Analogies, metaphors, and similes – what are they?

Although there are similarities in their purpose, there are distinct differences between analogies, metaphors, and similes.

Analogies

An analogy is a literary device by which a writer likens two objects that are dissimilar but yet share common, often concealed features. Some analogies can be excessively extended by an overenthusiastic writer to make what they think is a clever comparison.

Similes

A simile is also known as an expressed analogy and is a literary device linking two dissimilar items using the words “as” or “like”. Many of us will remember as children learning many of these, such as “as good as gold”, “as smooth as a baby’s bottom”, “as tall as a mountain”, or “like a rolling stone” and “like ice in the sun it melts away” (both of these remind me of 1960s pop songs).

Metaphors

A metaphor is also known as an implied analogy and is a figure of speech by which an imaginative reference is made without strictly literal justification. An example would be that “Tom was a pillar of the community”, implying that he was strong and upright. These are much like similes but do not use “as” or “like” because the comparison is implied.

A confusing metaphor is a type of analogy making comparisons between two things that are not alike but share some characteristic, such as in “She was a shadow of her former self”. The reader is not meant to take this literally.

A mixed metaphor is created when a neat and clean metaphor is combined with another, unrelated metaphor and can be amusing, tiresome, or a mash-up of clichés, depending on your own point of view or sense of humour. Some examples, courtesy of The Independent newspaper are:

“Ahmadinejad wields axe to cement his position”
Independent headline, 14 December 2010

“I don’t like it. When you open that Pandora’s box, you will find it full of Trojan horses”
Ernest Bevin, Labour Foreign Secretary, on the idea of a Council of Europe, 1948

“I’m kickstarting a drive to get employee ownership into the bloodstream”
Nick Clegg, 17 January 2012.

“Far-right vacuum could trigger ‘lone-wolf’ attacks”
Independent headline, 29 December 2012

“They’ve put all their eggs in one basket and it’s misfired”
Paul Merson, Sky football pundit, of West Ham’s purchase of Andy Carroll. From Vincent Clark

“Out of the hat on Monday night the Home Secretary produced the rabbit, the temporary provisions Bill, as her fig leaf to cover her major U-turn”
Simon Hughes, Lib Dem MP, 2008

“We’re like the canary down the mine. We’re the first people who pick up what’s going on out there and what we’re seeing at the moment is a boiling pot whose lid is coming off”
Markos Chrysostomou, Haringey Citizens Advice Bureau, on the effects of cuts, 19 November 2012