What Metaphors are For
and 4 Other Writing Tips
© 2000 by Marilyn D. Davis
This article tackles five of the headier topics, such as important Latin and Scottish derivatives, and the use of the word "two." So sit back and get ready for a few serious lessons in the lighter side of grammar. (I promise they won't be to/too/two painful.)
The English language is a strange and beautiful thing but it contains some very confusing structures. Take the homophone, which Webster defines as "one of two or more words pronounced alike but different in meaning or spelling." We have at least half a dozen sets of homophones comprised of commonly used words, resulting in frequent errors in prose. Items 1 and 2 below give you some simple advice for curing homophonia. (Note: I covered its/it's and your/you're in my Semicolon Surgery article.)
1. Their vs. They're vs. There
Their is the possessive form of the word "they."
Their dog will likely win the prize for being the mangiest one on the block. (Remember: do not use an apostrophe in this word, even though it is possessive.)
They're is the contraction of the words "they" and "are."
"They're going to be two hours late for the dog show." (because their car broke down.)
There means "at or in that place."
"Okay, let's go there later." (never too late to see a mangy dog, is what I always say.)
Final Jeopardy Example:
"I am going there to get a tattoo and they're only charging me $50 because their son is my best friend." (So there!)
2. Two vs. To vs. Too
Two we all recognize as the number, right? If not, please proceed immediately to kindergarten: do not pass Go, do not collect any dimes whatsoever.
To means...well, I won't attempt a definition because the dictionary devotes more than half a column to this little word. And ordinarily this word is used correctly.
Too is the word that is most often the culprit because it has several meanings: also, besides, in addition, as well, excessively, or very.
John wanted a $50 tattoo, too. (doesn't sound great, but it's grammatically correct, with the "too" meaning "also.")
I am too scared of needles to ever consider getting a tattoo. (the "too" modifying "scared" means excessively or very.)
3. A Crash Course in Latin: i.e. and e.g.
These abbreviations are often botched--in usage and with regard to punctuation. Pay close attention to this, as they are not interchangeable.
e.g. stands for Es (or Exempli) gratia and means "for example."
i.e. stands for Id est and means "that is."
Both can be used to clarify a preceding statement; however, grammarians advise writers to use them sparingly. The way to avoid confusion is to read out loud "for example" in place of "e.g." or "that is" for "i.e." If the sentence makes sense with the words substituted, then you've probably used the abbreviations correctly. Also, don't forget to put periods after each letter. Most grammarians suggest adding a comma after the abbreviation. Do not underline or use italics.
If I must say so myself, this explanation is clear and concise, i.e., it gets right to the point. (a little self promotion never hurts.)
She compulsively hid things around her house, e.g., her jewelry, the alarm clock, and all the teaspoons. (but we won't get into why because that's a much longer story.)
4. What Metaphors Are For
A metaphor expresses a comparison that is implied or makes use of analogy, usually between unconnected objects.
The woman was a Barbie doll. (yes, I know I'm picking on Barbie again, but I understand that she rarely sues for libel.)
5. Similes Are Like...Well Read On
A simile is a comparison for the purpose of explanation or allusion, using the words "like" or "as."
To teenagers, rock stars are like gods. (this is a "like" you can like, as opposed to a "like" that is not a simile: To teenagers, like, rock stars are, like, amazing.)
Example of simile and metaphor: (from a childhood teasing song, which I believe was derived from an old Scottish poem; name changed to protect the innocent)
Marilyn has a bunion,
her face like a pickled onion,
her nose is a squashed tomato,
her eyes are fried eggs.
Since I've completed four grammar and writing tips articles, I expect to see the quality of writing on the Internet improve by leaps and bounds (pardon the cliché), like a horse running through an antiques shop. And now I'm off to the day spa, to take care of my poor, aforementioned face. Ciao (i.e., I am outta here.)