Use Similes, But Avoid Cliches
Similes are figures of speech that compare two things or ideas using the words “like” or “as.”
I wonder about the originators of similes like “straight as an arrow” or “fit as a fiddle.” I’m sure they were proud of themselves (maybe even proud as peacocks). Everyone must have admired their cleverness and creativity. Zoom ahead a hundred years or so, however. These once original expressions have grown old and stale. Poor guys. We’ve worn their similes threadbare.
There’s nothing wrong, I suppose, with a writer resorting to an occasional simile cliché. The familiarity can be useful if you are not trying to draw too much attention to your linguistic cleverness. But the best writers are masters of the startling simile.
I always liked these from Anne Sexton’s poem “Courage”:
a child’s first step/as awesome as an earthquake
love as simple as shaving soap
Or this from T.S. Eliot’s “Prufrock”:
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table
Remember this irritatingly unforgettable simile from Forrest Gump?
Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get.
Good writers excel at creating fresh, original similes and metaphors. Relying on the commonplace comparison is a sign of literary laziness.
How well do you know the common simile idioms in English? Before you can avoid them, you’ll have to be able to recognize them after all.
See how you do at completing the cliched similes in the quiz I’ve linked to below. Keep in mind that some of these have more than one “right” answer. And also remember that the degree to which these will be familiar to you may depend upon your age and location.
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