From movies to television, from Shakespeare to Springsteen, many of the world’s finest wordsmiths have used metaphors to spin their stories. It’s an art form that not everyone can pull off. But if you can, it can be magical.
Technically, a metaphor is a figure of speech that creates an association, comparison or resemblance between one thing and another thing that is unrelated to the first thing. It’s a form of symbolism, with dots that are relatively easy to connect.
Life is a journey, your room is a pig sty, all the world’s a stage…
A simile is a type of metaphor that uses “like” or “as” to make a direct comparison.
Life is like a box of chocolates, blind as a bat, dumb as a stump…
As you can see, many metaphors have been used so often that they’ve become clichés. Don’t use those in your content.
When you use an original metaphor, or even a trendy metaphor that hasn’t reached cliché status, you give that statement – and your content as a whole – more impact.
How can a metaphor elevate the quality of your content?
A metaphor can provide clarity. It can make the unfamiliar familiar, and the confusing understandable.
A metaphor can inspire readers to use their imagination. It can paint pictures. It can stimulate deeper thought and help to shape those thoughts.
A metaphor can create a stronger connection between your content and the reader. It can stir emotions. It can help people feel and relate to what you’re saying.
In the case of Seinfeld, a metaphor – in addition to doing all of the above – can turn even a somewhat mundane observation into something hilarious.
One word of caution: don’t make your metaphors too much of a stretch. If the connection isn’t obvious, you run the risk of confusing and frustrating your readers. And you give them a reason to stop reading.
And now, a lesson in metaphors from the best TV show ever.
It’s hard to believe Seinfeld has been off the air for 15 years. I actually hosted a live broadcast from my favorite Jersey Shore bar – the former O’Neill’s in Manasquan – for the series finale during my previous life as a radio deejay. Ah, the good old days.
For me, the enduring brilliance of the show lies with the writers’ ability to take scenarios, whether completely unbelievable or painfully ordinary, and make viewers like me feel like we were knee-deep in them. I was experiencing every joyful, sad, bitter, awkward or painful moment right along with the characters.
At the heart of these scenarios are some of the funniest and most memorable metaphors and similes in television history. Here are 70 of my favorites in no particular order:
1) George: The sea was angry that day, my friends… like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli.
2) Jerry: A relationship is an organism. You created this thing and then you starved it, so it turned against you. Same thing happened to the Blob.
3) Jerry: Looking at cleavage is like looking at the sun. You don’t stare at it. It’s too risky. You get a sense of it and then you look away.
4) George: A garage… I can’t even pull in there. It’s like going to a prostitute. Why should I pay, when if I apply myself, maybe I could get it for free?
5) George: My back is killing me.
Jerry: Of course, because of that wallet. You’ve got a filing cabinet under half of your ass!
George: This is an organizer, a secretary, and a friend.
Jerry: Well, your friend is morbidly obese.
6) Jerry: Elaine, breaking up is like knocking over a Coke machine. You can’t do it in one push. You gotta rock it back and forth a few times, and then it goes over.
7) Elaine (responding to criticism after her nipple was exposed on her Christmas card): Let me tell you, I didn’t intentionally bare myself, but now, I wish I had. For it’s not me who has been exposed, but you. For I have seen the nipple on your soul!
8) George: Do women know about shrinkage?
Elaine: What, you mean like laundry?
Jerry: No. Like when you’re in a pool… afterwards…
Elaine: It shrinks?
Jerry: Like a frightened turtle!
9) George (on George Steinbrenner): He fires people like it’s a bodily function!
10) George: (on the mystery of his damaged briefcase) This thing is like an onion. The more layers you peel, the more it stinks!
11) Elaine: So how’s it going with my friend?
Jerry: She’s a sentence finisher. It’s like dating Mad Libs.
12) Elaine: Is it me, or was that the ugliest baby you have ever seen?
Jerry: I couldn’t look. It was like a Pekinese.
Elaine: Boy, a little too much chlorine in that gene pool.
13) Jerry (after suggesting a ménage a trois to turn off his girlfriend and begin dating her roommate): She’s into it.
