Smooth as silk

Similes are used to describe something in terms of something else. By the way, we don't say "sigh miles", it's more like "sim ill ease". You will occasionally hear people get this wrong.

Similes are popular figures of speech, and so we will often hear something referred to as being "as quick as a flash" or "as something as something". These are effective similes, because they take some notable characteristic and use it as an illustration of another thing.

However, the most effective and popular similes are the ones using alliteration. Alliteration is a form of language where we use words which start with the same sound, much in the way that rhymes take the sound at the end of a word. So we can take these and end up with such well known phrases as "as cool as a cucumber", "as right as rain", "as pretty as a picture" and so forth. Thai International Airways uses one of these similes in their advertising line "Smooth as Silk", which is particularly effective because Thai silk is noted as particularly smooth.

The District Grammarian, as you will know by now, isn't here just to educate, but to complain, so here it comes. The problem is that New Zealanders and, I think, Australians, don't fully understand the principles behind similes, and it is at this point that I will, once more, antagonise most of my target audience...

You will hear that something is "sweet as..." or "weak as..." without the speaker providing something to compare. Now, some New Zealanders will claim that this is because they are so much cleverer than anybody else and so they don't need to say what the comparison is against. I believe that this argument is lacking in any integrity. Perhaps we are saying that something is as sweet as a lemon? Or as weak as an Ironman? Perhaps the claim is valid and we don't need to know what something is "crazy as..." Whether this is true or not, the fact remains that a well-formed simile will always have an object or a concept.

I'm sorry to say that you will often see roadside stalls proclaiming fruit for sale, offering such things as "Gala Apples - Sweet As". They won't receive my custom for two reasons. Firstly, I won't support vendors who murder the English language. Secondly, I prefer Braeburn apples.

Another company which will never receive any of business has large trucks with the words "Independant Removals" painted on the side.

I might tolerate poor grammar in spoken English form time to time, but I don't like to spend my money supporting companies who choose to write down things that are unacceptable, either in grammar or spelling. By the way, any spelling errors you find on this site are far more likely to be typographical errors than spelling mistakes. I can spell much better than I can type!

The English are sometimes at fault too, when it comes to similes, although this is also a universal failing. "He ran like anything." Perhaps you were thinking of a snail? Anything - not a good thing for a simile.

This has been lots of fun, and I will be producing another column before Christmas. If the muse takes me, we might be hearing from the District Grammarian twice every month. At the moment, no promises.

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