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June 13, 2006

Composition - Bizarre English Metaphors (and Similes)

Hi Readers,

Earlier, I did a review on a lesson I did this Spring semester with writing students on similes and metaphors HERE. I thought my students did fairly well.

What I’ve reprinted below (including the intro paragraph) came into my mail today: these are NOT from my students (can also be found HERE--thanks, Femmebot). Note that some of these are really analogies.

I found some of them hilarious though and, as some commenters have pointed out, covertly ingenious is some cases. Anyway, I thought some of you might enjoy seeing examples of--what I assume to be--unintentionally silly / mixed metaphors. My colleague suggested that it would be nice if writing students would at least indulge in this much creativity from time to time!

*Every year, English teachers from across the USA can submit their
collections of actual analogies, similies, and metaphors found in high school
essays. These excerpts are published each year to the amusement of
teachers across the country. Here are last year's winners . . .

1. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two
sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.

2. His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances
like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.

3. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience,
like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse
without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around
the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking
at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.

4. She grew on him like she was a colony of E. coli, and he was
room-temperature Canadian beef.

5. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog
makes just before it throws up.

6. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

7. He was as tall as a six-foot, three-inch tree.

8. The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated
because of his wife's infidelity came as a rude shock, like a
surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM machine.

9. The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a
bowling ball wouldn't.

10. McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag
filled with vegetable soup.

11. From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an
eerie, surreal quality, like when you're on vacation in another
city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30

12. Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.

13. The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when
you fry them in hot grease.

14. 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.

15. They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket
fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan's teeth.

16. John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds
who had also never met.

17. He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant, and she was
the East River.

18. Even in his last years, Granddad had a mind like a steel trap,
only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.

19. Shots rang out, as shots are wont to do.

20. The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike
Phil, this plan just might work.

21. The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not
eating for a while.

22. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck,
either, but a real duck that was actually lame, maybe from stepping
on a land mine or something.

23. The ballerina rose gracefully en Pointe and extended one
slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.

24. It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around
with power tools.

25. He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard
bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.

If nothing else, this might be a good “intro” into a lesson about using metaphors correctly in English writing and speech.

See you next time,

Lee


Posted by lhobbs at June 13, 2006 11:29 AM

 

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Readers' Comments:

Hi Lee,

Just briefly, English slang for the toilet is the bog (as in 'I'm just going to the bog') so a roll of lavatory paper is a bog roll making El Blog Roll quite an amusing heading for British readers.

Cheers,

Rod

Posted by: Rod at June 13, 2006 01:37 PM

---------
Note from Lee:

That's hilarious! I think I remember that now from somewhere. Maybe I should change the graphic then from a sushi roll to a bog roll?

Posted by: Lee at June 13, 2006 01:41 PM

Lee,

Hmmmm.....

How about a collection of metaphors for relatively common sensations.

For those who travel, for example, it might be physical reactions like experiencing jet lag or responses to, ahem, interesting foods...

Yours in the struggle,

Morf

PS. As one Anti-American protestor in Beijing put it, "Get down with America." That sums it up.

Posted by: Morf at June 13, 2006 04:04 PM

Hi, Lee Hobbs,

I just had to write about the email you sent me. While living and working in China for fourteen years, hearing, reading, and seeing absolutely horrible Engllish every second, I really don't need to see poorly written metaphores, or for that matter, any bad English. I feel like my ability to speak English is deminishing anyway. What I need is excellent conversations, writings, and things to read, which are scarce where I live.
Send me things intellectual.

Sincerely,
Robert H. Toomey
Director of Educateion @ REC in Beiing

Posted by: Robert at June 14, 2006 11:18 AM

------------
Note from Lee:

Hi Robert,

Thanks for your comments.

I frequently incorporate the methodology of using "bad" examples of written English in the classroom for purposes of clarification and understanding. After introducing a particular area of English constructs for discussion, in this case metaphors, my English students sometimes find it helpful to see improper examples as well as good examples. As a class we first examine and then dissect these examples to fully comprehend "why" they are, in fact, wrong, clumsy, or otherwise silly. The humor often breaks the ice that covers an otherwise cold and boring subject. A later part of the same lesson would be for the students to create their own metaphor(s). See the link in the entry above to a discussion about that exercise. This method can be used in other areas of instruction as well, for example, idioms. See Morf's discussion on that topic HERE.

