Ok, this post isn’t technically related to family history. But this is something that’s driven me nuts for years—trying to remember the difference between metaphors, similes and analogies. I end up referring to something as a metaphor when it’s probably an analogy, or use a simile and call it an analogy. Maybe if I write down the definitions, I’ll be a bit more likely to remember which is which.
Here are the definitions.
metaphor : a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance
simile : a figure of speech in which two unlike things are explicitly compared
analogy : a similarity between like features of two things, on which a comparison may be based
Ok, that’s a start, but these definitions don’t really help me much. They all sound like pretty much the same thing.
Let’s take another stab at defining each of these, and provide an example of each.
A metaphor is a figure of speech in which you say that one thing is another. By treating two seemingly different things as identical, you illustrate the similarities that we may have not noticed were there. Here are some examples:
- Life is a journey
- I am a rock
- My wife is a pain in the neck
Notice that I’m not saying “life is a journey because X, Y and Z”. We just equate the two, which is the power of metaphor—the similarities are inferred.
A simile is a type of metaphor where we use the word like or the word as. It’s more explicit than a metaphor, and less poetic. It tells us that two things are similar, rather than inferring that they are, by equating them. Here are some examples:
- Free as the wind
- Talking to him is like talking to a brick wall
- Her feet are as big as battleships
An analogy is more complex and intricate than either a metaphor or a simile. It’s a way of comparing two different things by showing a number of ways in which they are similar. We also logically infer that if the two things are similar in some things, they are similar in others. Here are some examples:
- A URL on the web is analogous to a file name on your PC
- The fight for gay rights is the civil rights movement of the 21st century
- With that last statement, I am the Jerry Springer of the blogging world
The point here is that we’re not pointing out just one characteristic that is similar between the two things mentioned, but drawing a parallel. In the case of the URL and the file name, you can think of a number of ways in which the URL is like a file name, e.g. it uniquely identifies what you’re looking for, tells you where to find something, it’s what you feed into a tool to view the item, etc.
The other type of analogy that you will run across is the kind found on many IQ or college prep tests, of the form “A is to B as C is to ?”. Here are a few examples:
- Medicine is to Illness as Law is to Anarchy
- Keyboard is to Blogger as Guitar is to Rock Star
- Finger is to Eye as Knee is to Crotch
(Hey, I didn’t say that they were going to be good analogies).
So Now You Know
There you have it. A quick overview of metaphors, similes and analogies. You no longer have an excuse to forget which is which. Your mind is full—like a pot of pasta.