I heard someone say 'hotter than a two-dollar water pistol' the other day, never mind the context. I'm thinking it is an example of a simile that does not use the words 'like' or 'as'. For example, 'it is as hot as ... ' would qualify as a simile, so I infer the comparitive (and superlative?) degrees are, uh, similar concepts.
What about other examples of similes lacking the like or as words? Any ideas?
" ... a sow displaying a valentine rump ... " - Adrien Stoutenburg
Is this one? The rump looks like a valentine heart, right? Or is that a metaphor? Objects A and B have only one thing in common, so it sounds more like a simile than a metaphor, at least to me.
Hmmmm good question.......Initially I would have voted for metaphor, but now I'm reconsidering.
"like" or "as" are the easiest of course to identify, from what I remember learning, if you could work those words in somehow, even if they were not present, then it also counted as a simile, though I'm not certain of this.
Valentine Rump vs Rump like a Valentine....ok, but can't this be also done with "real" metaphors?
GOOD QUESTION, HUGH -- though I don't think the sow's back-end is an example of the problem you are posing.
I think that in "valentine rump," the word VALENTINE is just an adjective.
Granted, there are metaphorical adjectives: doe eyes (doesn't mean you've had an eye transplant from a deer), crusty person (doesn't mean baked), straight-laced person (even when bare-footed), etc.
But in this particular case, I think VALENTINE means SHAPED LIKE A VALENTINE HEART, so it's just descriptive, not metaphotical.
So back to the problem. Here's my favorite line from RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER: When the ship is becalmed, it is "As idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean." I'm going to vote this one a SIMILE, because STC could have written, "We sat aboard a painted ship upon a painted ocean," and that would have been a metaphor. Instead he says "as idle as," so it's a comparison, a simile.
I'm trying to think of another known example... Okay, here's a line from Stoppard's play NIGHT AND DAY. Ruth is complaining about the idiotic headlines in tabloid newspapers, and she refers to "that Lego-set language they use."
This time I think I'll vote METAPHOR, because she didn't say, "Headlines assembled as inelegantly AS a Lego sculpture." That would be a simile. She does say, in syntactic effect, that the language of tabloid headlines IS a Lego set. So, metaphor.
Does that make sense?
I don't think it should be a water pistol- two dollars sounds a little expensive, so it couldn't be stolen. (As far as I can remember, I never paid more than about 50 cents for a water pistol)
As I walked out one evening,
Walking down Bristol street,
The crowds along the pavement
Were fields of harvest wheat.
Poem: "Too Much Snow" by Louis Jenkins, from Just Above Water © Holy Cow Press!
Too Much Snow
Unlike the Eskimos we only have one word for snow but we have a lot of modifiers for that word. There is too much snow, which, unlike rain, does not immediately run off. It falls and stays for months. Someone wished for this snow. Someone got a deal, five cents on the dollar, and spent the entire family fortune. It's the simple solution, it covers everything. We are never satisfied with the arrangement of the snow so we spend hours moving the snow from one place to another. Too much snow. I box it up and send it to family and friends. I send a big box to my cousin in California. I send a small box to my mother. She writes "Don't send so much. I'm all alone now. I'll never be able to use so much." To you I send a single snowflake, beautiful, complex and delicate; different from all the others.
I'm pretty sure the Auden would qualify as a metaphor, insofar as the crowds were said to be the same as fields of wheat, instead of merely being like them in one, or only a few respects.
Let me throw some others out for grabs, and see which you think would be similes, which metaphors. Forgive those that seem hackneyed, as I am only trying to make a point, not create original insight:
The lightning reminded me of a flashbulb.
The thunder seemed a drum solo in the distance.
The broken leg was bent in the manner of a hairpin.
The ice cream had the taste of an orange.
The touch of her skin compared favorably with that of satin sheets.
Her cheeks could have been mistaken for roses.
Looking at each example, I'd say:
Simile - can substitute "was like" for "reminded me of."
Metaphor - the thunder took on the property of the drum solo - it "seemed" a drum solo.
Simile - can substitute "like" for "in the manner of."
Metaphor - the ice cream took on the property (taste) of an orange.
Simile - can substitute "was like" for "compared favorably with"
disagree with the Thunder, i read it as "it sounded LIKE a drum solo"
and "the ice cream tasted LIKE an orange"
OK, students how many similies, metaphors and the like, can you find contained here:
Azure and Gold
April had covered the hills
With flickering yellows and reds,
The sparkle and coolness of snow
Was blown from the mountain beds.