Hope this helps.

Posted by: Lee at June 15, 2006 11:37 AM

These are hilarious, but I actually thought that a couple of those metaphors were fairly good.

18. Even in his last years, Granddad had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.

I like that one. The steel trap thing is a cliche, but the latter part does something new with it. Granddad was smart and quick-witted but his mind was "rusted shut," i.e. he was closed-minded. Sounds like some people I'm familiar with.

There are also a couple that are so bizarre or punny that they'd fit nicely in certain contexts:


20. The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.

I could easily imagine this as a humorous line in a speech or movie.

22. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame, maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.

I could easily imagine lauging after a Daily Show Correspondent using a line like this.

If those last two were in a different context (e.g. a serious essay), I agree that they're terrible. One could make a case that those metaphors are funny precisely because they're "Really BAD Metaphors." But without context, I'm reluctant to brand their authors as idiots.

Thanks for posting these.

Posted by: Disenchanted Dave at July 8, 2006 04:58 AM

They're similes not metaphors

Posted by: Mark at July 8, 2006 06:14 AM

I think that this is a good example of the difference between correct and good English. An English teacher might find fault with many of those examples, but about 3/4 of them are gems; they wouldn't be out of place in contemporary comedic writing.

Correctness only gets you so far in life. Most of those students deserve an 'A'.

Posted by: Mark Poindexter at July 8, 2006 08:12 AM

Why do you think this is uniformly _bad_ writing? A lot of those sentences are pretty good. They get across meaning far better than unmixed metaphors. Try rewriting those sentences and you will find this out for yourself: most of the them you can't rewrite without starving the meaning of the sentence. What is your justification for your antipathy to mixed metaphors? You are teaching the opposite of what you should be teaching!

Posted by: writingguy at July 8, 2006 10:06 AM

--------
Note from Lee:

Hi Writingguy,

Thanks for your comments. You are right, of course, many of these actually do have some "insight." The examples in the email I reprinted weren't my students: just something noticed by another English teacher. Were my own writing class really about creative writing my antipathy for mixed metaphors would certainly have been abandoned. However, the focus of the writing class I conducted has English for Academic Purposes as its focus. (See Dr. Townsend's comments on EAP at our sister blog: ESL School HERE and also HERE)

What do you think readers? Are teachers letting language students down by helping them find/practice clarity in their writing by helping to avoid mixed metaphors? Is this a stuffy old-school methodology that should have gone out with the ice age (sorry, I couldn't help myself)?

Curious to hear your thoughts.

Posted by: Lee at July 8, 2006 11:32 AM

A few of the submissions posted above are from here: http://paul.merton.ox.ac.uk/language/analogies.html might as well provide proper attribution.

Posted by: femmebot at July 8, 2006 11:51 AM

----
Note from Lee:

Thanks for that link Femmebot! I'll adjust the entry to reflect that citation.

Posted by: Lee at July 8, 2006 12:25 PM

Are you kidding me? Some of these are great!

No, not kidding!

Posted by: VK at July 8, 2006 03:20 PM

aren't most of these examples of simile?

Posted by: Tim johnson at July 8, 2006 04:20 PM

Real quick here: I've got to second the notion that almost every one of these metaphors is absolutely brilliant, many being downright hilarious. As another comment states, very few would be noted as out of place in a modern comedic narration in print or on a television show.

I'm also curious as to what makes you believe there were all "unintentional" because a lot of these are spot on in their originality and creativity.

Even this one:

Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

Do you mean to tell me that you don't get the joke here? I'm sure it's possible that it's unintentional, and I admit that I don't know the student, but (even though it's not even a real metaphor) it's brilliant.

The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.

Fantastic. :)

At any rate, great post!

Posted by: Jason at July 8, 2006 05:37 PM

More!! More!! More!!

Posted by: M Chandler at July 8, 2006 06:22 PM

I have read at least half a dozen of those metaphors (or very similar ones) in the books of Terry Pratchett. He's such a funny author!

Posted by: Su at July 8, 2006 07:31 PM

Number 9 looks like it came from The Hitchhiker's Guide.

