Figures of speech are, well, figurative, not literal, and allow for creativity in explanation—culminating in a powerful communication tool that is often used for simplifying the complex and bringing life to the boring.

That’s why the metaphor can easily take you on a roller coaster of emotions, and why similes can be as good as gold. It’s also why analogies…actually, analogies are a bit more involved, so I’ll explain further down.

What is a Metaphor?

Simply put, a metaphor compares or combines two unrelated objects or feelings, and applies the meaning or traditional understanding of one of those objects to the thing it’s being compared to.

What?

Ok, maybe an example…

It wasn’t an accident that I used “rollercoaster of emotions” above. Here we are taking one thing, a rollercoaster, and combining it with another thing, emotions, to paint a picture that can only exist in a figurative world.

We are applying the up and down nature of a rollercoaster to describe the unevenness of emotions one might be feeling (look here for more analogies for feelings). An actual rollercoaster of emotions isn’t a physical amusement park ride, but is used here to easily and playfully explain that someone is going through tumultuous times.

(Side note, have you seen the movie Inside Out? It’s an animated film about five personified emotions. It’s a Pixar movie. By Disney. See where I’m going here? A rollercoaster of emotions might not be that farfetched).

Starting to make sense, right?

Great, but don’t get too comfortable.

What is a Simile?

Well, you’ll be relieved to know that a simile is actually a type metaphor. I know it made me feel better when I first came to that realization…it gives you hope that not all in this weird world of language was created with the sole purpose of confusion (how I often feel with portmanteau words like “advertorial”)…an actual linkage between things and ideas is always welcome.

Anyway, a simile is a type of metaphor—maybe you can call a simile a metaphor’s more obvious cousin?

Meaning, a simile goes about their business in the same manner as a metaphor, in that it is comparing two unlike things, but is different because it is more of a stated comparison; one that you really don’t have to think twice about as long as you know or understand the things being compared. It’s known as a stated comparison because the words “like” or “as” are often used when drawing the connection:

  • He was as brave as a lion
  • She was as quick as a fox

Or taking it a step further…

  • His heart was as black as coal
  • Her smile was as big as the grand canyon

Thus, here we have more blatant comparisons than metaphors, but still accomplishing the same tasks in the end…applying a piece of coal’s dark makeup to a person’s heart to describe that person as cold, selfish, etc. Or, to apply the vastness everyone knows the grand canyon to be to a girl with a smile that couldn’t really get any bigger.

What is an Analogy?

Does anyone know, really? Let’s start with the fact that analogies are often used by employing both similes and metaphors. From that statement alone, we can assume analogies to be used in more complex situations, needed to break down an explanation more than simply a person’s action to that of an animal, or a person’s physical feature to an inanimate object, as was the case above.

In a more technical sense, an analogy attempts to bring the core concept down to a level of understanding most could reach, by using more “everyday” words, objects, experiences, etc. that most people can relate to.

To end, an example, from Buzzle:

You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat. – Albert Einstein