Across a deep-sunken stream
The pink of blossoming trees,
And from windless appleblooms
The humming of many bees.
The air was of rose and gold
Arabesqued with the song of birds
Who, swinging unseen under leaves,
Made music more eager than words.
Of a sudden, aslant the road,
A brightness to dazzle and stun,
A glint of the bluest blue,
A flash from a sapphire sun.
Blue-birds so blue, 'twas a dream,
An impossible, unconceived hue,
The high sky of summer dropped down
Some rapturous ocean to woo.
Such a colour, such infinite light!
The heart of a fabulous gem,
Many-faceted, brilliant and rare.
Centre Stone of the earth's diadem!
Centre Stone of the Crown of the World,
"Sincerity" graved on your youth!
And your eyes hold the blue-bird flash,
The sapphire shaft, which is truth.
None, I would guess. Adjectives and/or metaphors only.
Here is another:
The faces in the metro had something in common with petals on a wet, black bough.
And an anti-simile:
My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun.
So, what is the opposite of a simile? Weird, huh?
Hugh, I disagree with your evaluation of the poem I posted above. If this isn't a metaphor, what is it?
And your eyes hold the blue-bird flash,
The sapphire shaft, which is truth.
Similies without as or like:
I'd rather be a hammer than a nail.
I'd rather be a sparrow than a snail.
The term "rock and roll", is a metaphor for you know what.
Re: figures of speech in Azure and Gold:
April is personified in stanze one.
Onomatopoeia (humming) in stanza two.
Air was of rose and gold in stanze three.
Sky and ocean are personified in stanza five.
So, one iffy similie, no methapors, and three "and the likes"
Very Like a Whale
One thing that literature would be greatly the better for
Would be a more restricted employment by the authors of simile and
Authors of all races, be they Greeks, Romans, Teutons or Celts,
Can't seem just to say that anything is the thing it is but have to
go out of their way to say that it is like something else.
What does it mean when we are told
That that Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold?
In the first place, George Gordon Byron had enough experience
To know that it probably wasn't just one Assyrian, it was a lot of
However, as too many arguments are apt to induce apoplexy and
thus hinder longevity.
We'll let it pass as one Assyrian for the sake of brevity.
Now then, this particular Assyrian, the one whose cohorts were
gleaming in purple and gold,
Just what does the poet mean when he says he came down like a
wold on the fold?
In heaven and earth more than is dreamed of in our philosophy
there are great many things.
But I don't imagine that among them there is a wolf with purple
and gold cohorts or purple and gold anythings.
No, no, Lord Byron, before I'll believe that this Assyrian was
actually like a wolf I must have some kind of proof;
Did he run on all fours and did he have a hairy tail and a big red
mouth and big white teeth and did he say Woof Woof?
Frankly I think it is very unlikely, and all you were entitled to say,
at the very most,
Was that the Assyrian cohorts came down like a lot of Assyrian
cohorts about to destroy the Hebrew host.
But that wasn't fancy enough for Lord Byron, oh dear me no, he
had to invent a lot of figures of speech and then interpolate them,
With the result that whenever you mention Old Testament soldiers
to people they say Oh yes, they're the ones that a lot of
wolves dressed up in gold and purple ate them.
That's the kind of thing that's being done all the time by poets,
from Homer to Tennyson;
They're always comparing ladies to lilies and veal to venison,
And they always say things like that the snow is a white blanket
after a winter storm.
Oh it is, is it, all right then, you sleep under a six-inch blanket of
snow and I'll sleep under a half-inch blanket of unpoetical
blanket material* and we'll see which one keeps warm,
And after that maybe you'll begin to comprehend dimly
What I mean by too much metaphor and simile.
-- Ogden Nash
*Of course, having a cat or two on top of the blanket makes you even warmer.
You've got a smile so bright,
You know you could have been a candle;
I'm holding you so tight,
You know you could have been a handle ...
From the same song "The Way You Do the Things You Do"
If good looks could cause a minute, you know you could have been an hour.
I'm a riddle in nine syllables,
An elephant, a ponderous house,
A melon strolling on two tendrils.
O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!
This loaf's big with its yeasty rising.
Money's new-minted in this fat purse.
I'm a means, a stage, a cow in calf.
I've eaten a bag of green apples,
Boarded the train there's no getting off.
Those are interesting questions Hugh has raised.
