Tag Archives: simile

“Better than a punch in the nose!”

Text: “Better than a punch in the nose!”

Minor Genre: Folk Speech – Simile


M said, “My grandmother would always say that [proverb] whenever we would complain about something that we didn’t like. She lived through the Depression, and I think she grew up fairly poor. There are a lot of those proverbs and euphemisms about ‘hard work’ from her generation.”


This piece of folk speech reminds me of the saying, “I’ll give you something to cry about.” They both are used to shut down a complaint with the implication that the situation at hand could be made worse, and therefore it is not something to complain about. I think my father [M] is probably correct about its popularity within the generation that lived through the Depression; in trying to raise the subsequent generations who did not need to endure the same levels of hardship, it is likely that those who lived through the Depression shared a mindset that the newer generations didn’t have anything to complain about, as they had not experienced true struggle.

I heard this phrase a few times growing up from my grandmother (M’s dad). However, she would always use it in a comedic tone, getting people to laugh while accepting the situation at hand rather than interpreting the phrase as a true threat of physical abuse.

Korean Simile: Cats and Fish

Nationality: Korean
Primary Language: Korean
Age: 50
Occupation: Country Branch Manager
Residence: Seoul, South Korea
Performance Date: 16 February 2024

Tags: cats, fish, Korean, simile, proverb, stupidity


“고양이에 생선 맡긴꼴.”

Literal: ‘It’s like you’re asking a cat to protect the fish’

Meaning: ‘You’re giving an important/dangerous job to someone ruthlessly/irresponsibly.’


R is a born and raised South Korean. This is one of the sayings R taught me when growing up in Korea, along with a plethora of other proverbs and lessons. Apparently he had heard it from his father before him and so on, and it’s a pretty common Korean saying. One of the first times R said this in proper context was when he was complaining about someone in his workplace being given a task that he knew the person couldn’t really handle, but management insisted on letting the person handle the task instead of R anyway.


Koreans love similes, metaphors, and all types of idioms; I had an entire unit in Korean Idioms when I was studying the language growing up. I haven’t had many chances to use them in day-to-day conversations with other Koreans, but say something like this to any Korean local and they’ll immediately know what you’re talking about. This saying in particular brings to mind many stories like ‘Inviting a Snake to your House’ and ‘The Frog on the Alligator’s Back’, in which precarious situations are likened to dangerous animals.

Taiwanese saying: Pigs for the Slaughter

Nationality: Taiwanese
Primary Language: Mandarin
Age: 50
Occupation: Housewife
Residence: Taipei, Taiwan
Performance Date: 16 February 2024

Tags: Taiwanese, pigs, slaughter, rich, fame, price



Literal: “People fear fame like pigs fear slaughter.”

Meaning: ‘Fame has a price.’


T is a born and raised Taiwanese local, and this is one of the sayings she grew up with. She actually didn’t teach me this until recently, after she had seen an article on Facebook about a celebrity committing suicide due to scandals and such.


Pork is an important part of Taiwanese cuisine, to the point where there have even been controversies and multiple news headlines about the quality and transportation of pork within Taiwan’s international trading scene. The saying itself reminds me of our class/discussion where we talked about the differences in how people view fame and wealth in Ethiopia versus America, in which Ethiopia has sayings that denote skepticism and warnings towards wealth while America praises wealth and fortune as something people have to work hard for.

“Flat out like a lizard drinking”

Text: flat out like a lizard drinking.

Context: Tom heard this phrase from a man he spoke to at a bar in Western Australia, who told him a story about a man who was previously kicked out of the bar. The man sought to use this simile to convey how quickly the misbehaving man left the bar when he saw the bouncer approaching him. Tom uses the phrase to describe situations when someone changes locations in a haste, and thought it was very funny when he first heard it. 

Analysis: As Tom explained, in Western Australia these one-liner comparisons are a culturally popular way of expressing oneself. The word play abides by observations of human behavior and of lizard behavior in Australia. Tom explained that in Australia, people say to go “flat out” is to move with maximum speed, perhaps a reference to a horizontally pointing speedometer. Also, when a lizard goes to drink water, it lies down flat on its belly. So, these meanings working in conjunction, the phrase references the double-meaning of being “flat out” in Australia, ultimately referring to moving quickly. I connect this phrase to the combination of Australia’s unique culture and its inherent connection with nature, namely the Outback. 

“As busy as a one-armed bricklayer in Baghdad”

Text: As busy as a one-armed bricklayer in Baghdad.

Context: Tom says he’s “as busy as a one-armed bricklayer in Baghdad” when he finds himself extremely busy with his tasks at hand. He uses the term in all settings, including academic, social, and professional, and sometimes modifies the phrase but always keeps the alliteration aspect of it. He first heard it from his Western Australian uncle, who, in a conversation with Tom’s dad (Tom overheard), employed the simile to explain how busy he was with work as an entrepreneur. He found it very funny the first time he heard it. 

Analysis: This simile is a tool used to liken the sisyphean task of rebuilding a warzone, made even more difficult by a major physical impairment, to occupation with an overwhelming amount of work. Tom explained that in Australian culture, people tend to make funny comparing statements: one-liners that are intended both to convey information and to be comical. I interpret the phrase not only as clever wordplay, but also as a store of historical value as it doubles as a reference to current events (war in the Middle East).