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Sidetracked by the Analogy
Everyone likes a trampoline.
We can either wait three months for the software committee to approve our plan or we can soar like eagles, and act without approval, saving millions of dollars!
To a character who is Literal-Minded
, a Cloudcuckoolander
, or maybe just a little dim, or even a combination of all three, using analogies and figurative language is a bad idea. This is because in any given metaphor, there are several different things that a person can latch onto, but only one of these is intended to actually make the connected point. And unless the connection is made right away, everyone can end up discussing an entirely different tangent than what they were supposed to be discussing. Someone will eventually have to stop the new discussion in hope of returning to the original subject.
Suffice to say, this is Truth in Television
, to the point that one of the best identifying marks of a good leader is that he can keep a conversation focused on a single topic without having it go off into completely irrational directions.
Basically, an Extended Analogy
extended into absurdity, Played for Laughs
. Compare Derailed for Details
. Could also be seen as the conversational variant of a Wiki Walk
, where starting with one topic leads to dozens of completely unrelated topics with only tangential connections.
Sister trope to Analogy Backfire
. Compare Metaphorgotten
, where the speaker themselves gets sidetracked.
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
- A variation in ef - a tale of memories has Chihiro explaining a math problem she supposedly read once in school, about how long it would take a sheep tethered x feet from a pole to eat all the grass in the surrounding circle. Chihiro thought of the implied end of the story, about how the sheep would eventually starve to death, rather than the math problem it was setting up.
- Similar to the above, an episode of Seitokai no Ichizon has Minatsu posing a math problem to Kurimu. The problem is fairly typical: "John goes to the store with X dollars. He buys Y units of a certain item at a certain price, and Z units of another item at a different price. How much change should he get?" Kurimu instead thinks about why the character in the story would be buying the certain items, and concludes that his parents are neglectful.
Films — Animated
Films — Live-Action
- In Monty Python's Life of Brian, Brian's attempt at the Sermon on the Mount goes over like this.
Audience: Consider the lilies?
Brian: Uh, well, the birds, then.
Audience 1: What birds?
Brian: Any birds.
Audience 1: Why?
Brian: Well, have they got jobs?
Audience 2: Who?
Brian: The birds.
Audience 1: Have the birds got jobs?!
Audience 3: What's the matter with him?
Audience 2: He says the birds are scrounging.
Brian: Oh, uhh, no, the point is the birds. They do all right. Don't they?
Audience 3: Well, good luck to 'em.
Audience: Yeah. They're very pretty.
Brian: Okay, and you're much more important than they are, right? So, what are you worrying about? There you are. See?
Audience 1: I'm worrying about what you have got against birds.
Brian: I haven't got anything against the birds. Consider the lilies.
Audience 3: He's having a go at the flowers now.
Audience 1: Oh, give the flowers a chance.
- A sort of variation in The Avengers. Thor is talking to Coulson about how when he came to Earth, he ended up butting heads with his future allies, and likens himself and the Asgardians to something called "bilge snipe." Coulson has no idea what those are, so the conversation derails slightly as Thor describes them as "You know, huge, scaly, green antlers," before ending with a puzzled, "You don't have those here?" Subverted, however; after Coulson confirms that Earth doesn't have them, Thor finishes his description by getting back on track; "Well, they are repulsive... They trample everything in their path."
- And in Guardians of the Galaxy, Rocket explains that Drax's species is very Literal-Minded, so any metaphors will go over his head.
Drax: Nothing goes over my head! My reflexes are too fast. I would catch it.
- In Douglas Adams' Life, the Universe and Everything, Ford Prefect refuses to help Slartibartfast in a mission, describing their chances as like 'A whelk's chance in a supernova'. Cue a page of dialogue as Arthur Dent wonders why, when nothing can survive in a supernova, Ford chose a whelk in particular.
- Discworld: Mustrum Ridcully, and indeed most of the other wizards, are actually reasonably clever when it comes to magic, even if this is sometimes not readily apparent, Ridcully for instance almost certainly being a user of Obfuscating Stupidity, but they are all genuinely hopeless when it comes to analogies, as Ponder Stibbons, who likes to think of himself as the Only Sane Man among the wizards, finds out every time he tries to explain something, going off on widely divergent tangents at the drop of a hat.
