Points out a conceptual similarity between two things. A simile equates two different THINGS.
"His love for her IS LIKE the fires of Centralia" (simile)
Here's another example, just for extra clarity[note 1]
"Learning IS LIKE rowing upstream." (simile)
A simile is mostly a syntactical construct. It is often described as a statement comparing two things, in which the word "like," or "as" is used to equate them.
A metaphor accepts the similarity of a simile, and discusses (uses) one of the things being compared as if it WERE the similar thing. Hence, if we start with a simile:
"Your computer screen IS LIKE a desktop" (a simile)
We can then produce a desktop metaphor in which the computer screen is treated—in the language—as if it ACTUALLY WERE the similar thing (the desktop). Hence we can:
- Write about putting documents on our "desktop" (using "desktop" as a metaphor of our simile)
- Write about putting a clock on our "desktop"
- Write about putting a calender, Rolodex, and pictures of the kids on our "desktop"
A computer screen is not a desktop. Using the simile (it is LIKE a desktop) as a metaphor is simply the allowance for use of the simile in our language, as if the similar thing actually IS the thing to which it is similar. The key word there is "use." In other words, when we speak/write about our computer screen as a desktop, we are using a desktop metaphor for our screen. We can then apply the same metaphor to other metaphorical "objects" which can be "placed on" our "desktop," such as documents, clocks, calenders, etc.
In this case we use metaphor when we speak/write about the computer-screen as if it actually IS a desktop. In one sense, the word "metaphor" is more akin to terms like: passive-, and active-voice, because it describes HOW we speak about the content, rather than the content itself. In metaphor, the language speaks of the SIMILAR thing, as if it is the ACTUAL thing. When the language does this, it is called metaphor, or it is said that we are speaking "in" metaphor. The thing which we speak about in this pretend (metaphorical) fashion is also called "a" metaphor.
Is "a simile a type of metaphor?" Is simply expanding on a simile enough to make it a metaphor? Only if we speak/write/think of the similar thing as if it actually is
the other thing. [note 2]
An analogy is NOT simply an expansion of a metaphor or simile. We will see later that it can actually be thought of as the more elemental concept, at least within the context of language arts.
An analogy doesn't compare, or use, two different THINGS the way a simile or metaphor does (respectively). Instead, an analogy compares two RELATIONSHIPS. To be absolutely clear about this, an ANALOGY has two THINGS on EACH of the two sides of its comparison, for a total of four THINGS (simplifying a bit for clarity).
The important thing to remember, is that it is the two RELATIONSHIPS between each set of things that are the subject of the comparison. Examples will be clearer than my feeble attempts at explanation:
Dogs ARE TO Puppies -AS- Cats ARE TO Kittens
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RELATIONSHIP equation between RELATIONSHIP
between dogs & puppies RELATIONSHIPS between cats & kittens
Here's another one (tongue in cheek, not necessarily a valid analogy):
Writers' blogs Alanis Morissette
ARE TO -AS- IS TO
The word "analogy" The word "ironic"?
Note how all that is being compared in this analogy are the two RELATIONSHIPS between each set of two things. The THINGS themselves, are NOT being compared.
Finally, perhaps because I'm a fan of self-referential references:
Analogy IS NOT RELATED TO metaphor
metaphor IS RELATED TO simile.
This shows that an analogy can be a negative comparison (?), and that the relationship on one side of an analogy can be negative while the other positive. This has sometimes been taken to a comical extreme.
Like similes, analogies are primarily syntactical constructs, with a very specific notational convention for equating relationships.
“Don't believe everything you read on the Internet.”
There seems to be some confusion on the Internet based on people using the archaic definition of the word metaphor. This manifests itself in statements like:
- "a simile is a type of metaphor", or
- "A simile is only one of dozens of specific types of metaphor," or
- "A simile is a metaphor, but not all metaphors are similes."
These errors seem to stem from the fact that the archaic definition of the word “metaphor” is sometimes presented on the web with little or no attempt to clarify that it is an outdated definition — one which is no longer used in modern language. Worse, even in the past, the outdated usage seems to have been limited to a single (albeit famous) philosopher and his students.
Dictionaries, such as Oxford, will include the archaic definitions of terms along with the modern definitions. This is helpful for a variety of people, such as those who are interested in the word's etymology, or those who are studying older texts. That said, those dictionaries make it clear that this is no longer how the word is actually defined in modern usage.
