Sidetracked by the Analogy

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Everyone likes a trampoline.

Dilbert: 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!
Dilbert (thinking): Please don't be sidetracked by the analogy.
Pointy-Haired Boss: Since when do eagles use software?


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 from 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.

Sister trope to Analogy Backfire. Compare Metaphorgotten, where the speaker themselves gets sidetracked.

Examples of Sidetracked by the Analogy include:

Anime and 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 Student Council's Discretion 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.

Comic Books


  • In Life of Brian, Brian's attempt at the Sermon on the Mound 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.



  • In Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide novel 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.
    • 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 Trope 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 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:
    • For example:

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."

    • Or:

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
  • Star Trek: The Original Series has Spock, who, being Literal-Minded, sometimes invokes this trope (quite possibly intentionally, to irritate Dr. McCoy). For instance:

Kirk: 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.
Mudd: ...Nevermind.


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 abtruse".
  • 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?
Alan Davies, after a second's pause: What, you mean a kind of squirrel-fur keyboard?
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.



Church: Okay, get ready to launch Operation Circle of Confusion.
Tucker: Church, it kinda looks more like a triangle from down here.
Church: What?
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!


Mythology and Religion


Jesus: "Beware the yeast of the Pharisees."
Disciples: "He's upset that we didn't bring any bread!"


Newspaper Comics

  • The page quote, from Dilbert, shows this trope in its most basic form.
    • This shows up quite frequently in Dilbert - Scott Adams has admitted bad analogies are a pet peeve of his.
  • Also from Matt Groening, in one Life in Hell strip, Binky is reading the news and how depressing it is and comments, "We're like the frog in a pan who is slowly being boiled to death and doesn't realize it!" and his son Bongo sobs, "That poor little frog!"



Humph: I'd like you to keep doing that until I do this.
(sound of doorbell ringing, followed by mooing)
Humph: That's right, when the cows come home. So now...
Graeme: Had the cows forgotten their keys?
Humph: ...What?
Graeme: Well, why did they use the doorbell?
Barry: Their horns weren't working.
(Collective Groan from audience)
Graeme: That's right, milk it.


Video Games

  • Innocent little Colette from Tales of Symphonia is very prone to this, often dragging off conversations in very strange directions once a metaphor or figure of speech is thrown into a conversation. On occasion, it overlaps with Metaphorgotten.

Web Comics


Thaco: I don't mind dying, but having to wait for it like this is torture. It's taking forever. Like watching paint dry in hell.
Complains-of-Names: Wouldn't paint dry really fast in hell?


Web Original


Tristan: Because it's evil! If Freddie Krueger and Jason Voorhees got married and had a baby, your ring would be that baby!
Joey: Freddie would never marry Jason. Besides, Freddie's already married--to his job.


Goku: "Elite"? What's that mean?
Vegeta: It means I'm of the upper class. A finer breed, the highest grade of warrior!
Goku: ...
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.


Western Animation

  • 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.
  • This trope is a chief source of humor on the cartoon series Bobby's World, as the very young Bobby Generic literally interprets things, for instance, thinking a traffic jam as an actual jam people put on sandwich bread.
  • In Shrek, after getting a bit of Analogy Backfire with "ogres are like onions," Donkey spends some time trying to find a more palatable food for the analogy.
    • Though oddly enough, his first two attempts at understanding it (They stink? They make you cry?) are actually pretty much spot on. Don't know about the "You leave them out in the sun, they get all brown and start sprouting little white hairs?", though.
  • 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!

    • 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:

Spike: The proof is in the pudding!
Snails: I like pudding...

  • From the Dan Vs. episode "The Wolf-Man":

Dan: Come on, get after him! Pretend he's a sandwich!
Chris: What kind of sandwich?

  • 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.
Lil: Yuck!
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".

Real Life

  • An example of an actual person doing this to himself can be seen when Eiichiro Oda tries to compare manga writing to a game.
  • 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.