- In Hogfather, for example, Ponder is explaining how the new mechanical ear on Hex works. He stops himself from describing sound as traveling in waves on the grounds that Ridcully will assume he's talking about the seaside, and sheepishly handwaves it as "magic".
- By Unseen Academicals, Ponder's realized that Ridcully does this on purpose, his logic being if a problem's not so urgent that it can't be expressed with plain speech, then it's not worth his time.
- Ridcully's brother Hughnon is just as bad. Witness his conversation with Vetinari in The Truth. (Here's a hint: Vetinari's not actually talking about sending prawns over the clacks.)
- Most Ankh-Morporkians have occasional flashes of this. Commander Vimes thinks it's something in the water.
- One former patrician actually passed a law requiring accuracy of statements and metaphors. If you say a woman had a face that launched a thousand ships, you damn well better have the manifests to prove it. He eventually met his end in a swordfight against a disgruntled poet armed with a very, very, very, sharp pen.
- A law which was never repealed and which Vetinari is rumored to occasionally enforce if he feels like it, but no cases of him doing so have actually been in the books.
- Most dwarfs tend to be very literal-minded, which is the case with Carrot (who was raised by dwarfs) as well. For example, you shouldn't tell a dwarf not to tell you the Klatchian embassy is on fire, and if you use the phrase "Bob's your uncle," be prepared for a dwarf patiently explaining that his uncle's name is not Bob.
- When Wen the Eternally Surprised teaches Clodpool the Apprentice that time is like a coat, which you can put on when needed and discard otherwise, Clodpool asks "Do I have to wash it, master?" Wen responds that this is either a brilliant piece of philosophy, or else extending a metaphor in a rather stupid way. And it's not the first one.
- Sort of inverted in The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross: Brains is devoting considerable time and energy to proving that it is possible to make an omelette without breaking eggs, but he instantly abandons this project to give moral support to Bob when their bosses drop him in it, pointing out that Bob's situation is what the phrase is actually about.
- Welkin Weasels: Spindrick Sylver's anarchist associate promises to set up a machine which will blow the city to Kingdom Come, and promptly ruins the drama by musing on whether there's a corresponding "Kingdom Go".
- In Star Trek: Ex Machina, Commodore Fein turns a discussion about Captain Kirk's love for the Enterprise into a semi-Non-Sequitur about art, after Kirk mentions the Mona Lisa as something else people don't get tired of staring at.
Fein: "And I don't see what the big mystery is about the smile. I mean, aren't you supposed to smile when you get your picture taken?"
Kirk opened his mouth, but couldn't find a response to that.
Live Action TV
- On Selfie, Eliza uses a fairly intricate metaphor to explain why she can't be friends with Joan, one of her (older, less attractive) coworkers. Joan is a miracle suit, Eliza is a monokini, with side-boob and hip-bone cutouts. Henry says that he and Larry are different, but still friendly. Eliza says Larry's not a monokini, and Henry reacts woundedly, saying in that scenario he would be the monokini. Eliza says he's an old-timey long-sleeved bathing costume. Later in the episode, Henry references this metaphor, and Eliza embellishes it further because she's a "synthetic monokini made at a factory by a sweatshop family"
- On Victorious: "Well, take this coconut, for example... brown, spherical, covered with short, fibrous hairs that... What were we talking about?"
- Scrubs: J.D. wonders why Kelso cares so much about one particular person and asks if he donated a wing to the hospital. Kelso responds, "He donated a wing, a breast, and a thigh... yes, in this analogy, the hospital is a chicken." J.D. outwardly acts offended at the patronizing explanation, but then thinks to himself, "Why would the hospital be a chicken?"
- The Vicar of Dibley has this happen as The Tag once an episode, where Geraldine tells Alice a joke which Alice takes too literally, or simply doesn't get, and then picks apart. Usually it ends up with Alice upset because she feels sorry for the victim of the joke.
- One episode of Generation Kill has a topic about masturbation somehow morph into a discussion about ethnicity because of one character's offhand remark about the only movies they ever get to see is "stuff like Pocahontas".
- Bernard Woolley, the Principal Private Secretary in Yes, Minister was annoyingly pedantic about mixed metaphors. At least the other characters found it annoying, to the audience it's very amusing:
Jim Hacker: "Perhaps he has the PM's ear."
Sir Humphrey: He's in the PM's pocket.
