what is an analogy?

You might think analogies are boring, stupid word games The Man makes you play on standardized tests like the SAT to prove how much you want to go to college.

Your heart is in the right place. We hate standardized tests, too. But unlike the SAT, analogies are really interesting and important, so you might as well stick around for this one.

An analogy is like a metaphor on steroids. The point of an analogy is to make you think about the relationships between things.

Imagine you’re standing straight up with your arms raised toward the sky. You might say you’re standing like a tree. That’s a metaphor.* An analogy is a little more specific. If you want to draw an analogy between yourself and the tree, you’ll have to explain why “tree” is a good metaphor for how you are standing. For example, your arms are sticking out of your body the way the branches stick out of the tree.

On a standardized test, you’d write it like this — tree:branches::you:arms — but all you’re saying is that a tree’s relationship to its branches is like your relationship to your arms.

When analogies try to compare a lot of different things all at once, they can get pretty confusing, and sometimes they go horribly wrong. We’ll talk about the ways that can happen another day.

*Misguided pedants: We don’t talk about similes here because we like having friends.