'Simple as a fire': Making sense of the non-standard poetic simile

Roi Tartakovsky*, Yeshayahu Shen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Our topic is an under-theorized type of closed simile in which the ground represents a non-salient feature of the source term (e.g., as quiet as a weight, as opposed to a standard simile, e.g., as heavy as a weight). The non-standard simile introduces a semantic difficulty, a result of the unexpected mismatch between ground and source. Since they are highly prevalent in poetic texts there is special interest in investigating the ways subjects attempt to comprehend such similes. To that end, we have asked 62 subjects to interpret pairs of similes distinguished only by the salience of the ground. We identify 5 response types and find that these are unevenly distributed across the two simile types (standard and non-standard). The structural difference between the two kinds of similes, therefore, evokes different interpretational strategies. Additionally, we find that the non-standard simile entails a hit-or-miss potentiality, creating conditions for either an insightful interpretation or a rejection of any possibility of its coherent comprehension.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-119
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Literary Semantics
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2018


FundersFunder number
Israel Science Foundation1530/16


    • cognition and figurative language
    • empirical study of literature
    • poetry
    • reading strategies
    • simile


    Dive into the research topics of ''Simple as a fire': Making sense of the non-standard poetic simile'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this