Having literary know-how matters in business. Whether you fancy yourself as the next Stephen King or not, you’re going to have to develop grammar skills to tell a compelling story.
Why do you think presidents employ speechwriters and press officials to help sway the masses?
To achieve this end, of course, you’re going to need to have a solid command of prose and some literary tools up your sleeve.
This is why knowing the differences between metaphor, simile and analogy is critical. One false slip could leave you with more than just egg on your face (see what we did there?).
Writing is a craft, and like any other craft, it has rules and recognized levels of proficiency. If you notice yourself slipping into complacency, lend us your ears for a quick return to your last course in English Lit as we breakdown the differences between an analogy, metaphor and simile.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
What’s a Metaphor, Analogy and a Simile?
Each are slightly different techniques used to make comparisons when writing.
The differences between a simile, metaphor and analogy
- Metaphor is often poetically describing something is something else without the words ‘like’ or ‘as’. The defining thing about a metaphor is that it is not literal. You can’t literally be the ‘wind’ beneath her wings.
- Simile is saying something is ‘like’ something else. It compares 2 dissimilar things. i.e. ‘Love is like a virus.’ It’s a subcategory of a metaphor.
- Analogy is saying something is like something else to make some sort of an explanatory point. You can use metaphors and similes when creating an analogy.
“You are the wind beneath my wings.” – Bette Midler
A metaphor is described as a figure of speech that makes a comparison between two things that are dissimilar. It is comparative, describing one thing in terms of another.
There are several different types of metaphor, but all of which are still meant to draw a picture in one’s mind. Two things are compared to convey a higher level of meaning or understanding.
Unlike a simile, a metaphor “does not use connective words such as ‘like’, or ‘as’. A metaphor makes an implicit or hidden comparison and not an explicit one like a simile would.
This is yet another reason classic literary devices are so powerful for the copywriter and editor. They help to show, rather than tell a story.
Hopefully, good copy helps sell a product, or sow the seeds of strategic innovation without being pushy or overly commercial.
That’s the power of a correctly used metaphor vs analogy vs simile.
Moving back into technicalities, though, metaphors are deemed a bit more poetic than similes.
For instance, take Shakespeare’s play, The Life and Death of Julius Caesar, in which Marc Antony addresses Roman senators:
“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.”
Marc Antony does not want the senators to give him his ears, but the phrase hooks you in and paints a compelling argument.
Of course, the use of metaphor in certain business contexts is not always apt or professional as many slip right back into simile if not a straight-up cliche.
We mean, really, how many times must one be told he or she is a slavedriver or has a heart of ice before wanting to literally morph into just such a monster?
Some other examples of metaphors:
- His daughter is the black sheep of the family
- The man is a night owl
- He said his father was a dinosaur
- Her voice is music to his ears
- My brother was boiling mad
- Chaos is the breeding ground of order
- War is the mother of all battles
“Life is like a box of chocolates: you never know which one you’re going to get.” – Forrest Gump
A simile is a phrase that uses a comparison to describe something.
The Forrest Gump example states that “life” can be described as “a box of chocolates.”
You know you have a simile when you see the words ‘like’ or ‘as’ in a comparison.
Similes are one subcategory of metaphors as both look to add meaning within a comparative discussion.
You should use them sparingly. A good simile is:
- Original: This is easier said than done, but steer clear of clichés and similes you’ve heard before. One place to start is to consider the image you’re trying to insert into the reader’s mind
- Visual: A simile is intended to paint a picture of someone’s mind
- Clear and simple
“Explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog. You understand it better but the frog dies in the process” – E.B White
In having covered similes as a subcategory of metaphors, now it’s time to dive into the truly powerful prose, the use of analogy. Let’s quickly clear up the analogy vs metaphor distinction.
An analogy is a comparison between one thing and another, typically for the purpose of explanation or clarification. It is an extended metaphor.
A metaphor is a figure of speech which you might use to communicate that comparison or likeness.
Take the above example from E.B White. White’s famous analogy illustrates that sometimes it’s better not to know too much.
Or this example from George Orwell’s allegorical novella, Animal Farm:
“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”
Orwell is making a comparison between men and the pigs that have taken control of the farm. This analogy is implying that the pigs have transformed into the very thing that they were meant to be rebelling against (men).
Clearly, analogies are crucial for illustrating abstract ideas and relationships between concepts and things. They can be a very persuasive way of explaining your point.
In business, when making a point, consider how many times you may have drawn up a sports analogy or comparison.
This is where strategy can meet innovation can meet persuasion, particularly if done so in a Steve Jobs sort of reality distortion field.
Jobs did not force time to bend to his whims and fancies, but that is, essentially, what a visionary leader, writer, and communicator can do as most of us speak in analogies in one way or another.
The way we speak sparks ideas. Perhaps it was as simple as suggesting someone envision their body more like a race car and put top-tier fuel in it so as to win their next bodybuilding competition…
Or, returning to business, perhaps they went into a completely different industry looking for innovative ideas in which to implement. This example is exactly what helped propel Ford Motors from a standard car manufacturer in 1913 to the assembly-line process it is now credited with creating the world over.
Key Takeaways For Analogies, Metaphors and Similes
You may be thinking, but “What am I to do? I’m no Stephen King or Don Draper or, Steve Jobs!”
But that’s where you are wrong.
Take up the challenge of writing more compelling and creative copy by internalizing our key takeaways. This way, you’ll do your part in no longer making marketing and advertising the red-headed stepchild of the literary world!
- Don’t confuse analogy vs metaphor: Remember, an analogy is a comparison between things, while a metaphor is a figure of speech where you use one word or a phrase to refer to something else.
- Don’t confuse a simile vs metaphor: Metaphors and similes both call attention to how two different things are similar. The difference between both is that similes hit you with the comparison by using explicit words such as ‘like’ or ‘as’.
- When to use a simile: Use a simile to emphasize or make vivid some quality in a thing. For example, to indicate someone’s intelligence and cunning, you could say, “He was as smart as a whip and as sly as a fox’, two similes in one.
- When to use an analogy: An analogy is a key tool for a strong argument. With it, you’ll bring out the big guns in terms of persuasion and you’ll make your point in more relatable ways. Use it to plant a powerful image in the reader’s mind as you expand on your point that might have otherwise been too abstract or complicated to communicate.
- When to use a metaphor: A metaphor is the language of poetry and literary novels, but you can make your blog writing just as impactful with the occasional metaphor. You’re ready to use a metaphor when you want to evoke an emotional response or paint a vivid picture. Other times, a metaphor might explain a phenomenon. Take these examples you could use every day at the office or in a blog: ‘Time is money’, ‘Sow the seeds’, ‘Let’s buy some time’, ‘Keep your head above water.’
However, there’s a lot more to persuasive copywriting than knowing the differences between metaphors, similes and analogies. Include the rule of three and avoid commonly misused words in your future writing, while also staying tuned to our blog.