Bad Analogies Are Like Bananas in a Swordfight
The word analogy derives from the Greek word analogia, which means “proportion.” An analogy is a comparison of two things, and a good analogy is like an elegant proof — it may require numerous false starts, but the end result is usually worth the effort.
Here are two of my favorite analogies:
Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.
The politician was gone but unnoticed, like the period after Dr on a Dr Pepper can.
The wonderful analogies above originally appeared in the Style Invitational, a weekly wordplay contest in the Style section of the Washington Post, through which its creators “seek to bring a variety of clever, timely, irreverent humor” to readers every week. Incidentally, the analogies above were responses to the Style Invitational on Pi Day 1999. They are not — as often purported on numerous plagiaristic websites and in various irreputable publications — pulled from high school essays. They are works of comic genius, not examples of poor writing by ill-informed teen-agers. The freight train analogy was penned by Jennifer Hart of Arlington, Virginia, and Wayne Goode of Madison, Alabama, deserves credit for the unadulterated brilliance of the Dr Pepper analogy.
Of course, analogies are not for everybody. For instance, the Alabama geometry teacher who used an analogy of shooting President Obama when teaching parallel lines and angles should probably consider a different example. While such a story may make you smile, it’s not really funny.
But analogies can be humorous, such as the following joke from Calamities of Nature:
Yo mama is such a slut that the set of guys she’s slept with has cardinality aleph-naught!
At least it’s not aleph-one!
In the comments section for that cartoon, one astute observer noted:
Well, it couldn’t be aleph-one unless she could manage at least aleph-naught at a time (amazing) or the encounters were amazingly brief.
I greatly appreciate when the comment on a web comic is funnier than the cartoon itself!
Finally, here’s my all-time favorite analogy, which compares two things not typically seen as similar:
Writing this post was like driving across the George Washington Bridge during rush hour — it took a lot longer than I had hoped, but at least I didn’t get wet.
Like I said, analogies aren’t for everyone.