George: Into what?
Jerry: The ménage. And not only that. She just called me and said she talked to the roommate, and the roommate’s into the ménage, too.
George: That’s unbelievable!
Jerry: Oh, it’s a scene, man.
George: Do you ever just get down on your knees and thank God that you know me and have access to my dementia?
Jerry: What are you talking about? I’m not gonna do it.
George: You’re not gonna do it? What do you mean, you’re not gonna do it?
Jerry: I can’t. I’m not an orgy guy.
George: Are you crazy? This is like discovering plutonium… by accident!
14) Jerry: The answering machine is like a relationship barometer.
George: What is a barometer?
Kramer: It’s pronounced “thermometer.”
15) Frank Costanza (on returning to the kitchen decades after sickening soldiers as a cook during the Korean War): I’m like the phoenix, rising from Arizona!
16) George (on Elaine’s dancing) It’s more like a full-body dry heave set to music.
17) Jerry (on the best way to break up): You should just do it like a band aid… one motion, right off!
18) George (on his break up): It’s like I was making a prison break, you know. And I’m heading for the wall, and I trip and I twist my ankle, and they throw the light on you, you know. So, somehow I get through the crying and I keep running. Then the cursing started. She’s firing at me from the guard tower – son of a bang, son of a boom! I get to the top of the wall, the front door. I opened it up. I’m one foot away. I took one last look around the penitentiary, and I jumped!
19) Jerry (on why Elaine can’t focus since she stopped having sex): To a woman, sex is like the garbage man. You just take for granted the fact that any time you put some trash out on the street, a guy in a jumpsuit’s gonna come along and pick it up. But now, it’s like a garbage strike. The bags are piling up in your head. The sidewalk is blocked. Nothing’s getting through. You’re stupid.
20) Jerry: I’m sleeping on a love seat. I’ve got my feet up in the air like I’m in a space capsule.
21) Elaine: A bird ran into my giant freak-head.
Jerry: What giant freak-head?
Elaine: The one that sits atop my disproportionately puny body. I’m a walking candy apple.
22) Elaine (on her attempt to help a soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend catch a flight) I never knew I could drive like that. I was going faster than I’ve ever gone before, and yet, it all seemed to be happening in slow motion. I was seeing three and four moves ahead, weaving in and out of lanes like an Olympic skier on a gold medal run. I knew I was challenging the very laws of physics.
23) Kramer (inviting Jerry to enjoy his hot tub): Jerry, look how tense you are. You need to take a soak.
Jerry: I’m not taking a soak in that human bacteria vat you got going there.
Kramer: Come on, I’m telling you, it’s great. I opened up all the windows. The air is cold, the tub is boiling hot. It’s like Sweden, man. Sweeeeeden!
24) Kramer (eating the Mackinaw peaches): It’s like having a circus in my mouth… This is a miracle of nature that exists for but a brief period. It’s like the Aurora Borealis!
25) George (after seeing his father’s breasts): It was like my own personal Crying Game.
26) George (on car salespeople): First, they stick you with the undercoating, rust-proofing, dealer prep. Suddenly, you’re on your back like a turtle.
27) Jerry (on his audit): It’s the financial equivalent of a complete rectal examination.
28) Glenn (Elaine’s financially challenged boyfriend to Elaine while they’re in a dumpster looking for food): You’re the bearclaw in the garbage bag of my life.
29) Jerry (on his nudist girlfriend): Coughing? Naked? It’s a turn-off, man.
George: Everything goes with naked.
Jerry: When you cough, there are thousands of unseen muscles that suddenly spring into action. It’s like watching that fat guy catch a cannonball in his stomach in slow motion.
30) Elaine: The female body is a work of art. The male body is utilitarian. It’s for gettin’ around. It’s like a Jeep.
31) Elaine (on her office party make-out session): We made out at the table like our plane was goin’ down.
32) George: I’m like a commercial jingle. First, it’s a little irritating. Then you hear it a few times. You’re humming it in the shower. By the third date, it’s ‘”Byyyyy Mennen!”
