A quote in a recent New York Times article was the inspiration for this post. I felt the pain of a Princeton professor who rues the slow demise of humanities majors. According to the Times, many distinguished humanities professors feel their status deflating.
Using an analogy, Anthony Grafton, a Princeton history professor, said he sometimes feels “like a newspaper comic strip character whose face is getting smaller and smaller.” Can’t you just visualize it?
Business writing can be awfully dull, especially when it’s a topic that is unfamiliar to the reader. Haven’t your eyes ever glazed over when you’ve been trying to make sense of what something means?
That’s why visual images in the form of analogies and metaphors are so powerful in conveying your intentions.
An analogy compares two things that are seemingly different but actually have something in common. The comparison starts with either “like” or “as.”
Take the analogy that inspired a previous post on this topic: “China is like an adolescent who took too many steroids…it has suddenly become big, but it finds it hard to coordinate and control its body. To the West, it can look like a monster.” You can visualize this monster in contortions and out of control. That’s scary to the rest of the world.
That analogy is so much more powerful than if the writer had said something like, “China is getting very large but it’s finding it difficult to manage its growth.” Boring.
Have some fun filling in the blanks for these analogies:
President Obama is like a ______ in his fight for health reform.
Comparing the Western world to the East is like comparing _______ to ________.
The cheerleaders are like ________when they go through their routines.
Unlike analogies, which compare two different things, metaphors say that something is something else. Metaphors don’t include the words “like” or “as.”
It’s football season, and if you’re a fan, you’ll appreciate what’s meant by, “He was a beast tackling the quarterback.” Here the human is transformed into the image of an animal. How much more interesting than, “The defensive lineman got to the quarterback.”
Using a metaphor more akin to business, “The CEO was a tiger in beating the competition at its own game.”
Try filling in the blanks for these metaphors:
The opera diva Deborah Voight is a ______________ when she sings.
He was a __________ piling the logs in the driveway.
She was a __________ in driving to become head of the company.
Do you have some interesting analogies and metaphors that you can share? Please leave them in the comment box.