As stated, you can find sites on the Internet that present the archaic definition of the word metaphor as though that definition is currently in use. These sites may, in fact, present the definition in a confusing fashion, perhaps making a vague and passing reference to the fact that it is an archaic sense, while discussing it as though it is a perfectly valid usage supported in the "dictionary."
This seems to be at the heart of much of the confusion about these terms for blogs that look to such sites as information sources. As is normal for the Internet, many will double down on this confusion. As non-intuitive as it seems, there is no law of logic that says we can't be passionate about being mediocre, if we so choose.
To give example of what is wrong with using the archaic meanings of words as though they are the modern meanings consider the confusion that would ensue by such treatment of the word "awful." If someone told you, for example, that a play was "awful" you would not think they were raving about it being inspiring and good. This is, however, a mistake being made regularly on the Internet with regard to the word "metaphor." [note 3]
All similes (and the metaphors that are based on them) have, at their heart, some implied or tacit relationship to a common THING. The two relationships between the unseen common thing, and the expressed things on each side of the simile holds the two sides together in the mind of
the person perceiving it. This is almost a Schrödinger's Cat
styled implication though, since the unstated extra THING exists only
within the mind of the person who is perceiving the simile.
This is a good place for an example. Returning to our very first example-simile, presented above:
"His love for her IS LIKE the fires of Centralia" (a simile)
This simile tacitly includes some unstated common THING on each side of an unseen, underlying analogy equation. We might get more specific, and say:
"His love for her burns LIKE the fires of Centralia"(a simile?)
Syntactically speaking, this is still a simile, but it also explicitly provides the common THING, to which both THINGS should have a RELATIONSHIP. That is, this simile exposes the RELATIONSHIPS to be compared in the underlying (implicit) analogy.
"His love for her -IS TO- burning
the fires of Centralia -ARE TO- burning"
Here, the common THING that each side of the simile is RELATED to is "burning". This clarifies that:
- THE RELATIONSHIP between "his love for her" and "burning,"
- is being equated with THE RELATIONSHIP between "the fires of Centralia" and "burning".
If no common thing is provided in the simile, the analogy would only exist in our imagination. It may not even make it out of our sub-consciousness. That's ok though. The point is, there will still be an analogy even if it is a different one depending on who is perceiving it.
Just to clarify the point, that a simile's underlying analogy is based on perceptions that are subjective and uncertain, let's try to sneak a different one in there.
"His love for her is deep, like the fires of Centralia"
Here's the underlying (though explicitly alluded to
His love for her IS deep (i.e., "IS TO depth")
The fires of Centralia ARE deep (i.e., "ARE TO depth")
If you're like most, you would have originally thought "burning" was the common thing that related each side of the original simile (that's what fires do right?). I just changed it to "depth" here, in order to make the point, that the underlying analogy, which any given individual might be using to make the two halves of a simile "similar," can often be different from one person to the next.
You might also perceive the common thing to be something other than burning, or depth, for example:
"His love for her is unceasing, like the fires of Centralia"
Unless I'm still a really bad writer, you should be able to convert this to its underlying analogy at this point.
It should also be evident that a single simile, like “his love for her is like the fires of Centralia” could simultaneously invoke all three of these analogies to one familiar with Centralia. It could be that they are all invoked sub-consciously or consciously depending on the person.
This shows that we can not fully KNOW what relationship someone else is using to perceive a similarity between the two things on either side of a simile. It strikes me that this fact could be used to great advantage by a creative writer or poet. The fact that the underlying relationships to a common THING could be different for each person perceiving the simile might also prove very helpful for inferring observational data about "first person knowledge
" or "first person information".
Finally, it should be mentioned that analogies are logically
more elemental than similes (or metaphors based on similes). A simile can always be converted to an analogy, but an analogy can't always be converted to a simile. Specifically, an analogy must have a common THING that is included in both relationships being compared (on both sides of the relationship-comparison). If an analogy doesn't include a common thing in both of its relationships, a mixed metaphor is produced.
In the above examples, we presented three equally valid underlying analogies for the simile between "his love for her" and "the fires of Centralia". It is possible (assuming you know what Centralia is
) that these three analogies might all be evoked—at least subconsciously—upon hearing the unqualified simile.
Sometimes the concepts that hold an analogy together are not declaratively considered by the observer at all, even though they are clear and unambiguous. Most would understand the following analogy fully, without ever explicitly enunciating or thinking about the concepts that connect the two relationships.
