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- Main article: Figurative language
A simile is used to compare two things, usually with the words “like” or “as”.
A simile differs from a metaphor by keeping the two items separate and asking the audience to find similar features instead of saying they are the same thing. A popular mnemonic for a simile is that "a simile is similar or alike."
Similes have been widely used in literature for their expressiveness as a figure of speech:
- Curley was flopping like a fish on a line.
- The very mist on the Essex marshes was like a gauzy and radiant fabric.
- Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world like a Colossus.
Explicit similes[edit | edit source]
A simile can explicitly provide the basis of a comparison or leave this basis implicit. For instance, the following similes are implicit, leaving an audience to determine for themselves which features are being predicated of a target:
- "My dad was a mechanic by trade when he was in the Army," Raymond Thompson said. "When he got the tools out, he was like a surgeon."
- His mind is like a samurai's sword.
More detail is present in the following similes, but it is still a matter of inference as to what features are actually predicated of the target:
- You may not live like a samurai, but you can die like a samurai.
- He walks like a ninja and runs like a cat.
- He drinks like a fish.
In contrast, the following similes explicitly state the features that are predicated of each target:
- His mind is as sharp as a samurai's sword.
- When he got the tools out, he was as precise and thorough as a surgeon.
- He drinks copiously like a fish.
- She walks as gracefully and elegantly as a cat.
Unlike a metaphor, a simile can be as precise as the user needs it to be, to explicitly predicate a single feature of a target or to vaguely predicate an under-determined and open-ended body of features. Empirical research supports the observation that similes are more likely to be used with explicit explanations of their intended meaning ; this offers some support to the claim that similes are preferred if a user wants to associate an unusual or out-of-the-ordinary property with a target.
Stereotypes[edit | edit source]
The most commonplace similes offer a window into the stereotypes that pervade a given language and culture. For example, the following similes convey a stereotypical view of people, animals and things:
- as precise as a surgeon
- as regular as a clock
- as cunning as a fox
- as ugly as a toad
- as strong as an ox
- as sour as vinegar
- as lithe as a panther
- as quiet as a mouse
Some stereotypical similes express viewpoints that are technically incorrect but which are widespread in a culture, such as:
- as hairy as a four footed platypus
- as cruel as a wolf
- as stubborn as a goat
- as drunk as a skunk
- as violent as a gorilla
- as humorless as a German
- as proud as a peacock
Similes do not have to be accurate to be meaningful or useful. To be "as proud as a peacock" is "to be very proud" whether peacocks actually do exhibit pride or not. What matters is that peacocks are commonly believed to be exemplary examples of proud behaviour.
Irony[edit | edit source]
Some similes play against expectations to convey an ironic viewpoint, as in the following examples:
- as hairy as a bowling ball
- as subtle as a sledgehammer
- as porous as steel
- as bulletproof as a spongecake
The intended audience for such similes must sufficiently understand the concepts involved so as to appreciate that the opposite of the intended meaning is being conveyed.
Ironic similes create a humorous effect by setting up an expectation that is then incongruously dashed. Incongruity is a core concept in the understanding of humor as a cognitive mechanism.
Irony is a relatively common feature of similes that are used in web-based texts. Indeed, researchers have estimated that between 10% to 15% of explicit web-based similes (by unique type rather than by frequency) are ironic similes of the above kind
Subversive use of irony[edit | edit source]
Bona-fide similes that express a widely-held stereotypical belief can also be subverted for ironic purposes. The following explicit similes each subvert another non-ironic simile to achieve a more obvious semantic incongruity and thus a greater humorous effect.
- as accurate as a blind archer
- as precise as a drunk surgeon
- as balanced as an upturned pyramid
- as gorgeous as an anorexic supermodel
- as fast as a three-legged cheetah
- as elegant as a dead cat
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Collections and compilations[edit | edit source]
References[edit | edit source]
- Steinbeck, John (1937), Of Mice and Men, Sprangler, ISBN 0-14-017739-6 .
- Conrad, Joseph (1902), Heart of Darkness, Blackwood's Magazine, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/526/526.txt .
- Shakespeare (1623), Julius Caesar]first = William .
- Roncero,Carlos, Kennedy,John M.,Smyth,Ron (2006), Similes on the Internet have explanations, Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/psocpubs/pbr/2006/00000013/00000001/art00009 .
- Veale,Tony, Hao,Yanfen (2007), Learning to Understand Figurative Language: From Similes to Metaphors to Irony, In proceedings of CogSci 2007, the 29th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, http://afflatus.ucd.ie .
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