Friday, September 24, 2010

The Columbine of Inappropriate Metaphors

Which is Tower Two?
In her recent article, "My September 11th in New York" Ines Sainz discussed her fractious visit to the New York Jets locker room, and how the media's reaction has "set the women's movement back by fifty years."  Delusional sense of her impact on the gender politics aside, did she just liken her locker room encounter to ground zero? Not to soft peddle sexual harassment, but that is a mighty bold statement, Ms. Sainz. Is there the possibility that perhaps you've overplayed your hand just a smidge? We think this is an excellent opportunity to address proportional metaphors or similes. We thought we'd made ourselves clear last week when David Haye compared his boxing match to a gang rape, but apparently the fine points of our argument slipped past some people.

Metaphors are wonderful things. We're all for a nice, palate cleansing metaphor. When used well, a metaphor can make a difficult concept comprehensible by relating it to something that the reader knows well. So comparing your love to a summer's day is a fine way to giving the abstract (love) a concrete form (summer's day). Fun! Try comparing your love to some stuff while we wait. It's easy, and for the most part uncontroversial! Try comparing your love to a bird in flight, a bird in the hand, or Larry Bird's jumper if you can make it work: my love is a baseline jumper with the D draped all over me! The applications are endless. But, and this is a big but, there needs to be a sense of proportion in a metaphor. Don't compare your love to the firebombing of Dresden. We don't care how beautiful she is, the sentence, "my love is hotter than the raging inferno that consumed Dresden" is only going to skeeze out your paramour, and get you on an NSA watch list.

So let's say you get harassed by some millionaires in a locker room (not condoning millionaire harassment in any form). As you come to terms with your experience, as you grasp for the words to convey what occurred... perhaps you should shy away from comparing it to to a commercial jet laden with aviation fuel slamming into a skyscraper. And especially not on the tenth anniversary of said tragedy. Actually don't compare it to anything. Never, ever. No matter how personally difficult it may have been. "My personal 9/11" is just not a phrase we want skipping about the lexicon. Let's just agree now that it's off-limits. We understand that it might not be a big deal in Mexico, but 9/11 no es bueno. And making use of it as a metaphor to your personal crisis isn't going to win you any allies.

On the off chance that we're still being opaque, Ines, here's a starter list of metaphors to avoid (we hope it helps):
  • "We're watching the Killing Fields of Bowl Games."
  • "This is the Hiroshima of overcooked burgers."
  • "My heart is the broken hull of the Arizona."
  • "This club is quieter than Anne Frank's attic."
  • "That idea is the magic bullet from Lee Harvey Oswald's rifle."
 Feel free to expand on the list...


  1. "My keys are harder to find than a kidnapping victim"
    "That booty pops out like an ambushing group of FARC guerrillas"

  2. Ninth anniversary. 2001 + 9 = 2010. It's like you teach English literature or something.