Those Dang Apples and Oranges

Someone recently posted a photo of a man holding a sign comparing President Obama to terrorists. There was a lot of drama around the post and my response, but in a nutshell, I was annoyed by the failed analogy.

What is an analogy? A comparison between two things, on the basis of their shared structure, to explain or clarify. Or, a partial similarity, where there is a foundation of similarity between two things that are dissimilar.

In other words, you have two things. They are not the same, but at their foundation you can find something that is similar. As in the old saying about not being able to compare apples and oranges. Well, I suppose you could argue that at their most basic they are both fruit.  We’ll keep it simple here, though, and not get into rhetoric (reasoning or explaining from parallel cases), simile (an expressed analogy) or metaphor (an implied analogy).

So, with that in mind, it annoys me when people use, or try to use, an analogy incorrectly. I have to admit it annoys me because I do it wrong so many times. Just reading the definitions above is confusing, let alone trying to write analogies successfully.

Sometimes an analogy doesn’t work because the punctuation or completeness of a sentence fails. Or I misread it. One of my favorites was (thankfully) not written by me. ‘The cat jumped high, like an elephant.’ What appealed to me was the image of an elephant jumping as high and graceful as a cat. And then I pictured a cat jumping as high as the elephant was tall. Suffice to say the analogy didn’t work for me because it raised too many questions. Plus I still am not sure it was even an analogy.

But back to the original post. People have very strong political opinions, especially these days. I am not commenting in favor of one party or another, or taking a stand on anything political here. I am taking a writing stand however. I found the photo so stupid. How can you compare the president to a terrorist? What is the foundation of similarity? I’m sure there will be someone who will come up with a basis of similarity and tell me I’m wrong, but I’m going to continue on my merry way here.

The impact of that photo was lost because the analogy just didn’t work.

If you’re going to use an analogy, make sure you understand what it means, why it works, and why it doesn’t; whether you’re writing a novel, a poem, or making a political sign.

And I still want to see an elephant jump.

6 thoughts on “Those Dang Apples and Oranges

  1. I’m definitely not here to speak in favor of one party or another either; but I feel that some of these people who get so worked up over religion or politics or gun control or whatever it may be, aren’t even educated enough to know what it is they’re talking about. They just spew a bunch of nonsense and point fingers and use analogies incorrectly. This isn’t everyone, but I’ve seen it several times.


  2. I agree with you Nicole, there are a lot of people who get really aggressive if they feel threatened in their believes, be it political or religious. Where did all the tolerance go? Isnt the big thing of Americans always to be proud of their declaration of independence and all the personal rights that came out of it? Freedom of speech etc…but suddenly people are being attacked for their right to think and speak out differently. Where did the tolerance of the other side go? Thats why people emigrated to America in the first place.
    I personally think what was on the sign was stupid and rude, but I tolerate that people go out and protest peacefully that way, since it is their right. I dont go over there and yell at them and attack them verbally, telling them they are wrong and only my way is right. I might think it, yes. But I leave everybody to think as they believe its the best. I think thats what freedom is about. But then I am not American either…
    Sorry Lisa, I dont have a clue about the things you wrote about like analogy, etc…


    • That’s okay Jenni, neither did the person who got so upset by my original post. She couldn’t see that I wasn’t making a political statement but a writing statement. At least you do! And you have more of a clue about analogies then you think you do. I’ll show you in your writing when you’re home next. You may not think you have a clue, but you do it.


      • LOL!!! I love when you tell me I do things you are talking about and i dont have a clue I do it…Well…I guess I am natural….lol 😉 just kidding


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