Very fun, though.

Posted by: John at July 8, 2006 08:02 PM

I needed a grand, hearty laugh today and you gave it to me sir. Thank you so very much.

Posted by: Dusty at July 8, 2006 08:30 PM

#9 is not bad or bizarre, it's in the style of Douglas Adams.

Posted by: belg4mit at July 8, 2006 09:52 PM

#19 is brilliant IMHO.

As for "metaphors to describe common things"
You should check out "The Meaning of Liff" from DNA.

Posted by: belg4mit at July 8, 2006 10:02 PM

number 3 is sooooo David Foster Wallace. I love it!

Posted by: Lo at July 9, 2006 10:49 AM

My daughter coined this one:

"He's not the sharpest needle in the haystack."

Posted by: Jon Peltier at July 10, 2006 03:46 AM

Although I agree that these examples are mostly anaologies and that many of them are side-splittingly funny, these have been around a LONG time. I shared them with my 8th gifted students more than four years when a friend snail-mailed them to me.

Posted by: Pam at July 10, 2006 08:25 AM

Each one of these, if intentional, demonstrates a talent for writing that most English teachers could only dream of.

Posted by: Foo at July 11, 2006 09:10 PM

I enjoyed reading them, they were quite funny and being an A2 English Language Student, I thought that they were amusing, but also an easy mistake to make for example 'he was tall as a 6ft 3 tree' was quite funny. :-D

I think you should find some more. :-D

Posted by: Satenya at July 13, 2006 06:00 AM

12. Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.

this one is damn funny like a whose line is it anyway show

Posted by: natalie at July 13, 2006 10:38 AM

I wrote the one about the duck for my HSC in English 2002. I was so proud of it. I wish I'd written in and got it back.

Anyway I just want the world to know I wrote it.

Posted by: Aidan Popely at July 13, 2006 11:09 AM

--------
Note from Lee:

Hi Aidan,

Thanks for writing and claiming your metaphor! Since these things are so "famous" now on the internet, I'd be interested to learn the back-story of this project. How did your teacher conduct this lesson and what was the objective (if you can remember back to 2002)? Thanks for your visit!

Posted by: Lee at July 13, 2006 11:28 AM

Very funny! :) Some of these are actually really good. I like number 10.. creative, haha.

Posted by: Lauren at July 13, 2006 01:22 PM

Listen to VK and disenchanted dave! Simili's use the words "like" or "as". All of them are simili's with the exception of a few. Number 4 contains a simili and a metaphor. "She grew on him like she was a colony of E. coli, and he was
room-temperature Canadian beef.". "She grew on him LIKE she was a colony of E. coli" is a simili and "he was room-temperature Canadian beef" is a metaphor. Number 9 "The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a
bowling ball wouldn't." I don't think is a simili or a metaphor. I think it is just a statement but I'm not positive. Number 15 "They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan's teeth." is one I'm also not sure of. the words "that resembled" could be replaced by the word "like", making it a simili but I'm not sure. Number 21 "The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while" I believe also isn't a simili or a metaphor.

Those who read all this. I thank you. Anyone else want to clarify?

Posted by: Tom at July 13, 2006 02:16 PM

about 2 of these are actual metaphors, the rest are all similes.

Posted by: dave at July 13, 2006 05:03 PM

remninds me of quite a few douglas adams quotes slightly altered and reworded

Posted by: John at July 13, 2006 06:23 PM

I found these metaphores quite funny, some of them dumb, but mostly funny.

-Sk8te Ltd ( www.sk8te.uk.to )

Posted by: aaron at July 13, 2006 07:46 PM

Sorry to burst the bubble of anyone who thinks these are genuine examples of bizarre metaphors and similes that appeared in actual High School term English papers. If many of these seem a little to cheeky to have been written without irony, it's because most if not all of these were created for the annual Bulwer-Lytton fiction contest.

http://www.bulwer-lytton.com/

Edward George Bulwer-Lytton is the man who first penned the line that Snoopy helped to make such a touchstone of mediocre authorship: It was a dark and stormy night . . .

The point of the contest is to create the opening sentence of the worst novel ever written.

