Metaphor, Simile and Analogy

Hi!  Welcome to StoryCodings, the StoryCode blog.  I hope you will join me in exploring the fascinating and fun process of using art to teach science, if I can put it that bluntly.  Let’s start this whole conversation by exploring some terms we’ll have to use repeatedly.

          I like to say that StoryCode is built on metaphor, that the characters and events of well chosen stories form consistent metaphors for the functions and behaviors in computer programming environments. In education, such an approach is more often matched with the term analogy. We all remember these from the SATs: “Pipe is to water as wire is to electricity.” The use of the word as in an analogy, however, invokes the literary device simile rather than metaphor. We are thus left to consider 3 terms for the same teaching technique. Is modeling a digital concept with fiction the creation of an analogy, the employment of a simile or is it the use of a metaphor?

          The differences may seem largely poetic, but I’ll never forget the afternoon my wonderful UFT-provided mentor Roz schooled me in front of my whole gloating class.  I was telling them that a simile is a metaphor that uses the words like or as, that simile is thus a subset of metaphor.  The correction she made has stuck with me all my days:  a simile declares that one thing is like another;  a metaphor declares that one thing is another.

          So which is better to employ:  “wires are like pipes for electricity” or “wires are pipes for electricity”?  While simile may be more strictly accurate, I prefer metaphor.  (It lacks the equivocating like.)  I want to be consistent and helpful, however, and am interested in the perspectives of all who care to comment. That goes for every idea in this blog.


          Magnify the difference between the 2 concepts being compared and the distinctions in these terms become larger.  Consider the chart on the right (which, were I a true “edupreneur”, I would no doubt refer to as an “infographic”). The chart seeks to ingrain an understanding of the relative magnitude of mathematical operations through 3 figures of increasing physical stature and muscular strength. How would you best describe this? Is it an analogy between mathematical operations and physical strength? Is it simile relating mathematical operations to physical strength? Is physical strength a metaphor for mathematical operations?

          I use metaphor for the modeling in StoryCode because it is a more flexible term than either simile or analogy and because of its greater immediacy and conviction:  the princess in “The Lady or the Tiger?" is a binary position point. She’s not like a binary decision point. I would rather over-emphasize a fundamental and be queried later about inconsistencies than present a model with lukewarm conviction. In any case, we are told there are no perfect analogies, so it is the number and density of corresponding elements in a comparison that determines its efficacy. This is explored further in the next post.


Thanks for your interest and please contribute comments, reactions or suggestions!