I'm looking for an adjective, saying or idiom for an analogy which makes the things even harder to grasp, that was supposed to make things easier to understand.


  • A guy makes an analogy to express that playing violin and driving a car is similar, when he teaches driving cars. But since very limited people know how to play violin, it does not make things easier.

  • A guy teaches culinary on Youtube. But he rather than he explains the basics of culinary (say boiling water), he says 'oh this process is similar to gamma radiation'.

It is not important if the analogy is good or bad. Just it makes things harder to understand.

  • 1
    I don't think you mean it "makes it harder", I think you mean that whatever is being used in the analogy in far more complex than what it is being compared to. (Cooking doesn't become more difficult just because the chef used a quantum physics analogy.)
    – J.R.
    Feb 17, 2013 at 10:07
  • Exactly, that is what I meant. The analogy is far more complex that what it is being compared to.
    – Emmet B
    Feb 17, 2013 at 10:08
  • It depends on the context and your audiences. Some people don't know how to use analogy and some people use it in a wrong place and with wrong audiences. Surely it is not a good idea for a poet when he/she talks to rural people,children or clerks of a bank in a small city tries analogy in his/her talks! It may result confusion. Feb 17, 2013 at 11:21
  • I think this is Not Constructive. The purpose of an analogy is to "make things easier to understand". If it does that, it's a good analogy; if it doesn't, it's a bad analogy. There is no meaning to the concept good analogy that makes things harder to understand in any language, not just English. Feb 17, 2013 at 17:39

10 Answers 10


I don't know if there is a single idiom that captures everything you're describing, but I might use a trio of expressions to get the full point across:

That's not a fitting analogy; you're making this harder than it has to be. Boiling water pales in comparison with gamma radiation.

That's not an apt analogy; you're making this overly complex. Driving a car is nothing compared to playing the violin.

Analogies are often described using words like fitting, appropriate, apt, or accurate (here's an Ngram).

Wiktionary defines pale in comparison as “to appear unimportant in relation to something else.”


I would say the person is "muddying the waters" by using the wrong type of analogy. They are making things less clear.

  • It is nice to know In Farsi language we use of your suggested expression to say somebody wants to make the situation ambiguous in purpose to be able abuse of it and wins! I do not know if this "muddying the waters" in English language is on purpose or not! Feb 17, 2013 at 11:29
  • @user37324, I am not aware of any ulterior motives associated with the expression, "muddying the waters", only that the person has made the situation less clear by their actions. Feb 17, 2013 at 12:07

You could use go around (all) the houses

"That analogy goes around all the houses, couldn't you just keep it simple!"

BBC website exampling usage: http://www.bbc.co.uk/learningenglish/thai/features/the-english-we-speak/ep-150421

  • That's a new idiom to me. Can you explain the analogy, how going around a ll the houses evokes a complex metaphor? Or is it from some story?
    – Mitch
    May 24, 2019 at 14:28
  • The idea is, let's say you live in an urban area and you want to get from point A to point B. One could simply walk along a street that begins at point A and ends at point B, thus simply accomplishing the task. Or one could "go around all the houses", which would mean walking a far more convoluted route to still get to point B May 25, 2019 at 14:28
  • OK, that makes sense. But a quick google search shows only literal uses of the phrase. Do you have any examples in the wild of metaphorical uses (that is in text on the web somewhere)? Give a quote with context and a link.
    – Mitch
    May 25, 2019 at 17:40
  • Ok, I added a link to a BBC website that provides its usage May 26, 2019 at 18:26
  • Excellent. It sounds very appropriate then. But I figured it must be British or something since it is not something I as an American recognize. So that the OP (and other reader) don't think it is universal, you should probably mention that you know of it as a BrE speaker (maybe it is used elsewhere too.
    – Mitch
    May 26, 2019 at 19:36

I like many of the suggestions that have been made, and cannot think of a idiom or saying that precisely encompasses the meaning you are asking about. How about needlessly/overly abstruse analogy?


You could use the idiom to miss the mark to describe these analogies. Miss the mark is defined as:

To fail to reach the result that was intended -- This manifesto missed the mark and they failed to enlist people's attention as they had hoped.

Also, what you describe is the definition of complicated or overcomplicated.

Complicate is defined as:

to make something more difficult to do, deal with, or understand

So, you could say something like:

Your analogies are unnecessarily complicated and miss the mark.


You might call it a byzantine analogy. While the word itself doesn't have any particular connotations of inadvertent obfuscation, it would be understood to mean "an overly-complicated analogy".

From wiktionary: Byzantine adj. 1. Overly complex or intricate.


The traditional term for this mistake is obscurum per obscurius, that is '[to explain something relatively] obscure by [something even] more obscure'. That term is, however, not confined to explanations by analogy; it can be applied to (attempted) explanations of any kind.

Even though the term is perfectly apt for what the OP has in mind, its usefulness is limited by the fact that very few people are nowadays exposed to it in their education. For a typical present-day English-speaking audience, labelling something as obscurum per obscurius would itself be an instance of obscurum per obscurius.

  • Would like to add another +1 for spotting the self-reference. Apr 28 at 13:46

Dig a Canal with Spoons

This might be a great analogy! An analogy to convey the meaning when someone deliberately makes a simple task into a more arduous and harder, to satisfy ulterior motives, may be earn more money.

This phrase was used by Milton Friedman when he visited China and saw men digging a huge canal by hand, while the huge earth moving equipment was left unused.

“Oh, I thought you were trying to build a canal. If it's jobs you want, then you should give these workers spoons, not shovels. [Reply to the government bureaucrat of one Asian country who told him that, reason why there were workers with shovels instead of modern tractors and earth movers at a worksite of a new canal, was that: "You don't understand. This is a jobs program."]” ― Milton Friedman



'Next to impossible' is a commonly used phrase, which means things are hard, but not impossible to grasp or learn.


Catalogy! Ok hear me out: The Greek prefix "cata" (meaning down) is the opposite of "ana" (meaning up). Advantages? Firstly it sounds a bit like catastrophe, giving a faux-onamatapeic resonance. But more importantly, the fact that if you used the word catalogy, it would bring any conversation grinding to a halt, as the user tried in vain to explain it's purpose, makes it a gloriously fitting term for the context, no?

  • Hello, thetada, if you still visit. The DVs are doubtless because D-I-Y suggestions (protologisms rather than neologisms) arer expressly off-topic on ELU. Apr 28 at 13:48
  • Fair enough! Thanks for explaining
    – thetada
    May 16 at 9:52

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