33) Kramer (on why Jerry’s failed TV pilot may succeed in Japan): Here, you’re just another apple. But in Japan, you’re an erotic fruit. Like an orange… which is rare there.
34) Elaine (after Jerry’s girlfriend suddenly left): What? Was it something I said?”
Jerry: She’s a virgin. She just told me.
Elaine: I didn’t know.
Jerry: Well, it’s not like spotting a toupee.
35) Elaine (to Jerry’s girlfriend, who’s a virgin): This whole sex thing is totally overrated. Now, the one thing you gotta be ready for is how the man changes into a completely different person five seconds after it’s over. I mean, something happens to their personality. It’s really quite astounding. It’s like they committed a crime and they want to flee the scene before the police get there.
36) George (on beautiful women): Women like that are like members of a secret tribe living in a forbidden city. People like me have not been inside in thousands of years.
37) Elaine (on her new friend): He’s reliable. He’s considerate. He’s like your exact opposite.
Jerry: So he’s Bizarro Jerry.
Elaine: Bizarro Jerry?
Jerry: Yeah, like Bizarro Superman, Superman’s exact opposite, who lives in the backwards Bizarro world. Up is down, down is up, he says hello when he leaves, goodbye when he arrives.
38) Mr. Peterman (on his neck pain) My neck is one gargantuan monkey fist.
39) Jerry: I like the button fly. That is one place on my wardrobe where I do not need sharp interlocking metal teeth. It’s a mink trap down there.
40) Jerry: I love a good posse.
Nina: What’s the appeal of the posse?
Jerry: The appeal of the posse? Posse has tremendous appeal. Get away from the job, you camp out, you’re with friends. I mean, come on… it’s a week-long game of hide-and-go-seek on horseback.
41) Kramer: Jerry, it’s L.A.! Nobody leaves. She’s a seductress, she’s a siren, she’s a virgin, she’s a who-oooore.
42) Jerry (on his shallow, vain girlfriend): I have never been so repulsed by someone mentally and so attracted to them physically at the same time. It’s like my brain is facing my penis in a chess game. And I’m letting him win.
43) Mickey (on the disease he’s been chosen to portray for medical students): Bacterial meningitis… jackpot!
Kramer: Gonorrhea? You wanna trade?
Mickey: Sorry, buddy. This is the Hamlet of diseases. Severe pain, nausea, delusions… it’s got everything!
44) George: I love that bathroom. It’s got that high, high toilet. I feel like a gargoyle perched on the ledge of a building.
45) Kramer (on his girlfriend with long fingernails): You guys ought to see the way she works her nails across my back. Oooooh, she’s a maestro. The criss-cross, the figure-eight, strummin’ on the old banjo. And this wild, savage free-for-all where anything can happen.
46) George (on being lost in a parking garage): We’re like rats in some experiment!”
47) Kramer: What are you thinking about, Jerry? Marriage? Family? They’re prisons! Man-made prisons. You’re doin’ time! You get up in the morning, she’s there. You go to sleep at night, she’s there. It’s like you gotta ask permission to use the bathroom.
48) Kramer (on being forced to return Jerry’s apartment keys): I was clinging to those keys, man, like a branch on the banks of a raging river, and now I have let go and I’m free to go with the current, to float, and I thank you.
49) George: I hate asking for change. They always make a face. It’s like asking them to donate a kidney.
50) Elaine: No, I don’t want to go to a mini-plex multi-theater! It’s not a theater. It’s like a room where they bring in POWs to show them propaganda films.
51) Elaine (on an uncircumsized penis): It had no face, no personality. It was like a martian.
52) Kramer (nearing victory over Newman in the game Risk): You know what the Ukraine is? It’s a sitting duck. A road apple, Newman. The Ukraine is weak. It’s feeble. I think it’s time to put the hurt on the Ukraine.
53) Jerry (to George): Knowing you is like going into the jungle. I never know what I’m gonna find next, and I’m real scared.
54) Elaine (on Newman) Maybe he’s an enigma, a mystery wrapped in a riddle.
Jerry: He’s a mystery wrapped in a Twinkie.
