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Language Arts

Similes



Similes are an example of figurative language, a phrase or expression that uses language in a non-literal way. This article provides examples of similes as well as some ideas on how to make your own simile new and fresh.

Similes are one type of figure of speech. Other examples of figurative speech include metaphors, synechdoche, and hyperbole. Similes use the comparative words like or as to juxtapose two things that are essentially unlike and point to a particular facet or element that they share.

Why Use Similes?

The point of figurative language, consciously employed, is to enliven prose and to engage one’s audience. The fresh aspect of a new simile can bring focus to what is being expressed, as the reader or listener has to actively work out the meaning because it’s a) new and b) not literal. Here’s an example:

  • His steady gaze was like the rapt look of an eagle spotting its prey.

or

  • His steady gaze was as rapt as the look of an eagle spotting its prey.

In both these sentences the person’s “gaze” is being compared to the eagle’s look as it hunts. Though people and eagles are fundamentally different, a point of comparison has been found in the intensity and perhaps the deadly intention behind this particular gaze.

When Similes Grow Old

One problem is that when people are encouraged to enliven their writing with similes, they tend to choose existing similes that others have thought of and have become common in English. If this choice is made, the language will not have the benefit of being fresh, nor will it be engaging, since it is already a known quantity.

The fact is, many, many existing similes have actually become clichés, trite expressions that are so familiar that they may not only have lost effect but also suggest a lack of inventiveness and freshness - just the impressions that writers who employ similes are usually trying to avoid. Here is a list of some of the most common clichéd similes with as:

As black as coal

As blind as a bat

As bold as brass

As bright as day

As busy as a bee

As clean as a hound's tooth

As clear as crystal

As cold as ice

As cool as a cucumber

As crazy as a loon

As cute as a button

As dead as a doornail

As deaf as a post

As dry as dust

As dull as dishwater

As easy as pie

As fit as a fiddle

As flat as a pancake

As free as a bird

As fresh as a daisy

 As good as gold

As happy as a lark

As hard as nails

As high as a kite

As hungry as a bear

As light as a feather

As mad as a hornet

As neat as a pin

As nutty as a fruitcake

As old as the hills

As patient as Job

As plain as day

As pleased as Punch

As poor as a church mouse

As pretty as a picture

As proud as a peacock

As quick as a wink

As right as rain

As safe as houses

As scarce as hen's teeth

As sick as a dog

As silent as the grave

As slippery as an eel

As slow as molasses

As sly as a fox

As smooth as silk

As snug as a bug in a rug

As sober as a judge

As soft as a baby's bottom

As stiff as a board

As straight as an arrow

As strong as an ox

As stubborn as a mule

As tough as nails

As white as a ghost

As wise as an owl        

It is likely that you will recognize most, if not all, of these similes. And once you have taken this point, you open up the possibility of avoiding the problem of clichéd similes by inventing new similes of your own.

Even a slight change - using a synonym of the first term or referring to a different quality of the second - may be enough to give the simile new life. What about:

  • as joyful as a lark
  • as focused as a bee
  • as enraged as a hornet

These may not be the finest uses of language you ever met, but small changes have, at least, taken them out of the category of cliché.

Related Articles
Synonyms Antonyms Metaphors