Uglier Than a Monkey’s Armpit and Other Fine Images

Are you a fan of simile and metaphor? You are, whether you know it or not. Let’s face it, at some level all language is metaphor. As writers we have to avoid the cliché part of metaphor, at least most of the time. You have to admit, though, that it’s all “Figures of Speech” at some level. The two main types:

Schemes: Changing the ordinary or expected pattern of words; prevalent in poetry, and sadly, in political speech.

Tropes: Use of a word or phrase that changes its meaning (denotation or connotation); an example is ironic use.

The trope most used in everyday speech as well as writing is the metaphor. (Similes are special metaphors.) Metaphor: Stating one entity is another for the purpose of comparing them in quality. These are fairly straightforward most of the time, like saying “George was a ravenous rat, racing his car through the maze of other vehicles in futile search of cheese.” Once you start looking, though, you’ll see them everywhere.

Similes use “like,” “as,” or similar words (“than” is one) to compare two dissimilar things to highlight a specific quality of the first object by comparing to one characteristic of the second. Example: “Mary was as blind as a mole.” Of course, these can often be exaggerations, even hyperbole, to make a point. “He was as big as an elephant” is clearly exaggerating; no human has yet weighed over a ton. “He was as big as a planet” is hyperbole, of course.

Where is this leading? To a book I found at Half Price Books a while back, Uglier Than a Monkey’s Armpit, which purports to present untranslatable insults, put-downs and curses from cultures around the world. Here’s one from Scotland: “Like a fart in a trance.” Clearly a simile, but I’m still not quite sure what it means. (I’ll search for a use, though, to test it out.) Translated from Spanish, “You’re lazier than the floor” somehow lacks punch.

Having looked carefully through the whole book, the title used the best insult, by far. Rather like the one great trailer for a terrible movie. (Supply your own examples, please.) Still, I’m grateful to the slim volume for getting me to thinking about language and aping some of the best ideas…

Simian Similes, Monkeying About…

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