Teachers’ Lounge: The Perfect Analogy

A simile is a comparison using the word like or as.

A metaphor is a comparison the does not employ the word like or as.

A personification is . . .

Ah, figures of speech.  The perfect analogy is clever, startling, and beautifully apt.  I have my favorites, such as

  • By now it was near five o’clock and the October sun, fat and golden as an egg yolk, rested on the cluttered horizon behind me.                             Cheaney, The Playmaker
  • If we left it to [the amateur stagehands] they threw great handfuls of snow bang on the centre of the stage, as if some great turkey with diarrhoea were roosting up in a tree.               Robertson Davies, World of Wonders

summers-day

When teaching a classroom of middle- to high-schoolers how to write comparisons and analogies, they may need more than a definition.  Here are a few pointers to get across (or try to):

A literary analogy (whether metaphor or simile) must be clear.

  • Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

On the other hand, it shouldn’t be TOO precise.

  • Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.

A literary analogy should provoke an intellectual affirmation–other than “Huh?”

  • Joe and Mary had never met.  They were like two hummingbirds that had also never met.
  • The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t.

Above all, similes and metaphors should provoke an emotional response appropriate to the subject.

  • Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.
  • He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant and she was the East River.
  • She grew on him like she was a colony of E. coli and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.
  • She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.

(Most of these examples are supposed to be taken from actual high school essays.  I’m slightly skeptical, like a bowling ball that can’t make up its mind.)

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