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Misused Comparisons: the Simile

Kathleen Parker, opinion writer for the Washington Post, has an article in the November 20 issue of that publication in which she discusses a rhetorical device, the simile. Some people, I submit, use simile mistaken in the belief they are stating facts or hard truths. Parker complains of the simile's over-use. A simile, she reminds us, "compares two unlike things that nonetheless have similar characteristics."

This past week I watched a Tea Party politician from Texas who equated taxes with a holdup and theft of someone's wallet. He was using simile with an intense emotional commitment that bordered on anger, seeming sure that he was speaking reason and perfect truth. It was as though he didn't realize that observed points have meaning only in connection within a context of realities: the government agent collecting taxes has law behind him, law created by a democratically elected government, and taking someone's wallet while threatening him with violence does not. One is democracy in action, the other is criminal. Using simile as he did, his argument to many of us is an over-simplification and unconvincing, despite his intensity.

In her article, Kathleen Parker criticized Sarah Palin for comparing our national debt to slavery – a simile as hyperbole. And, writes Parker:

Countless times in recent years we've seen ''Nazi'' applied to people with whose policies or politics we disagree, none so frequently as George W. Bush, though President Obama, too, has had a few turns.

Parker points out that she loves a good simile but that "lately we've seen instances of simile-itis.

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