A simile illuminates or evokes the nature of something by stating its resemblance to something else. The classic format is that something is ‘like’ something else, or shares some quality with something else, i.e. it is ‘as’ [adjective] ‘as’ [whatever]. Examples: ‘Publishing a volume of verse is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo.’ (Don Marquis); ‘You’re as cool as the other side of the pillow’ (Prince Rogers Nelson).
The words ‘like’ and ‘as’ aren’t essential if equivalent words are used. Hugh has identified some phrases synonymous with ‘like’ (‘reminded me of’; ‘in the manner of’; ‘could have been mistaken for’). There must be many others. Some unkind reporter once described the front view of Prince Charles’ ears as ‘bringing to mind’ the FA Cup or a London cab with both doors open. An article in yesterday’s newspaper reported Oliver Stone poring over crits panning his latest film ‘Alexander The Great’ and said he ‘had the mien of’ someone who had just seen his favourite child disemboweled. And there are other, more elaborate comparative formats (e.g. describing a person who besmirched the reputation of the organization he worked for as ‘doing for it what the Boston strangler did for door-to-door salesmen’).
Yet not every statement of resemblance or of shared quality should be classed as a simile, even when ‘like’ is used. For instance the statement ‘The twins are identical’ isn’t a simile. I suggest it’s not a simile to say ‘The ice-cream tasted of vanilla’ or ‘His present wife looks remarkably like his former wife’, or ‘The man I just saw in the street looked like the man in the Wanted poster’. The intention of such statements is purely informational. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary in its brief entry for ‘simile’ defines it as a figure of speech involving the comparison of one thing with another of a different kind ‘as an illustration or ornament’. Sometimes however the line between informational and ornamental is hard to draw, or depends on context. Hugh’s example ‘The ice cream had the taste of an orange’ is perhaps a borderline case.
It seems inconsistent to class statements of dissimilarity as similes, even though they illuminate by contrast. “How unlike, how very unlike the home life of our own dear queen”, as a Victorian matron once said, after seeing Sarah Bernhardt’s sizzling performance in the title role in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. Another, less obvious example: ‘Makes Ben Hur look like an epic!’ - a line used to promote the film ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’. I like Johnny’s suggested name ‘dissimiles’.
Comparatives, i.e. comparisons involving ‘less than’ or ‘more than’ or equivalent formulations (e.g. ‘hotter than a two dollar water pistol’; ‘busier than a one-armed paper hanger’) are by definition statements of difference, so could logically be grouped with the dissimiles, but here again the lines get blurred. In a ‘less than’ comparison (e.g. ‘a cost accountant is someone who has the training but not the charisma to be an auditor’) the subject implicitly shares some of the relevant quality; and in a ‘more than’ comparison (e.g. ‘Faster than the Fourteenth Century!’ – another line used to promote ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’) it implicitly has all of it and more. So does that make comparatives similes of a kind? This is just a terminological question. Comparatives are what they are. I’m happy to go on calling them comparatives, while recognizing that, like classic similes, they can be evocative and illuminating.
I feel much the same about superlatives, mentioned by Hugh as a possible variety of simile. They can be evocative and illuminating (e.g. ‘greatest comeback since Lazarus’), and do involve comparison, but I’ll go on just calling them superlatives.
Which leads to the topic of hyperbolic description (e.g. ‘She had the kind of body that would make a bishop kick out a stained glass window’ – Raymond Chandler in ‘The Big Sleep’; ‘a face ugly enough to turn a funeral up an alley’ – an Irish saying; ‘windy enough to blow a cow off a cliff’ – another Irish saying; ‘so sure of himself that he does crossword puzzles with a fountain pen’; and an example of inverted hyperbole, from a cheeky blurb I once saw on a dust-jacket: ‘Brilliant! Original! A Riveting Read! These are just some of the things the critics have yet to say about this book!’). Such a description can be evocative and illuminating, but doesn’t embody the comparison of one element with another which is at the heart of any simile.