Bernard Woolley: "Then the PM must have a large ear."
Jim Hacker: "But we can't stab our partners in the back and spit in their face."
Bernard Woolley: "You can't stab anyone in the back, while you spit in their face."
- Pehaps the best example is in "Bed Of Nails", where Bernard gets all three wrapped up into a completely irrelevant discussion about gift horses, Trojan horses and Latin declension, totally ignoring the subject matter at hand:
Hacker: You mean, if I look closely at this gift horse, I would find it's full of Trojans?
Bernard: If you had looked the Trojan Horse in the mouth, Minister, you would have found Greeks inside.
Odd look from Hacker... Bernard: Well, the point is it was the Greeks who gave the Trojan Horse to the Trojans, so technically, it wasn't a Trojan Horse at all, it was a Greek Horse. Hence the tag timeo Danaos et dona ferentes which you will recall, is usually and somewhat inaccurately translated as Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. Or doubtless, you would have recalled, had you not attended the LSE.
Hacker: Yes well I'm sure Greek tags are all right in their way, but can we stick to the point, please?
- Friends: Joey wants to date his hot new female room mate. Chandler advises against it: "Remember when you broke up with Denise, how awkward it was when you ran into her at the supermarket. Now imagine you live at the supermarket..." Joey (clearly imagining the food) "OK!"
- Star Trek: The Original Series has Spock, who, being Literal-Minded, sometimes invokes this trope (quite possibly intentionally, to irritate Dr. McCoy). For instance:
I don't care if you hit the broad side of a barn!
Spock: Why would I wish to aim at such a structure?
- This is made even funnier by the fact that, during the exchange, Kirk is supporting Spock on his recently flayed back. Spock is taking his sweet time doing whatever it is that requires Kirk to lift him so painfully, and Spock's confusion at the analogy only forces Kirk to endure the pain of his injuries even longer.
- Another good example is when Spock does this in "I, Mudd" to Harry Mudd, this time possibly out of genuine bafflement.
Mudd: You couldn't sell false patents to your mother!
Spock: I fail to see why I should induce my mother to purchase falsified patents.
- It's justified in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, as Spock is Back from the Dead, but with an incomplete grasp on life:
Kirk: If we play our cards right, we may be able to find out when those whales are being released.
Spock: How will playing cards help?
- Early in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Kirk, McCoy and Spock sing "Row Row Row Your Boat" as a round. Cut to Spock, still awake, presumably some hours later:
Spock: But Captain, Life is not a dream.
- And naturally in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Data fulfills this role, for example, pointing out that to "burn the midnight oil" would trigger the fire suppression systems.
- This sort of thing happens in the novels, too. In one scene in the final book of the Star Trek: A Time to... series, two alien characters are discussing politics and one becomes sidetracked by the other's use of a human metaphor. When confronted with the phrase "a lame duck", Ra'ch B'ullhy (a Damiani) has to ask how a lame waterfowl fits the situation. Worf points out "it is a human metaphor; they are often abstruse".
- Early seasons of Star Trek: Voyager had a weird habit of resolving plots this way. They'd find a solution that worked for the analogy but was total nonsense for the actual problem, like finding a "crack in the event horizon". If you're unfamiliar with the physics, that's like a fish finding a hole in the sea and swimming to the moon. The weird part was these absurd plans all worked perfectly.
- Stargate SG-1: Teal'c does this a lot. One of the best (and best remembered) instances occurs early on when SG-1 was cut off from the Stargate by a Goa'uld attack:
Daniel: Maybe we should just lie low and wait for things to calm down.
Teal'c: Things will not calm down, Daniel Jackson. They will, in fact, calm up.
- Lampshaded in another instance, where the SGC is offering heavy water to a civilization to help their war effort in exchange for technology, Jackson objects:
Jackson: No. Their whole world is in flames and we are offering them gasoline. How is that help?
Teal'c: We are in fact offering water.
O'Neill: [to Teal'c] Thank you!
Jackson: I was speaking metaphorically.
O'Neill: Well, stop it! It's not fair to Teal'c.
- Don't forget this classic:
O'Neill: We'll just have to cross that bridge when we come to it.
Bra'tac: No, the bridge is too well guarded.
- Hilariously, this is later appropriated by Bra'tac and used for every situation:
Bra'tac: We shall have to cross that bridge when we come to it.
