A simile is a figure of speech that compares two things using as or like. It differs from a metaphor in that the metaphor says that something is something else as in “the world is a stage” whereas similes present similarities between two elements, e.g., as free as a bird. Let’s learn about the origin of some of them.
As mad as a hatter
A hatter is a person who makes hats. Remember the hatter in Alice in Wonderland?
Use this simile to say that someone is crazy, eccentric or prone to unpredictable behaviour.
“For the life of me, I can’t figure him out or predict what his reactions will be. Nor can I make head or tails of what he says. He is as mad as a hatter.”
The expression is linked to the hat-making industry and mercury poisoning. Back in the 19th century, the prolonged exposure to this substance in the hat-making process led to the development of some physical and mental problems, such as hallucinations. (Based on the web www.history.com)
As happy as a lark
The song of the lark sounds beautiful and melodious and that is why it evokes happiness. So if someone is a happy as a lark, they are joyful, delighted, in high spirits.
“No matter what troubles come her way, she always seems to be as happy as a lark.”
Note This simile can also carry an additional connotation of being blindly happy and unaware of the reality around you.
“She seems to be as happy as a lark while the world around her is crumbling.”
As wise ….
… as an owl
Owls have been associated with wisdom in some cultures since Ancient Greece. The power of hunting at night gave the owls a magical aura and the mythological Goddess of Wisdom, Athene, was portrayed with an owl as her favourite bird. Their big eyes and the fact that they can twist their heads and see all around them, add to the enchantment as they were regarded as all-seeing birds.
“Ask your grandfather for help, he is as wise as an owl. Talking to him will help you get through the emotional turmoil you are in.”
… as Solomon
Another simile to refer to people who are full of knowledge and common sense is “As wise as King Solomon.” This king in Israel was well-known for his wisdom as shown in the biblical story “The judgement of Solomon” in which two women claim to be the mothers of the same baby. The king succeeds at discerning who the real mother is, by threatening to divide the child in two and therefore appealing to the compassion of the real mother who would rather see the baby given to the wrong woman that having him killed.
As sure/certain as death and taxes
Undeniably true, both death and taxes are certainties in life. This simile appeared in literature in the early 1700s but is usually attributed to a letter written by Benjamin Franklin.
“If no-one lifts a finger, that building is going to collapse sooner or later. Sure as death and taxes.”
As drunk as a lord
Too intoxicated to keep their balance. The origin of this association goes back to the mid-1600s. It used to be the case that noblemen drank excessively. Not only did they have the means to afford it but being able to hold large amounts of alcohol was also a sign of manliness.
“Do yourself a favour, take a taxi, go home and sleep. You are as drunk as a Lord.”
As fit as a fiddle
It means to be healthy and in good shape. Fiddle is another word for violin. In its origin, the word fit in this simile referred to fit as in fitting, suitable for a particular purpose.
“Regardless of their age, my neighbours do more sport than their grandchildren. They are both fit as a fiddle.”