Sunday, December 30, 2012

to huff and puff. like. . .

After  seeing  Shuler Hensley  portray a 600-pound  man in  Samuel D.  Hunter's play The Whale earlier this season,  the  central character of Jami  Attenberg's     new novel, The Middlesteins.   is a  lightweight  at 300  pounds.  But  Attenberg's  portrait  is   bigger and  more  comprehensive.   As  New York Times book  reviewer,  Julie Oringer  describes  it  with  an  apt  simile,  we  see Edie  Middlestein develop  from chunky baby  into    a woman  who   "huffs and puffs up the stairs like someone’s gassy old uncle after a meal.” 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Snuffing out similes like a pig after truffles. . .

I recently  came across the  reissue  by  the  New Rview of Books  of  Elaine Dundy's   1958 novel  The Dud Avocado. No  dud    but  a  trenchant   tale  smart and  pretty young American's  adventures in 1950s  Paris.  

Those    adventure include her stint   in  a Paris equivalent of an off-off-Broadway play,  also as  a film extra.  That, of course makes   this   an   especially  fun  book  for  theater enthusiasts  like me  and  Curtainup's  readers.  Typical  of  the  many  trenchant  one liners,  is the narrator's  observation  during her acting stint:

The  most important things to find while working in theater was someone to giggle with. To find someone to giggle with I place just below finding someone to flirt with and just above the ability to knit.

Ever  on the lookout for similes,  here too are  some  little  gems   worth noting here:

Thoughts rising in my head like little puffs of smoke

He was especially good at snuffing out the Big Bores, whom he tracked down like a pig after truffles.

.We walked into the drawing room, where everyone was sitting around like a bunch of stuffed owls.

Exchanged glances were ricocheting around the room like bullets.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Similes by playwright Clifford Odets

The  most satisfying play currently on Broadway  is   the 75-years old  Golden Boy by    Clifford Odets  who according to a New Yorker profile   was once  known as  "America's No. 1 Revolutionary Boy."   Odets wrote   Golden Boy    specifically to  make a lot of money  fast,  which   gives him more than a little  in commen with his   play's  hero  who  gave up violin  playing  for  a boxing career.

While  Odets  enjoyed the momentum  of fame and fortune,   when he found it taking of  his life he described  himself  as  "restelss  as a bullfrog on a lily pad."

The play itself  includes a  pungent   simile   made by  one of the characters    about  Joe Bonaparte's  relationship with his  father:     "His father  sits on the kids' head like a bird's nest.."

For more about the play,

Monday, November 19, 2012

Crowded- together. . .like cigarettes in a pack

Nathan Englander  who  has  emerged as one  of  our  short story writers  has made an auspicious debut as a playwright with an  adaptation of  his first story  "TheTwenty-Seenth Man,"  based on  a  real  event:     One of  Stalin's  last  horrendous purges  of  people  he perceived as a threat  -- in this case the country's top Yiddish poets. 

The play premiering at the Public Theater  focuses on four  of these poets  thrown into a  cell  and facing execution and the  cruelty  of  anti-Semitic Guards who  find themselves   irrit
Nathan Englander  who  has  emerged as one  of  our  short story writers  has made an auspicious debut as a playwright with an  adaptation of  his first story  "TheTwenty-Seenth Man,"  based on  one of  Stalin's  last  horrendous purges  of  people  he perceied as a threat --  in this case the country's top Yiddish poets.

The play premiering at the Public Theater  focuses on four  of these poets   tossed into one   cell  and facing execution and the  cruelty  of  anti-Semitic guards who    are  annoyed  and  confused  at
ated by having to  deal with-- and here comes the simile--   "a mess of nattering Jews  crammed together like  cigarettes in a pack."

 Here, in case you want to read my review,  is a link:

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Similes very much part of Stephen Sondheim magic

Like  his mentor,  Oscar Hammerstein III,  Stephen Sondheim is  a  poet  of  musical  theater.  Unlike  Hammerstein he  is a composer as well as  lyricist.   While  his  music  certainly  is  indeed  unique and memorable,   his   genius resides in  the cleverness of   his  musical  word play.    It  should   therefore  come as no surprise  that   his  penchant  for   witty  similes was on display  in  his  very first and for a  long time unproduced musical  Saturday Night -- for example, the following from that show's title song:  "The moon’s like a million watt."