O'Neill: You know, that doesn't work...for every...
- Notably, in later seasons Teal'c evolves beyond this, and starts making jokes at his own expense:
Teal'c: Undomesticated equines could not keep me away.
- Panel quiz show QI does this sort of as part of its gimmick — the show allows diversions for anything deemed by panelists to be "Quite Interesting", which is what the show's initials stand for, but there are the occasional rather extreme examples, like this one on the compatibility of different squirrel species:
Alan Davies: The red squirrel can't live with the grey squirrel.
Stephen Fry: Ebony and ivory are together on my piano keyboard, why can't they be?
Rob Brydon: That's barbaric. Are you saying you want pianos clad in the pelt of a squirrel? Because if that's what you are saying, Fry, then you should be stopped.
- Temperance "Bones" Brennan fails to understand metaphors pretty regularly, although she's gotten better at it in recent seasons.
- In an epsiode of Ellen, Ellen attempted to explain to her uncle that her cousin wanted to drop put of medical school. She attempted to use a baking analogy (the same one her cousin had used) about how if a mixture is ruined becuase you leave out an ingredient, the best thing you can do is throw out the mixture and start again. However, her uncle, who was a baker, kept asking for specifics about the mixture and what was left out, and pointing out how the mixture could be saved.
- A rare inversion in The Big Bang Theory, which fits the character of Sheldon well (with his combination of Insufferable Genius and Captain Oblivious):
Sheldon: "You know, Penny, there's something that occurs in beehives that you might find interesting. Occasionally, a new queen will arrive while the old queen is still in power. When this happens, the old queen must either locate to a new hive or engage in a battle to the death until only one queen remains."
Penny: "What are you saying? That I'm threatened by Alicia? That I'm like the old queen of the hive and it's just time for me to go?"
- A fundamental flaw with 10 O'Clock Live (a live show) is that you've got three witty comedians; once an analogy comes up they won't drop it until they've explored all the possibilities much to the annoyance of the producers who have a very tight time window.
- From Red vs. Blue:
Church: Okay, get ready to launch Operation Circle of Confusion.
Tucker: Church, it kinda looks more like a triangle from down here.
Tucker: I'm just saying it doesn't really look like a circle, it looks more like we're forming a triangle. Just a side note.
Church: Okay, fine, triangle of confusion, rhombus of terror, parabola of mystery, who cares!? Get the goddamn show on the road!
- An early joke revolved around this, as Church is discussing whether or not to marry his girlfriend back home:
Caboose: Well, I'm not going to get married. My dad always said: "Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?"
Church: Hey, rookie! Did you just call my girlfriend a cow?
Tucker: Nah, I think he called her a slut.
Mythology & Religion
- Older Than Feudalism: We find this in the Gospels of the New Testament frequently: when Jesus delivers a parable, people will sometimes demonstrate this trope.
- At least a few of the parables were like this explicitly just to mess with people who wouldn't listen to the more straightforward lessons (Mark 4:11-12).
- This has led to a number of scriptural disputes about just how far a metaphor is supposed to stretch. For example, one story is about Peter having a dream where he's very hungry, and a blanket descends from heaven, covered in various animals that are not kosher under Jewish law. A voice from the sky tells Peter that he should chow down on these, and when he protests about cleanliness, the voice says that God does not make unclean things. Some Christians only take this to mean that the dietary prohibitions associated with Judaism are lifted; other argue that this means people, too, and Christians should not be afraid to associate with non-Christians.
- Urinetown: Cladwell uses the metaphor of suckers being like rabbits in "Don't be the Bunny", but his daughter doesn't quite get it.
Hope: But Daddy, we're talking about people, not animals!
Cladwell: People are animals, Hope dear.
Hope: Animals with incisors and big, floppy feet?
- From Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series, on why Tristan threw Bakura's ring away:
Freddy would never marry Jason. Besides, Freddy's already
married—to his job.
- From Dragon Ball Z Abridged, where Goku and Vegeta are getting ready for their battle:
Goku: "Elite"? What's that mean?
Vegeta: It means I'm of the upper class. A finer breed, the highest grade of warrior!
Vegeta: [groans] Okay, consider yourself beef jerky while I'm filet mignon.
Goku: Ooh, I like both those things!
Vegeta: ...I'm going to start beating you now. I don't know when I'll stop.
