A simile is a figure of speech that compares two different things with one another by using the words ‘like’ or ‘as’. It is crucial to use ‘like’ or ‘as’ because without these words, the comparison might actually be classified as a metaphor, or just be confusing to readers. Similes are considered to be one of the best tools for writers to create vivid mental images that spark readers’ imagination while simultaneously getting the information across.
Thus, to make the experience of reading entertaining and to captivate the reader, similes are very useful. In fact, similes should be part of your everyday speech as well as they accentuate spoken language by making it colourful and interesting.
Similes usually use hyperbole, or exaggeration, for emphasis and are found frequently in both poetry and prose. The main point to remember before creating a simile is to include a primary term - the term that conveys the literal entity to be described - and a secondary term - a term that is used figuratively to add meaning. For example, in the simile ‘The dog’s fur felt as smooth as silk’, the primary term is ‘dog’s fur’ and the secondary term is ‘silk’.
Similes are often confused with metaphors. Well, compared to metaphors similes are easy to detect as they use ‘like’ or ‘as’. While all similes are metaphors, not all metaphors are similes. Check out the following examples to understand similes better.
1. As cute as a kitten
Just picture a wide-eyed, round-bellied, soft, stumbling kitten. That adorable, helpless little thing! Kittens most certainly trigger cute reflexes among humans. Basically, when you want to call someone cute, you can compare them to someone or something that people generally consider cute.
Example: My nephew in his birthday outfit looked as cute as a kitten. Orange really is his colour!
2. As tough as nails
This means being strong, stubborn or determined. This simile can be used both positively and negatively. When used as a compliment, it means that a person can handle any problem and keep enduring. When used as an insult, it can mean that a person is unfeeling, cold, or harsh.
Example: She's as tough as nails - exactly what we need on our football team.
3. Dead as a doornail
The term ‘dead as a doornail’ was used in the 1500s by William Shakespeare, and in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in 1843. Back in the day, doornails were hammered into a door by clenching them. When a nail has been clenched, it has been dead nailed, and is not easily resurrected to use again. So, this term is used to indicate being unquestionably or certainly dead.
Example: Times are bad; the market is dead as a doornail.
4. Smart as a whip
This simile alludes to the sharp crack of a whip which is used to indicate being bright, clever and alert. In the days of horse-drawn vehicles, one kept the horses going by flicking or cracking a whip near the animal and that resulted in a quick reflex of the horse getting alert and going faster. The expression must have arisen from this.
Example: Everybody says Tony is smart as a whip and also good with people. Those are the things that make a good manager and he is a great manager.
5. Hurts like the devil
This means pain of great intensity.
Example: Earlier I stubbed my pinky toe on the chair and man, it hurt like the devil!
6. Slept like a log
Logs are immobile and difficult to move, just like someone who is sleeping very soundly. Thus, this simile is used to indicate a good sleep. The simile ‘slept like a baby’ is also used to indicate the same. While babies don’t sleep deeply, they do sleep untroubled and peacefully, something we all wish for.
Example: After a good south Indian meal, I always sleep like a log. I think it's the rice that makes me so sleepy.
7. Happy as a clam
As open clams give the appearance of smiling, this term is used to describe happiness. The fuller version of the phrase is 'as happy as a clam at high water'. Hide tide is when clams are free from the attention of predators. Thus, the happiest time for clams is during high tide or high water. However, the expanded version of the simile is rarely used compared to the shorter version.
Example: Sharath is happy as a clam now that he has been shortlisted for the college’s cricket team.
8. Clean as a whistle
This simile has three different meanings. The meaning depends on the context in which it is used. It is used to indicate something being extremely clean (like a brand-new whistle), something that is very clear, direct and easy to understand (like the sound of a whistle), and a person who is extremely honest, ethical, or free of any guilt or wrongdoing.
Example 1: Rahul is so clean and organised. His apartment is as clean as a whistle!
Example 1: So Seema, have you understood your responsibilities in this important project? Yes, absolutely Gayatri. Your directions were as clear as a whistle.
Example 1: The new mayor is clean as a whistle, I heard. Hopefully the city will see more progress and better days under his jurisdiction.
9. Like watching paint dry
This indicates (having to do) something dull, boring or tedious. It’s not interesting at all to watch paint dry, is it?
Example: That movie was so slow and the plot so bad... It was like watching paint dry!
10. White as a ghost
This means extremely and unnaturally pale, either due to fear or illness. One can also use the similes ‘white as a sheet’ or ‘pale as a ghost’ to mean the same.
Example: My diabetic grandfather went white as a ghost when he was caught by mom in the middle of the night bingeing on laddus.
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The simile is an essential literary device for writers of both poetry and prose as it can give deeper meaning that goes beyond what’s on the page. It is also a great way for writers to show their creative side. Unlike other literary devices such as onomatopoeia or homophones that our previous ‘Vocabulary Matters’ chapters elaborated on, anyone can easily make up or create their own original similes from scratch.
We are all ears, if you have any interesting and original similes to share with us. After all, each one of us is as creative as …...can you help us complete this simile? 🙂