August 9, 2013

The Perfect Analogy

Liat Werber


There’s nothing more satisfying than finding the perfect analogy to express your thought.

Actually, let me revise: the best is when you’re able to get right to the point, and skip over descriptive material. But when the right words fail to come, and you find yourself suffering through a bad bout of logorrhea, the second best thing is an analogy.

The power of an analogy comes from its unique ability to remind someone of something they’ve experienced before. However, it’s come to my attention that many of the analogies we use most often have grown tired and feeble, losing their analogy superpowers with age. Take the “straw that broke the camel’s back.” Given the scarcity of camels these days, and the diminishing need for straw imports, I’ve had little to no experience stacking straw on camels' backs and I can only imagine how it would feel to be the poor sap that places that last fateful straw.

However, paint me a picture of a lofty Jenga tower and one ever-so-slight, but fatal, miscalculation, and now I have some experience to draw from. See what I’m getting at? I think it’s time for a dusting off and sprucing up of some of these old analogies and, as you might’ve guessed, I’ve taken the liberty of starting us off.

1. Life is like a box of chocolates : life is like a plum


What the analogy means:

Que sera …  life is full of surprises, and you never know what will happen.

Why it’s obsolete:

I don’t know if it was the result of a peanut allergy epidemic that ensued around Valentine’s Day or sheer brilliance, but in recent years, the chocolate box industry has given in to the consumer’s demand to know what they’re going to get. Nowadays, any reputable chocolate box comes bearing a map that specifies the content of each chocolate, allowing you to make a more informed decision. I think we can all agree that this addition has been a mild life improvement, but it certainly takes some of the mystery out the experience, and thus the meaning out of the analogy.

What would be a better analogy?

Plums. Choosing a plum at the supermarket is the ultimate dietary thrill. Everyone knows that the plums concealing purple insides are much more delicious than those with yellow, but it’s impossible to know from their swarthy exteriors which ones are which. Try as you might to see past their opalescent flesh, examining carefully for outward indicators, in the end it all comes down to that pivotal first bite.

2. The lowest hanging fruit : the closest falafel truck; The highest hanging fruit : homemade falafel


What the analogy means:

This analogy gets used a lot at Wistia. In the case of the lowest hanging fruit, it refers to the goal that can be achieved most easily. The highest hanging fruit refers to a goal that is hard to achieve and might be put off while easier goals are worked on.

Why it’s obsolete:

These days, we have enough grocery stores that it’s pretty uncommon for people to pick their own fruit. If you ever do find yourself in a position to be hand-picking fruit, it probably took some amount of effort and privilege to get yourself there. Once you’ve overcome the sizeable challenge of getting to the fruit, the marginal difference in the height of those fruits will be trivial.

What would be a better analogy?

A steaming truck, full of falafel. Typically reserved for drunken nights, when you need a quick fix, a heaping pile of falafel, served to you in a pocket directly out of a dirty truck, is the most direct way to feel sickeningly full at a moment’s notice.

Conversely, making homemade falafel seems like a formidable task. The falafel ball is a bit of an enigma, but from my limited knowledge of how it’s made, it seems like one would have to spend years as a falafel apprentice before attempting the process on their own. In any case, it doesn’t seem worth finding out when there’s a falafel truck parked just around the corner.

3. The elephant in the room : The burnt out light bulb in the bathroom


What the analogy means:

An obvious problem that no one wants to discuss.

Why it’s obsolete:

If there’s anything that hasn’t changed over time, it’s our certainty that there are very few elephants in rooms, and the presence of one would be hard to ignore. In fact, over the years we’ve probably increased the number of rooms and reduced the number of elephants we have to fill them with. So in that sense, this analogy actually works better than it did at conception. And yet, without ever having shared a room with an elephant, it’s a hard situation to relate to and not very useful for drawing a comparison.

What would be a better analogy?

A burnt out bathroom light (a.k.a. peeing in the dark) is undoubtedly a huge problem. And yet, it’s not uncommon for my apartment to go days without changing it. Those with smartphones use a flashlight app as a temporary fix, while I choose to go the more classical route of peeing with the door open. Both solutions have their shortcomings, and after a while it becomes hideously obvious that something must be done. The trouble is, no one wants to be the first to bring it up.

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