by Rusty Wright with Meg Korpi
I laughed so hard, I ached.
A while back, a friend e-mailed me a list of “Worst analogies written by high school students.” I began using them when presenting at writers and editors conferences. They were genuine side splitters, an English teacher’s nightmare.
Here are some:
“Her hair glistened in the rain like nose hair after a sneeze.”
“From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you’re on vacation in another city and ‘Jeopardy!’ comes on at 7 p.m. instead of 7:30.”
“The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t.”
“He was as tall as a six-foot-three-inch tree.”
“Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.”
“Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.”
“John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.”
“The thunder was ominous-sounding, much like the sound of a thin sheet of metal being shaken backstage during the storm scene in a play.”
“His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.”
Recently, I decided to track down these shaky analogies’ original source. Turns out they weren’t culled from high school classrooms, but rather were published entries from The Style Invitational, a Washington Post humor writing contest. Apparently, Internet rumors morphed them into high school bloopers.
You see, not only am I a stickler for accuracy, but people who spread Internet rumors without checking the facts really irk me. Countless times, I’ve encouraged correspondents to fact check on Snopes.com or TruthOrFiction.com, valuable, if imperfect, resources. I should have checked these analogies before repeating them.
“Physician, heal yourself!” you might say. Guilty as charged. “Any story sounds true,” notes a Jewish proverb, “until someone sets the record straight.” Lesson learned.
The Internet can be a 21st-Century backyard fence or office water cooler. One click can spread interesting, funny, engaging, or juicy gems. Problem is, too often the dispatches contain cyberfactoids—my wife Meg’s coinage for unsubstantiated or inaccurate information, propagated as fact via the Internet. And many will believe these tidbits. After all, they came from a trusted friend.
Does truth matter?
So where’s the harm in conveying a little imperfect information? These analogies are just for fun—and they do seem funnier coming from unwitting high-schoolers, rather than contestants intentionally writing “good” bad analogies. Shouldn’t we just lighten up?
If you’re the “trusted friend,” it may depend on whether you want to be, in fact, trustworthy.
If you’re the receiver, you might find wisdom in the old saw: “One who can’t be trusted in small things, shouldn’t be trusted in large ones.”
In fact, carelessness with the truth can blow up on you. Just ask those who ignored problems at BP’s Macondo oil well in the Gulf of Mexico.
A few years after publishing the above analogies, the Post ran another collection of bad analogies, including two by Joseph Romm, who had several entries published in the first batch. One of his entries on the second list:
“Joe was frustrated, like a man who thought his claim to fame was occasional appearances in a weekly humor contest, but in fact is known to millions as a stupid high school student who writes unintentionally humorous bad analogies.”
Sorry, Joe. I really am. Hope this helps set the record straight.
Rusty Wright is an author and lecturer who has spoken on six continents. He holds Bachelor of Science (psychology) and Master of Theology degrees from Duke and Oxford universities, respectively. www.RustyWright.com
Meg Korpi is a senior research scientist who studies character development and ethical decision-making through the Character Research Institute in Northern California. She holds a PhD in Educational Psychology from, and formerly taught at, Stanford University.