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I Hate Onions (and Zoos)

Updated: Jun 27, 2023

Metaphors bother me.

I don't know if it's just the way my brain works, but usually whenever I come across a metaphor—in a book or article, say—it's disappointing. I find myself trying to extend the metaphor as thin as possible to see if it holds up. It rarely does.

Sometimes, they just make no sense.

For example, people always describe busy situations as "zoos," I guess because zoos are filled with a bunch of wild animals and busy situations feel similarly feral. But zoos are the exact opposite of chaos. They are built on maintaining order, and preventing chaos. Zoos should be a metaphor for an overabundance of control.

Also, onions. People like to say that onions, like people or complicated issues, have layers. This is supposed to be profound, suggesting there's more to someone or something than meets the eye. But do you know what happens when you peel back layers of an onion? You get more of the same onion. Nothing is different. It's onion all the way down.

Metaphors bother me, I think, because usually they take the place of an actual explanation of the idea being conveyed. Instead of making things more clear, I find they usually obscure the crux of the issue. They also tempt people into relying on cliches rather than being original, which is always bad.

I'm much more comfortable following along with a literal, lucid walkthrough of something complex than trying to juggle the complex thing and the metaphor at the same time. I end up just mentally ping-ponging between the two, trying to figure out which parts stand for which other parts.

It's too much.

Just be straightforward. It's not going to result in the most beautiful prose—talking directly about the thing, in plain terms—but unless you're writing a novel, beauty isn't all that good at building knowledge or communicating ideas. First make the writing useful, and if the spirit moves you, then make it beautiful.

You know, layers, like a zoo.

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