“Science is all metaphor.” ~Timothy Leary
It seems like we could use a language lesson. Or maybe it’s a communication lesson. No wait, it is an awareness lesson. People don’t seem to understand the difference between metaphors, similes, and synonyms.
Back in 7th grade English, we learned about similes and metaphors. The difference was demonstrated simply: “Johnny is a pig” uses a metaphor whereas “Becky’s hair was like a razorback hog’s” uses a simile. A metaphor says something is something else, a simile says something is like something else. In either case, it is understood to be a comparison, not a statement of fact. In our example, if Johnny is a boy it is a metaphor and if he is a saddleback hog it is not.
When we say something is synonymous, we think of it as a story or a parable. When we say something is metaphorical, we often see it as so similar that it is essentially the same. “Hog” and “swine” are metaphorical to most of us. To someone in the pig-raising business there is a difference however. Yet as a group we will not take the position of the more informed pig farmer, we will go with the understandably more ignorant position of the general populace. It’s easier to go with the opinion of the crowd.
It’s ok to fit in with the crowd, so long as we embrace its views as synonymous or even metaphorical but not as literal or real. Johnny is not on four legs rooting for corn kernels. Becky is not a hog with a bad haircut. Maybe it’s laziness, maybe it’s the relentless pressure from society but reality gets lost in the process.
“Don’t allow language to get in the way of communication.” click to tweet
The greatest teachers mankind has ever seen use metaphors, similes, and synonyms and yet they reveal to us reality. These tools are means to the perfect end, truth. If we stop along the path we may have heard some entertaining stories but the final prize, the only thing of real value is lost to us.
Where have you successfully used these tools in your life? Share your experiences by commenting below.
Photo credit: Neil Mor