55) George (on buying calzones for George Steinbrenner): I’m like a drug dealer. I got the guy hooked. I’m having lunch at his desk every day this week, just him and me. He doesn’t make a move without me.
56) George: Beautiful women. Ya know, they get away with murder. You never see one of them lift anything over three pounds. They do whatever they want, whenever they want to, and nobody can stop them.
Jerry: She’s like a beautiful Godzilla.
George: And I’m thousands of fleeing Japanese.
57) Jerry (on Kenny Banya’s comedy): It’s like getting beaten with a bag of oranges!
58) Jerry (on asking someone in the adjacent bathroom stall for toilet paper): Elaine, you cannot judge a person on a situation like that. I mean, it’s like asking for someone’s canteen in the desert.
59) Jerry (on the struggling restaurant across the street): It’s like a spider in the toilet struggling for survival. And even though you know he’s not gonna make it, you kind of root for him for a second.
60) Kramer (on his preference for jockey shorts): I need the secure packaging of jockeys. My boys need a house!
61) Kramer (on wearing no underwear): I feel like a naked innocent boy roaming the countryside!
62) Kramer: Moles… freckle’s ugly cousin.
63) Jerry (on George’s wedding toast): I never heard anybody curse in a toast.
George: I was trying to loosen ’em up a little bit.
Jerry: There were old people there, all the relatives. You were like a Redd Foxx record. I mean, at the end of the toast nobody even drank. They were just standing there, they were just frozen! That might have been one of the worst all time toasts.
64) George: Kramer goes to a fantasy camp. His whole life is a fantasy camp. People should plunk down $2,000 to live like him for a week. Do nothing, fall ass-backwards into money, mooch food off your neighbors, and have sex without dating. That’s a fantasy camp.
65) Elaine: (to Jerry) Just when I think you’re the shallowest man I’ve ever met, you somehow manage to drain a little more out of the pool.
66) George (on his lack of sexual prowess): She gave me the hook.
Jerry: You got the hook?
George: It’s like the manager coming out to ask you for the ball.
67) Jerry (on his queasy stomach after eating a black and white cookie): My stomach. I think it was that cookie.
Elaine: The black and white?
Elaine: Not getting along?
Jerry: I think I got David Duke and Farrakhan down there.
68) Elaine: And what about the pony, huh? What kind of abnormal animal is that? They’re like big riding dogs.
69) George: You met a woman on an elevator?
Jerry: Impossible, right?
George: You got less than 60 seconds. It’s like dismantling a time bomb.
70) Jerry: That’s what death is, really. It’s the last big move. The hearse is like the van, the pallbearers are your close friends, the only ones you can ask to help you in a move like this, and the casket is that one perfect box you’ve been looking for your entire life. The only problem is, once you find it, you’re in it.
Which one is your favorite? Did I miss any good ones? Feel free to add to the list!
James Dietz says
The use of metaphors is like a rollercoaster thrill ride. You shoot out of the gate at 100 mph and start to climb the 500 foot fill to deserved euphoria. If they don’t get it, you don’t make it to the top and scream backwards to the depths of despair and disappointment.
Nice simile, James. I think that’s the risk you run when employing any creative technique, not just metaphors. If it’s not executed properly, the wording doesn’t work, or you overuse the technique, it fails.
James Dietz says
Of course it is. That’s why creative people are so often misunderstood and unfairly stereotyped. So far as the simile goes, I couldn’t resist.
Thanks for the ‘coaster thought; or as Robert Harling (Steel Magnolias) said as he was reflecting on rewrites for the movie Sister Act: “It was like laying tracks in front of a roller coaster.”
James Dietz says
I absolutely enjoyed both movies. It was my pleasure to give you a pleasnt thought for the day.
Wow, Lee – Never thought I’d see a Sister Act reference in the comments of one of my blogs. Nice job of metaphoric inspiration, Mr. Dietz!
Pure entertainment! Thanks for putting this together. My coworkers want me to stop giggling and get back to work.
Thanks, Abi! I think the metaphors make it easier to remember and visualize each scene.