- In The Guild, Clara is confronted by her husband about her inability to give up gaming for her family.
George: I won't participate in this shell of a marriage!
Clara: Oh, I love chocolate bunnies!
George: What...did that have to do with anything?
Clara: They're hollow and you eat them, duh.
- Ultra Fast Pony, in the episode "How to Control Freaks":
Now, quick, Fluttershy, get [Rainbow Dash] in a full nelson! [...] Dammit, Fluttershy, I said full nelson, not one-quarter! Fluttershy: I don't know anyone named Nelson! Twilight:
That has nothing to do with it! Rarity:
What about Nelson Mandela? Twilight:
That's a good point. What about Nelson Mandela, Fluttershy? Fluttershy:
I don't know who that is! Twilight:
How do you not know who that is?!
- One episode of The Simpsons has Marge trying to get the town to move against a burlesque house. Her use of "the house" as figurative language for the burlesque shows causes the townspeople to initially rise up against her as being unfair to the house itself, as in the physical building, which hadn't done anything.
- From the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Griffon the Brush-Off":
Gilda: Hey! I'm watching you. Like a hawk.
Pinkie Pie: Why? Can't you watch me like a griffon?
- And from the second half of the series premiere:
Twilight: Look, I appreciate the offer, but I'd really rather do this on my own.
Applejack: No can do, sugarcube! We sure ain't letting any friend of ours go into that creepy place alone. We're sticking to you like caramel on a candy apple!
Pinkie Pie: Especially if there's candy apples in there!
- Pinkie interprets everything literally, so she is sidetracked by all analogies, including her own. From "Fall Weather Friends," as she and Spike are co-announcing a race:
Spike: I don't believe it! After a huge setback, Applejack is back at the front of the pack!
Pinkie Pie: She's the head of the pack, all right. The pick of the litter! The CAT'S PAJAMAS! Oh, wait! Why would Applejack take some poor kitty's PJs? That's not very sporting of her.
Spike: Oookay... Let's get back to the race.
- In "Boast Busters", Spike trying to explain to Snips and Snails why he doubts Insufferable Magic Unicorn Trixie is as great as she claims leads to this exchange:
The proof is in the pudding! Snails:
Uh huh huh, I like pudding...
- From the Dan Vs. episode "The Wolf-Man":
- In the Rugrats episode "The Gold Rush" everyone searches for nickels in the sandbox. Tommy and Chuckie pair up and Phil and Lil do the same. Angelica tries to divide everyone and tries to tell Phil and Lil that people get bigger portions with less people.
Angelica: Pretend this nickel's a pie.
Phil: What flavor?
Angelica: What difference does it make?
Lil: What do you mean there's no difference? There's a big difference between a chocolate pie and an apple pie.
Angelica: Okay it's an apple pie.
Phil: Ew, I hate apple pies.
Angelica: Fine, it's a chocolate pie.
Angelica: Will you two put a lid in it!
- Phineas and Ferb, "We Call It Maze": When Phineas compares the maze he and his brother build to the sort which lab rats run through in order to find cheese, this intrigues Buford, even when Phineas explains he was using a metaphor:
Buford: I am to metaphor cheese as metaphor cheese is to transitive-verb crackers!
- After escaping the maze at the end of the episode, Buford even complains about not getting any "metaphor cheese".
- In one episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012), Raphael tries to explain that Violence Really Is the Answer when dealing with street gangs;
- Schrödinger's Cat. Dear God - Schrödinger uses a jocular analogy to point out the flaws in the Copenhagen Interpretation, and it becomes the first thing the average person thinks of regarding Quantum Physics, and the only thing non-specialists know about one of the most important theorists in the field.
- Made worse in that it's now "common knowledge" that Schrödinger was explaining quantum physics, not attempting to point out what he saw as a fatal flaw in the interpretation.
- The Turing Machine. An ad-hoc description of precise algorithms to illustrate a point that had already been rigorously made when Alan Turing got around to publishing it turned out to be useful in a few other situations.
- There is a popular bit of Spanish slang about wanting one's partner to be "like a train". Big, heavy, made of metal? Hint: It has nothing do with steam, either. It's supposed to mean "so that they get me to a hundred". As in, heartbeats per minute, not miles per hour.
- Bill Gaede will interpret any analogy from theoretical physics literally, with unintentionally hilarious results.