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Analogy primarily refers to a comparison made on the basis of the structural relationships between the terms that are involved in the comparison. For example, a computer scientist may make an analogy between a machine and the human brain in order to clarify the nature of artificial intelligence. The analogy would imply that the two objects function in similar ways, with the implication that understanding one will help one understand the other.

Analogy Overview

An analogy is a comparison of two things (usually something about their structures) which is based on a single similarity. The two things may be completely unlike each other in all other ways. An analogy is often used in the course of an explanation, or to clarify and explain something that is being discussed. Analogous means that two things, people, or places have something in common, while they may seem dissimilar upon first observance. The term is often used in a medical context to relate a characteristic of two seemingly dissimilar parts of a human body or human body processes.

Using analogies - do's and dont's

The intention of an analogy is to aid in the explanation of an idea or thing by comparing it to something that is more familiar to the reader or listener. Literary tools such as similes and metaphors are often used in analogies to facilitate the comparison.

An analogy may use a simile, which is a comparison between two unlike objects using the words “like” or “as.” For instance, “The wind was like a howling wolf around the dormers of the house.”

An analogy often uses a metaphor, which is a comparison between two dissimilar objects without using the words “like” or “as.” For example, “The wind was a wolf howling around the dormers of our house.”

Analogy is often used in daily speech; much more often used that most people realize. For instance, a co-worker might say, “the bus I was on this morning smelled like a brewery,” or “the dog was still as a statue.”

It's not always appropriate to use analogies, especially in cases where it may cause more confusion or the comparison is not contextually relevant.

Historical uses

The first known use of analogy was in the 15th century, and comes from the Greek analogia, meaning proportion. Analogy is the cognitive process of transferring meaning from a subject to another subject, and is very common in writing and speech in all languages. Analogy is based on a personal or individual observance, and is therefore only true according to the originator of the analogy. In this way, it is a sort of argument about the basic idea of an object, or a perception.

Analogy can help human beings solve problems, affecting memory, creativity, emotion, explanation, communication, perception, and decision making in many different ways. Basic human ideas such as identification, facial recognition strategies, and memory improvement strategies are based on analogy.

Additional specific terminology related to analogies include exemplification, comparisons, allegories, and parables, proverbs, and idioms.

It is human nature to compare things in order to judge their level of importance, and place them into a continuum of priority. It is also part of human nature to communicate through analogies, enabling various listeners or readers to understand an idea or terminology better in the context of a sentence or paragraph of speech or text. Analogy assists understanding, creativity, and new views of ideas and objects in the daily world in this way. Analogies are often used in literature, permitting new ways of viewing the same, everyday objects and ideas; creative writing is very reliant on analogies in order to create vibrant, descriptive writing that captures the imagination.

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