Similes That Make Us Smile

A Dozen Examples of Comical Comparisons

cereal smiling simile
(Elisa Ursalas Photography/Getty Images)

First, from the Irish author George McWhirter, a simile about similes:

A simile is like a pair of eyeglasses: one side sees this, one side sees that, the device brings them together.

Less eloquently, we define simile as a "figure of speech in which two fundamentally unlike things are explicitly compared, usually in a phrase introduced by like or as."

Fortunately, similes aren't nearly as dull as that definition makes them sound.

As proof, here are a dozen similes that should make you smile—smile like a jack-o'-lantern, like a chain saw, like a plastic daisy, like a Czechoslovakian novel, like a crack in an eggshell, like the warm and gentle Samian sun.

  1. Some dance critic, who worked behind the bar in a honky-tonk, said that when Boomer danced he looked like a monkey on roller skates juggling razor blades in a hurricane.
    (Tom Robbins, Skinny Legs and All, 1990)
     
  2. Even in my dream, William Hurt was the most Caucasian person I have ever seen; he was like this enormous slice of Tip-Top bread in chinos and wire-rimmed eyeglasses. His hair reminded me of mayonnaise, and he spoke very slowly, like a Mormon on Quaaludes. He was like a huge rubber eraser, an albino Gumby, and he terrified me."
    (Libby Gelman-Waxner [Paul Rudnick], "A New Scourge." If You Ask Me, 1994)
     
  3. [The harpsichord] sounds like two skeletons copulating on a corrugated tin roof.
    (Sir Thomas Beecham, quoted in Beecham Stories by Harold Atkins and Archie Newman, 1978)
     
  1. Even on Central Avenue, not the quietest dressed street in the world, he looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.
    (Raymond Chandler, Farewell, My Lovely, 1940)
     
  2. The universe is like a safe to which there is a combination. But the combination is locked up in the safe.
    (Peter De Vries)
     
  1. The unwonted lines which momentary passion had ruled in Mr. Pickwick's clear and open brow, gradually melted away, as his young friend spoke, like the marks of a black-lead pencil beneath the softening influence of india rubber.
    (Charles Dickens, Pickwick Papers, 1837)
     
  2. It was just about that time that the sun
    came crawling yellow out of a manhole
    at the foot of 23rd Street,
    and a Dracula moon in a black disguise
    was making its way back to its
    pre-paid room at the St. Moritz Hotel.
    And the El train came tumbling
    across the trestles and it sounded
    like the ghost of Gene Krupa
    with an overhead cam and glasspacks
    and the whispering brushes of wet radials
    on a wet pavement
    , and there's a
    traffic jam session on Belmont tonight
    and the rhapsody of the pending evening.
    (Tom Waits, "Nighthawk Postcards (From Easy Street)." Nighthawks at the Diner, 1975)
     
  3. Orion [Twain's brother] is as happy as a martyr when the fire won't burn.
    (Mark Twain, letter to his mother, Jane Lampton Clemens, 1872)
     
  4. Hillary [Clinton] swept in and moved down a line of huggers toward a raised platform centered in the room. Her positioning meant that she had to keep turning in order to hug back. Around and around and around she turned, 360 degrees, like a jewel-box ballerina whose battery has run low.
    (Kathleen Parker, Washington Post, December 2007)
     
  1. Aunt Dahlia's face grew darker. Hunting, if indulged in regularly over a period of years, is a pastime that seldom fails to lend a fairly deepish tinge to the patient's complexion, and her best friends could not have denied that even at normal times the relative's map tended a little toward the crushed strawberry. But never had I seen it take on so pronounced a richness as now. She looked like a tomato struggling for self-expression.
    (P. G. Wodehouse, Right Ho, Jeeves, 1934)
     
  2. Occasionally Ichiro speaks to one Japanese writer--the pool reporter, Keizo Konishi of the Kyodo News--but only if that writer adheres to strict protocol. The gaggle of Japanese reporters submits their questions to Konishi and then gather together in the corner of the clubhouse and watch breathlessly as, 30 feet away, Konishi timidly loiters near Ichiro, who faces into his locker. . . .

    After three or four minutes Konishi rises, bows slightly and trudges back to the huddled mass, bearing no fruit. "Ichiro says, 'This is not the time to think of that,'" he reports, and 46 faces fall like soufflés at a bass drum recital.
    (Rick Reilly, "Itching for Ichiro." Sports Illustrated, September 12, 2001)
     
  1. Now that I've got my lovely fire, I'm as happy as a Frenchman who's just invented a pair of self-removing trousers.
    (Rowan Atkinson as Black Adder)
     

Admittedly, not one of these figurative comparisons fully satisfies Samuel Johnson's criteria for the "perfect simile"—which "must both illustrate and ennoble the subject; must show it to the understanding in a clearer view and display it to the fancy with greater dignity." But come to think of it, it may be the lack of dignity that makes these 12 similes so delightful.