I’ve been reading a lot of amateur writing lately. It’s interesting how young and/or inexperienced writers rely on clichés or heavy-handed, clunky metaphors to get their points across. I do it too, but when I do it it’s ironic. Because I’m a brilliant and/or lazy hipster. At any rate, this got me thinking about animal metaphors and their friends, animal similes. Most of the time clichés are a terrible addition to writing, but occasionally they work okay. Let me share my thoughts about animal clichés with you because, to be honest, neither of us has anything better to do. Okay, that’s probably a lie, but whatever. We’re both here and we’re both procrastinating.
I think my favorites involve organization. I like get your/my ducks in a row, mostly because I like the idea of organizing water fowl in a synchronized fashion. It also makes me sound like I am working hard on something. Conversely, when my ducks are just not lining up, I am herding cats. The metaphor amuses me because, as anyone who has cats knows, this is never ever going to be a workable thing. Unlike ducks, which may eventually cooperate with the struggle to arrange them, cats will simply glare at your attempts to move them, and then either bite you or fall asleep on your face.
Now if the organization of small animals isn’t your thing, some metaphors reference characteristics, like we might say someone is as strong as a bear or has a memory like an elephant, or even simply feeling squirrelly, but some of the comparisons just don’t make any sense. For example, why is someone said to be sick as a dog? Are dogs known for their special susceptibility to illness? Similarly, why do we say healthy as a horse? It’s the opposite problem from the above cliché—horses aren’t known for their extreme disease resistance or ability to withstand injury. In fact, horses are sort of delicate creatures. Might as well say sick as a horse and healthy as a dog for all the sense it makes.
Sometimes television shows gets all clever and makes up their own animals. Star Trek tried to be all sci fi with the horse one and change it to something that sounded galactic, so now we have “healthy as a Rigelian ox” in our lexicon, which is probably a thing I’m going to start saying because, as I already told you, I am a brilliant and/or lazy hipster. Probably more of the latter. Also, I now have Chief O’Brien’s voice in my head saying “time to pluck a pigeon.” I never got that. Aren’t pigeons the ones that do the plucking?
While I’m talking about it, why do we tend to attribute intelligence to owls? I’m not sure they’re really that much smarter than most other birds, are they? I mean, they’re cool as hell, yeah, but smarter? I think the smartest birds are probably those in the Corvidae family. Perhaps we can start saying “sharp as a crow” or “perspicacious as a passerine.” What? It could catch on. Ravens might even be able to finally shake off that bad reputation Edgar Allen Poe stuck them with. And just so the zoology majors don’t jump me after school: All birds in the Corvidae family are passerines but not all passerines are in the family Corvidae. Hashtag bird facts.
This brings up an important issue. The poor sloth has gotten a very bad rep. The fuzzy little critters are synonymous with sin. That’s just not fair. Maybe if we want an animal metaphor to equate to sinning, we can go with hateful as a human. That’s probably the most accurate one of all.
In summation, animal metaphors are a bottomless well. It’s pretty much turtles all the way down.