Issue 83 January, 2020
The ‘cooling power of a cat yawning’
and more metaphor magic
Dear <<First Name>>,
In a world where skimming and snacking is our default way of operating, vivid images can be an express trip to understanding.
Metaphors are magic when you want to explain something complicated, give an idea of size, make a point memorably –
or even just make someone smile.
“Metaphors are wonderful for helping us express ideas in vivid and highly memorable pictures, so that we understand and internalise concepts more creatively and effectively,” explains Science World. Metaphors “make the strange seem familiar,” says Roy Peter Clark in HELP! For Writers.
Metaphors show how two things are alike, without actually saying like. Here are some examples I’ve stumbled upon:
- “It must have been a thousand degrees and his air conditioning had the equivalent cooling power of a cat yawning.” – Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Fleishman Is In Trouble
- “…its head is unusually small, even for an insect, which gives it an appropriately thuggish look…Its eyes, should you get close enough to gaze into them, are the vivid red of an alarm clock at night.” – Kathryn Schulz in The New Yorker
- “Cancer cells thrive in a Goldilocks zone of DNA damage — just enough that the cells become carcinogenic, but not so much that they die.” – Sofie Bates in ScienceNews
- “My parents and I knew different cities. They knew Youngstown when it was alive and so mourned it in death. I knew it only after it had been taxidermied and forgotten in the attic.” – Graig Graziosi in Columbia Journalism Review
- “Bats use echolocation to sense the wing beats of the fireflies, which have characteristically lazy flight patterns. The authors called it the ‘nonchalance of a chemically protected insect.’ Barber likened it to the unhurried waddle of a prickly porcupine.” – Ben Guarino in The Washington Post (quoted in The Toronto Star)
- “Travis has famously managed to 'build' a Christmas gingerbread house and stack it ...with the whole magnificent architecture contained in a space no bigger than one tenth the diameter of a human hair. The house is so small that if it were part of a subdivision, the whole city would be the size of a snowflake.” – Jeff Mahoney in The Hamilton Spectator
- “The collarless jacket was accessorized with a heavy chain holding a gold cross that could have topped a small church.” – Noreen Walk, A Ghostwriter to Die For
Create your own metaphors using these four steps (from Anne Miller):
- Identify the point you want to make. In the cat example, the air conditioner is useless.
- Find parallels familiar to your reader/listener. Look at current events, sports, family, everyday life. What would give a useless, tiny puff of air?
- Match the familiar to the point you want to make. Ah, a cat yawning.
- Replace boring information with a mental image.
Have you spotted any great metaphors lately? Please hit “reply” and share. I’m always looking for interesting examples. And hello to the new subscribers who found me via Ragan Communications!
May I help you?
Many of my clients are busy corporate communicators who appreciate being able to turn to a writer for clear, friendly and readable copy. I simplify the complex, uncover “what’s in it for me?” and find the human angle in just about any story. Contact me and let’s chat about how you can free up some time by hiring me.