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.