Posted by: Donald_M at July 13, 2006 10:37 PM

For academic writing, these quotes are horrendous. No sane teacher would pass a student who wrote one of these in a serious essay. The internet is not a serious essay and therefore I cannot prevent myself from roflmao (pardon the acronym... I don't want to offend your filters).


They definitely remind me of Douglas Adams. Here are a few of his that might fit in well here:

In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri.

It is no coincidence that in no known language does the phrase 'As pretty as an Airport' appear.

Life... is like a grapefruit. It's orange and squishy, and has a few pips in it, and some folks have half a one for breakfast.

The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don't.

Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space.

Posted by: Jake at July 14, 2006 01:39 AM

--------
Note from Lee:

Hi Donald, thanks for the tip-off on that contest. Could this be another Internet-spawned, urban legend resolved? Now I wonder how this mystery fits in with the poster (Aidan) who claimed authorship to one of these in his/her 2002 high school class. Anyone else have something to add to this intrigue?

Posted by: Lee at July 14, 2006 10:36 AM

I was having a giggle at this - and then I read the comments - that made me laugh even more!

My favourite has to be Robert H. Toomey's rather long winded piece about only intellectual stuffs please.

And then I read THIS:

Director of Educateion @ REC in Beiing

He'd signed off with it!
Intellectual eh?
*ROFL!*

Posted by: Indigobluefish at July 14, 2006 01:11 PM

Oh my God. These are so hilarious, and obviously the work of brilliantly twisted minds.

Posted by: Jenny at July 20, 2006 03:03 AM

Lee,

I agree that there all funny ,but just one thing. This Lauren woman is trying to act like she's so good at grammar by stating that some of them aren't metaphors but 'similis' and 'phrases. Ok... Two points I would like to make here.

First: Who cares if some of them are similes and phrases? They're still funny as hell,which is a simile, and

Second: The word is SIMILE not simili. So if you're going to try and act like a showoff and point out that some are SIMILES and phrases, check that you are spelling the word correctly.

Stevens

Posted by: Stevens at July 29, 2006 10:54 PM

Lee,

These were hilarious and creative. Thank you for sharing them.

Everwhen I write, matters not what for reason, I sometimes phrase things differently to get people to stop glossing over what I have written and try to think about the ideas instead. That can be overdone, of course, but on occasion it helps to get a reader thinking about what I have written.

Archie Whitehill

Posted by: Archie Whitehill at August 20, 2006 12:58 PM

Hi, nice site, good work! Thank you!

Posted by: Robert at August 27, 2006 07:39 AM

Some of these Metaphors sound like they were written by Douglas Adams

Posted by: Sigrun at August 27, 2006 08:43 PM

Hi! Nice site!

Posted by: Kelly at September 22, 2006 03:48 AM

Good site!

Posted by: Jean at September 27, 2006 10:41 AM

Totally hilarious!!

Posted by: tima at September 28, 2006 05:19 PM

haha i know the guy who made these up a few years ago and started a chain mail. theres no association that teachers submit these things to...i think. but yea, its not that funny when u know the guy who made these up. hes a clown.

Posted by: chingy at November 15, 2006 12:46 PM

I'm Sophia,
from Sri Lanka,
and I'm 17 y.o

Hi, All
I've studied English sinse this Winter .
It's very!
I would like like to meet boys and girls and practisice My English with them.

Kiss!!

Posted by: LitliGirL at December 7, 2006 01:46 PM

I just want to say thank you for taking the time & effort for put this web page together!

Posted by: Shannon at December 10, 2006 08:12 PM

Hey bro! Well Done!

Posted by: Jeff at December 18, 2006 08:57 AM

um i hate to break it to you but these arnt metaphors they are simalies cause they use lie or as a metaphor doesnt use like or as. i am surprise you didnt no that considering your an english teacher but i do and i am only 15

Posted by: how did you get a degree in english at January 5, 2007 04:13 PM

Does anyone know what is ment by "I'm your Huckleberry?" It is said by Doc Holiday, several times in the movie Tombstone, and I can't find the meaning. One person told me it means your undertaker, but couldn't produce anything to back that up, even though it does make sense for the context in which it was used.

I would love to know the story behind this.

Posted by: Caroline at March 10, 2007 06:18 PM

this is as bad as bambi the soap opera

Posted by: mitch harris at April 26, 2007 10:19 PM

ive got one for you. it was a long as a childs letter to santa

Posted by: Sam at May 3, 2007 01:48 PM

"Don't shut the stable door after the horse has bolted!"