 Sondheim  also  likes to extend   his similes,  for example,  the following    from  "If  You Can Find Me"   in another of   his  lesser known shows,  Evening Primrose:  

When you wake up with one genius less
If you can find me, I’m here
And I’m free
Free as a bird in a tree
Free as the slippers I wear
Free with a year’s warrantee
Free as air
All of these products and me
All that I ask is a chair that tilts

The Keen Company's  revival  of  Marry Me a Little,  a  chamber musical  created to  call attention to   some  of  these Sondheim  rarities    also  included this   little  gem from  "Ah, But Underneath"  from the London production of  Follies:
"She was smart, tart, dry as a martini."

Friday, September 28, 2012

A whistle blower's "Solid like a wall" support quickly collapses in "An Enemy of the People"

This  production of  An  Enemy Of  the People  moves fast, but not too fast  to catch  a  few similes. . .

The Manhattan Theatre Club's splendid, all too timely revival of  Henrik Ibsen's  whistle blower story.   When we meet  idealistic hero, Doctor  Thomas  Stockmann  he's bathed   in  support   that's   strong as a  wall--  but  talk of    taxes and  lost readership,  quickly bring  out the pragmatism in   the  liberal-minded   editor   and   his prone to compromise printer.  Their  solid like a wall support  not only  crumbles  but  turns them  into the good doctor's  enemies. 

 The embattled  Stockmann   remains determined  in his  moral stand though  and promises  not to let  the hostile  crowd at  a town meeting unsettle him, assuring his wife  "I'll be as calm as the sea." 

When  the  hostile  majority  ignores  Stockmann's  warnings  and  not only dubs him   an enemy of the people but  threatens  his safety,  he decides to  leave Norway for America.  However his optimism  is  frayed  and  he warns his wife that  "They’re probably not much better in America. The majority’s rampant there too. But at least it’s more dispersed. They’ll kill you. But they won’t torture you slowly like a cat with a bird." 

My  review of  this production is  at   Curtainup

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Romney's self-inflicted wounds

My  favorite  recent  similistic  put down  of   presidential  hopeful Mitt Romney:

Throughout this campaign, he has misfired so repeatedly and phantasmagorically that his wounds make those visited upon Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway at the end of “Bonnie and Clyde” look like paper cuts.  

 Joe Norcera  in  New York Times  September 24, 2012 editorial, "Romney and the Forbes 400"

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

More about Chambon & Similes

To  follow up  on  my post quoting  Michael Chabon's  love  of  similes   (Michael Chabon -Champion of Similes & Metaphors)  blogger Eric Rosenfeld  quotes  one  of   the triple tropes  that   the  editor  of  The Yiddish Policemen’s Union   didn't  feel compelled to  streamline:

    He rides down in the elevator feeling as if he has stepped out from under the onrushing shadow of a plummeting piano, some kind of jazzy clangor in his ear. The knot of his gold-and-green rep necktie presses its thumb against his larynx like a scruple pressing against a guilty conscience, a reminder that he is alive. His hat is as glossy as a seal.

Rosenfeld  admired the  similes  but  did  express  "a little  simile fatigue."   Imagine how he  would  feel   about  my favorite example of unrestrained comparative excess comes from Donald E. Westlake’s The Fugitive Pigeon which works not only because it’s genuinely funny but because it successfully links all the extensions to the play on the character’s name:

    “(Up till then I’d assumed that Gross was the man’s name, but it was his description.) He looked like something that had finally come up out of its cave because it has eaten the last phosphorescent little fish in the cold pool at the bottom of the cavern. He looked like something that better keep moving because if it stood still someone would drag it out back and bury it. He looked like a big white sponge with various diseases at work on the inside. He looked like something that couldn’t get you if you held a crucifix up in front of you. He looked like the big fat soft white something you might find under under a tomato plant leaf on a rainy day with a chill in the air. 

Micael Chabon: Champion of similes & metaphors

 If  I  didn't  love   Michael  Chabon already,  I'd  surely  be    smitten  after  coming across   this quote  in  Kathryn  Schulz's   New York Magazine  interview  on the occasion of the publication of  his new  novel,  Telegraph Avenue:
“I think in similes and metaphors. I might get three at once, and I just put all three in the sentence and hope that my editor will say, ‘Can you pick one?’

