz is with more advanced vocabulary and more sophisticated analogies for advanced learners.
You can do this online if you click here.
You can do this online if you click here.
Want to learn more about comparisons and figurative language? Here are some links:
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