Posted by: TheMetaphorMan at May 5, 2007 08:23 AM

OMG all these are on another site!!! i kinda like 'em but im trying to find funny ones for school so seeing ones that i had already seen was a bit annoying :) oh well ill just have to use another site :P

Posted by: memememe at August 15, 2007 05:14 AM

Very interesting... as always! Cheers from -Switzerland-.

Posted by: Dog training at November 23, 2007 08:38 AM

Lee,

One of my favorites: A simile is like a metaphor.

Mari

-------------------------

Hi Mari,

That's a great one! Thanks for writing!

~Lee

Posted by: Mari at February 2, 2008 12:03 PM

Dude I love these metaphors!! They really helped me to be inspired with my Lit. homework.

Posted by: Alysha at May 12, 2008 05:32 PM

I teach developmental English at the community college level. I often make it a point to assign homework where I ask students to come up with the worst paragraphs possible--which they then use to identify the 20 most common errors in written English. They really think that this is the strangest English class that they've ever seen, but it works! --Lisa McCann, Ft. Collins, CO

Posted by: Lisa McCann at June 23, 2008 04:40 PM

-------------
Note from Lee:

Hi Lisa,

That's a great idea--thanks for sharing that!

~L.

Posted by: Lee Hobbs at June 24, 2008 11:34 AM

thanks very much

i used some of these examples in my metaphysical poets class

:D

-----

Thank you for your remarks and you are very welcome! Please come back and visit the blog anytime!

--Dr. Hobbs

Posted by: refaat at October 4, 2008 10:21 AM

These metaphors are hilarious. I hope to see more the next time I come to this site ;D [Please update or add to it?]


-Easily Amused High School Student ;D

Posted by: Trish at February 3, 2009 11:13 PM

Actually, alot of these are simile's, not metaphors. They are still funny as hell however!

Posted by: Andrew at February 12, 2009 09:51 PM

my favorite metaphor... you're slower than a herd of baby turtles stampeding through peanut butter.

Posted by: tanya at April 17, 2009 07:28 PM

These blogs cite the entry, "Composition - Bizarre English Metaphors (and Similes)." :

» "Defining Our Own Terms: Teaching is a Metaphor, Learning is Like a Simile" from: [The] English-Blog [.com]
Two similar words that are commonly confused are the concepts of metaphor and simile. Both compare different ideas and draw connections, thus offering a new perspective or interpretive definition. But, what’s the actual difference between them? . . . [Read More]

Tracked on June 13, 2006 12:13 PM

» "Tips & Tricks - Teaching Idioms" from: ESL Lesson Plan
Grammar, as you know, can be tricky to teach. As to idioms, I have used two approaches. One way is to introduce idioms that are familiar to us. A few of these might be; up and running, beat around the bush, beats me, bent out of shape, call it a day a... [Read More]

Tracked on June 13, 2006 06:24 PM

» "English for academic purposes" from: ESL School
But the overall course should also make provision for cultural preparation as well. Students will not only have to face the cultural differences of every day living, they will need to understand the different approaches to teaching and studying they wi... [Read More]

Tracked on July 8, 2006 11:48 AM

» "The need for academic writing" from: ESL School
Academic writing must be firmly grounded in demonstrable fact; sources must therefore be cited to prove the authenticity of the facts and to avoid any suggestion of plagiarism. Students need to learn how to cite these references using one of the accept... [Read More]

Tracked on July 8, 2006 12:04 PM

» "8 Ideas for Presentations with More Zing" from: Juice Analytics Weblog: The Art & Science of Data
To paraphrase from *Really Bad Metaphors*: "Presentations can be as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame, maybe from stepping on a land mine or something." Here are a... [Read More]

Tracked on July 11, 2006 09:42 AM

» "When Words Say Something Other Than What You Meant Them To" from: [The] English-Blog [.com]
When deciding on a name, such as a company for example, there is a thing called "the embarrassment factor" as was explained to me once by a professor. For example, my university needs to change its mascot and, since this is a former coal mining area, o... [Read More]

Tracked on October 27, 2006 11:29 AM

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