I  can't ait to   add  some samples  when  I  find time to read  Telegraph Hill.   In  the meantime,  here are some samples from his  Pulitzer Prize winning   The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay:   Thick shining hair, glossy as  a squirt of  black paint . . .
His heart smacking against his ribs like a bumblebee at a window.  . .Pale as dough,   

Friday, September 14, 2012

The internet is like a cockroach. . .

 This week's  catchiest  simile  was  used as  the headline  for  tech writer Stacey Higginbotham's    analysis  of  the  ever evolving  Internet  (9/13/12):

 As  Higginbotham  explained  " The internet's growing into  a  complex eccosystem we depend on for  monetary life like our monetary system and our food supply."  She then added  "regulating the web in the U.S. is like trying to solve a cockroach infestation by fogging a single apartment in a mult-tenant building." 
The cockroach simile likened   any effort  to  regulate  the web in this  country  to  dealing  with  a  cockroach infestation  of  one  unit in a big building,  reminded  me  of    my reason for launching this  blog as  an   ongoing  postscript  to   my  new  Similes Dictionary..  

The  original dictionary  was  a pretty rich collection --  but examples  of  similes  in daily use,  on  line and  in print   publications,    on stage  and  screen  certainly  made  a  brand-new edition   due.   And,   unsurprisingly,  no  sooner  was  the  new  manuscript submitted,  than  new similes  began to pop  up.    In short,  Ms.  Higginbbotham's  cockroach   applies   to my project.  Any attempt  to  put   an etched in stone finish to a  dictionary  like this. is like  expecting  to  find  an  easy  to  finish off lone  cockroach.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

2 similes from Sam Shepard's new play

One  of  the  best scenes in Sam Shepard's  enigmatic new play, Heartbreak,  is  a monologue  by  his  dysfunctional family's  matriarch played by the superb Lois  Smith).    She not only peppers  her  bitter  aria with  references  from  Shakespeare but  uses  two  snappy  similes  to  describe  her  devoted  but mysteriously mute  nurse.   "Take a look at this beautiful young creature. Sentenced to silence. Numb as a stone. Dumb as toast."

For more about the play,  see our  theater web site:

Monday, September 3, 2012

Comparing the Tropes that Compare. . .

 Both Similes and  Metaphors  are   linguistic devices  that compare two unlike objects or ideas  to  illuminates the similarities between them.    "Don't let her rough manner scare you, she's a pussycat,"  is  a  simple metaphor  that  condense s the characteristics associated with an affectionate, gentle, non-intimidating personality.  With  a   simile  the  comparison is  more   explicit  since  it's    introduced  with  a little  tag --- most  commonly  "like"   as  in   "She's  as gentle as a pussycat.".

My  appreciation  of  these   handy, dandy  tropes  has   grown  into  a   vast,  and  never ending  collection.  My  purpose  in collecting  examples  of  both these linguistic devices  was  not to  create two  giant swipe  files  but   to  share  an  enjoyable   browsing   and  inspirational  guide  to  help  you too become  an  appreciative  and  can-do  similes-metaphor  maven.   

I'm  delighted  that  Visible Ink Press   has   been  successful enough with  their   handsome,    affordable edition of  Metaphors  Dictionary  to   add   a  new, updated    Similes Dictionary    as a companion  (Publication  Spring 2013).   

Because    no   dictionary  is  ever  complete,   this  blog   as a  means  to  permit   this  similes-metaphor maven    to   make  those Dictionaries    into   dynamic    unfinished  symphonies   for   all  language lovers.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Simile Dictionary Addendums

 Our language  has always  been an  in-progress proposition,  and   this is especially true of figures of speech.  What's rare  morphs into  our  every day  usage,  the cliches are given a  a fresh twist.  Obviously  a  published collection   of such expressions   can never be truly finished.   Thus  there  were lots and lots  of  new  similes to make Visible Ink's  new edition of    my original  Similes Dictionary  truly  new.  And, unsurprisingly, no sooner had  I  sent the  new manuscript to the  publisher,  than   new  examples  cropped  up.  This being   presidential  election season,  more  figures of speech  pertaining to  politicians  are inevitable.  For  starters  this  one about   Republican  Vice-Presidential wannabe  Paul Ryan as  a  compromiser  by  New York Times  Op-Ed  contributor  David  Stockman

Mr. Ryan showed his conservative mettle in 2008 when he folded like a  lawn chair on the auto bailout and the Wall Street bailout.