difference between similies and metaphors

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Similes are comparisons using Like or As; metaphors are comparisons that don't.

That's pretty much the distinction we learned in ninth (eighth?) grade, but don't you think there should be more to it than that?

We did, so we looked up Simile on Wikipedia.org:

Even though similes and metaphors are both forms of comparison, similes allow the two ideas to remain distinct in spite of their similarities, whereas metaphors seek to equate two ideas despite their differences.
That sort of made sense, but we needed further clarification and so moved on to the actual definition of each term:
Metaphor: A figure of speech that expresses an idea through the image of another object. Metaphors suggest the essence of the first object by identifying it with certain qualities of the second object.
Simile: A direct comparison between two things essentially unlike each other, but resembling each other in at least one way.
Now we were getting somewhere, but we still weren't satisfied.

Another definition was more helpful:

Simile: A figure of speech in which two essentially unlike things are compared.

Further definitions noted that while all similes are metaphors, not all metaphors were similes. This overlap sounded a bit like the dubious distinction between Blatant and Flagrant, but this time we weren't willing to give up.

This one brought it home:

A simile - or to be like something - is to retain some irresolvable difference which means one can never fully substitute for the other. On the other hand, a metaphor actually is a substitution - it is an equation in principle.

It could be said, then, that: "metaphor is an equation where a simile is an approximation."

Which sort of makes sense: Metaphor is from the Greek Metaphora--"a transfer"--made up of Meta--"over"--and Phora--"to carry," whereas Simile is from the Latin Simile--"a like thing."

Actually, just skip that last sentence and just reread the quotes over and over again.