A metaphor equates two diverse elements. The effect can be just as evocative and illuminating as a simile, but the fundamental difference is that the metaphor can’t be taken literally. To the extent that it needs to be understood non-literally, you could say that it involves some exaggeration or distortion. The classic variety asserts expressly that one thing IS some different thing (e.g. “Your prime minister is a man of steel”: George W Bush, to the Australian press; or ‘That’s the way the cookie crumbles’). Much more common is the use of descriptor expressions which don’t apply literally but which are treated as applicable in place of some literal descriptor that might have been used. Thus there can be metaphoric verbs (‘He oiled his way around the floor, oozing charm from every pore’ – from ‘My Fair Lady’) or adjectives (see the examples given above by Marian-NYC) or noun expressions (‘cellar dwellers’) or catch phrases (‘we don’t have a dog in that fight’). Many expressions (e.g. ‘underdog’) which originate as metaphors eventually become accepted as having literal meanings in their own right with their metaphoric origins forgotten.
It’s usually not hard to distinguish metaphors from similes, but I can’t decide whether the 1970s saying that ‘Sophia Loren is the thinking man’s Twiggy’ should be classed as a metaphor, a simile, a dissimile, a hyperbolic description, or some other figure of speech. Anyone have any thoughts on that?
Post Edited (01-16-05 07:48)
The Greeks knew how-
'Rosey fingered Dawn'
'The wine-dark sea'
If Ian can quote Monty I can quote Mel Brooks.
"He's killed more men than Cecil B. De Mille!" (Blazing Saddles)
The Uncertainty of the Poet
I am a poet.
I am very fond of bananas.
I am bananas.
I am very fond of a poet.
I am a poet of bananas.
I am very fond.
A fond poet of 'I am, I am'-
Fond of 'Am I bananas?
Am I?'-a very poet.
Bananas of a poet!
Am I fond? Am I very?
Poet bananas! I am.
I am fond of a 'very.'
I am of very fond bananas.
Am I a poet?
Mrs Kennedy liked bananas
Mrs Lincoln went bananas
Mrs. Bush hides bananas.
where Curious George can find them?
Thanks for the explanatory post, Ian. It helped to understand the points that were being made.
Yeah, good stuff, Ian.
‘Sophia Loren is the thinking man’s Twiggy’
I remember reading a similar statement in Douglas Hofstadter's 'Gödel, Escher, Bach'. I will see if I can find it again. Something about equating Margaret Thatcher's husband to Ronald Reagan's wife (and how artificial intelligence had problems with such comparisons). I believe it is a figure of logic instead of one of speech, though.
I would agree with ns and Hugh that Ian has provided much information and food for thought, not withstanding Hugh's original question.
It’s usually not hard to distinguish metaphors from similes
Couldn't we just say that anything not fitting succinctly (literally) into these categories is simpy "metaphoric in nature" or "characteristic of a simile"?
I like what Ian says about these being evocative and/or illiminating.
What are the 'nine syllables?'
If logic had figures, then syllogisms would be filmstrips.
If logic had figures, syllogisms would be equations.
Post Edited (01-19-05 16:11)
What are the 'nine syllables?'
The number of syllables in each of the nine lines.
I stopped by the library yesterday, but no luck with the Hofstadter book. I did not remember how MANY pages there were in it! I did do a quick scan of the index, but no luck on the 'A is to B as C is to D' question, sorry.
Speaking of search engines (which we weren't, but so what), this month's Scientific American has an article on web searches, and the new stuff we can expect to be able to search for in the future. One of the sites they mentioned was Mooter [www.mooter.com], where I whimsically typed in "Hugh Clary" and was surprised to see this page pop up on AskOxford:
It even links back to the original thread! Very strange, huh?
Ahh, some have fame thrust upon them!
Hot DAMN , Hugh !
That was one of the first threads I ever posted to
Well Hugh, that is a little scarey. Not your rhyme, not your fame, but the fact the entire thread is exposed like that. Although I'm sure e-mule won't mind the exposure, I'm feelin' a little naked. Sometimes I forget that this IS the internet and not a private club of sorts. Thanks for the reminder.
Marty, there are no mysteries on the web:
Terrific, Hugh. Good of them not to just swipe it.
Snerk! I'll have to ask for a free copy of their rhyming dictionary, for helping promote the book.
I wonder where 'analogy' fits in all this.
It's just another trope, Hugh. Some of the confusion I think is in some of the tradition school definitions being a little vague. All tropes are metaphors. A metaphor i a special kind of trope, used for comparison. A simile is that kind of metaphorical trope which does not use a comparative work, or phrase, such as 'as, ' 'like," etc. There are other tropes, similar to 'metaphors' in the narrow, comparative sense which are used for comparison which are used for comparison, such as analogies, allegories, ayllogisms, etc.
With the overlaps and sebsets applying boolean logic to rhetorical terms might make us all, comparatively, bananas.