"Play it again Sam" "The whole damn fish"
IS TO -AS- IS TO
The movie "Casablanca" The movie "Jaws"
Can you construct an analogy that compares more than two relationships? For example, can you start with the never-said movie line analogy above and construct a valid three-way analogy like this?
- "Play it again Sam" IS TO The movie "Casablanca"
- "The whole damn fish" IS TO The movie "Jaws"
- "Greed is Good" IS TO The movie "Wall Street"
No, really, I'm asking.
The general consensus among the web sources (actually source) that define(s) the relationship between analogy and simile unambiguously, is that this relationship is a basic one. That is to say, all similes are based on some underlying analogy. At first, I wasn't completely convinced of this, but have come around.
The section above titled “Metaphor
” defined a metaphor as using the similar thing in the language
as though it were the actual thing. This may be inaccurate. Pavlov
's experiments with dogs seem to indicate that metaphor may not require language skills at all. That is, it may be more generally expressed as simply: "using the similar thing as if it were the original thing," without any allusion to language.
Pavlov's dog experiments are, by far, the best known example of associative learning. In those experiments a bell was rung at the same time food was presented to the dog. A dog that previously knew no association between the sound of the bell and food, would eventually “learn” the association, and salivate at the sound of the bell. In essence, each dog of Pavlov's experiments had learned an association between food and the sound of a bell.
For the dog, which has no real language to speak of (sorry), the bell becomes a metaphor for food. If you accept this—that the bell becomes a metaphor for food in the mind of the dog—then metaphor is a much lower-level characteristic of associative learning, which does not require language.
A purely visual metaphor
may be experienced as well, such as when one notices shapes in clouds. These may start as similes when a friend points out that a cloud looks like a face, for example. If you "see it," though, it quickly becomes a stand-alone metaphor, without any need for the spoken simile. On the other hand, you may simply look up and notice a face, without any intervening linguistic syntax at all.
This article began by stating that its primary goal is to produce a more self-consistent explanation of these three words and how they are related to one another. There remains, however, some inconsistency in the explanation presented here, though it can, at least, be described in a way that is not ambiguous.
The remaining inconsistency stems, primarily, from differences in ontology. That is, in how one might choose to arrange the various concepts into a hierarchy. If your ontology is word-, logic-, or writing-centric, you will place metaphor at the top of the hierarchy. From this vantage-point, the phrase, "analogies always underlie metaphors" makes perfect sense. It also makes sense to think of a metaphor as simply speaking or writing about an underlying simile as though the similar thing were the actual thing.
If, on the other hand, your primary viewpoint is from a biological, or behavioral understanding, you must position metaphor below analogy and simile. Biologically speaking, metaphor is thought to be a form of low-level signalling, which occurs as a precursor to spoken language within the brain. Said another way, metaphor is the low-level neural phenomenon that leads to
or eventually causes
language and syntax. In this case, it makes little sense to think of analogy or simile—which are purely syntactical constructs—as under
So, by allowing for two different contexts, 1.) language and logic, vs. 2.) brain physiology, the remaining ambiguity can be eliminated within each context.
- Background on Centralia
Ok, so, most people may not know what Centralia is. The explanation at offroaders.com seems
to have the most information about it, which seems to be both reliable and accurate.
This site provides a nice, clean, unambiguous definition of the (pre-wiki) meaning of analogy, in the form of a bunch of examples (and their accompanying explanations). Alas, I can't say how long it will be there.
- youtube: Every Metaphor and Simile has an Analogy Inside
An unusually precise explanation of analogy's relationship to simile (for programmers like me).
- Related lesson: Analogies and Idioms
For writers, getting simile, analogy, and metaphor right is just the tip of the iceberg (how could I resist that one).
- Related Blog Entries:
- All nouns are things. THINGS, however —for the purpose of this discussion—, are not necessarily nouns.
- Of course, some folk on the Internet believe that this is reification, and that reification is a logical fallacy. Such people (imo) are like beings with wicker bodies (simile, plus non-sequitur), who have convinced themselves that they have the power to quench the fires of ignorance by leaping on them (metaphor, plus irony).
- Metaphor is not the only word that suffers this treatment on the Internet. Recently, a search of "despite" turned up a first page with only its archaic definition and no explanation that it was no longer used in that way.
C Copyright 2010 D. J. Repici, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED