Category Archives: Analogy

Puppies Are to Dogs as Kittens Are to Cats

scantron question graphic

The correct answer is B, though I prefer E.

When I was studying for the SAT over three decades ago (little sob), I dubbed myself “Queen of Analogies.” I know it sounds vain to confer an exalted title on oneself. (I later adopted the moniker “Cupcake Queen,” so maybe I have a problem.) If it’s any consolation, when I was taking the test, I probably thought of myself as the dunce of analogies. Perhaps good news for college-bound students is that analogy questions were removed from the SAT in 2005.

An analogy is a comparison. It shows the resemblance between two things otherwise unlike. Forms of analogy include metaphor (“All the world’s a stage”), simile (“My love is like a red, red rose”), allegory (“The Tortoise and the Hare”), and parable (“The Prodigal Son”). I recently came up with an analogy that I thought was, well, brilliant! It compared the political situation in the United States to a dress. My vanity didn’t go unchecked, however; my husband seemed less than impressed with it.

white and gold dress

Do you see this dress as white and gold, or blue and black? Our relationship may depend on it.

Remember “the dress”? The one that became an international meme in 2015? The garment was either blue and black, or white and gold, depending on who was looking at the photo. I became mildly obsessed with the phenomenon at the time, especially when the frock turned out to be blue and black (not the combination I saw). Explanations arose for the variance in perception, related to “the way human eyes and brains have evolved to see color in a sunlit world.” The image “hit some kind of perceptual boundary.”

The color of the dress in the photo became a topic of preoccupation, discussion, debate, disagreement, vitriolic argument, and existential crisis. The Washington Post called the controversy a “drama that divided a planet.” It was the subject of 4.4 million tweets in 24 hours. And neither “side” would give up its position. Indeed, my husband and I just spoke about it in raised tones. (He’s a blue-and-blacker.)

blue dress

Royal-Blue Lace Detail Bodycon Dress by Roman Originals

Now that I’ve refreshed your memory on the dress (assuming it hasn’t haunted you since its original infamy, because that would be abnormal), can you see how the current political situation resembles it? On Facebook, I’ll come across a political post that appears beyond doubt, conveying information from a reliable source. (I won’t give specifics, because the post could represent the views of either “side.”) I find myself thinking, there’s no way anyone could dispute the veracity or legitimacy of the point being made.

But invariably, someone will make a comment to the contrary. And I can tell he believes what he’s saying, 100 percent. He sees a blue-and-black dress; I see a white-and-gold dress. And budging, for either of us, would mean distrusting our senses (which we rely on for survival) and rejecting our perception of reality (a terrifying prospect). [End of brilliant analogy.]

I love analogies, even if I don’t reign over them, because they are stepping stones to understanding. If we understand A but not B, and B is like A, then we can also understand B.

Maybe, in this way, we can get all the way to Z.

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Authors Should Need a License to Write Metaphors

And I mean that literally, not figuratively. The author of a manuscript I edited recently loved metaphors, but she used them poorly. Her implied resemblances between unrelated things tended to be convoluted and to confuse more than clarify. Moreover, they were trite (life is a tapestry) and often mixed (life is a race and a puzzle, at the same time). I rewrote the metaphors that could be salvaged and deleted the ones that had no hope of making a positive contribution to the text.

I got to thinking that maybe only writers as masterful as Shakespeare should be allowed to use figurative language.

But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks?

It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.

See? Nice.

But maybe I was being too restrictive. Metaphors, similes, and analogies can elicit a deeper understanding of a concept when they are original, apt, and clear. They can also convey meaning quickly, vividly, and memorably, whether in writing or in speech. For example, my husband uses a number of effective analogies—relating to Mrs. Fields cookies, ordering in a restaurant, and getting highlights at the salon—in business negotiations.

So if you really want to compare your beloved to a summer’s day, I won’t stop you. You might consider the following steps for creating your very own fancy talk:

  1. Select the concept you want to illustrate through a metaphor, simile, or analogy. Example: life.
  2. Identify the point you’d like to make about the concept. Example: Life is full of surprises, and you never know what will happen next.
  3. Think of an unrelated idea that has the same qualities as your concept and the point Box of Chocolatesyou are trying to make. Example: In a box of assorted chocolates, the candies look similar on the outside, but inside there might be nougat, ganache, caramel, lemon, cherry, raspberry, key lime, coconut, mocha, mint, pineapple, marshmallow, marzipan, fudge, almond crunch…sorry, where was I? Until you bite into one of the chocolates, you won’t know what’s inside.
  4. Formulate and refine your simple and stunning figure of speech. Example: Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get.

A bad metaphor can obscure even the most obvious idea. But a good metaphor, according to poet Pablo Neruda, can reveal the mysteries of the world.