This afternoon, my manager bought some umbrellas for our office, saying: 'These umbrellas are boomerangs'. I was puzzled as I only knew this word as a weapon originated in Australia, or in the noun phrase 'boomerang effect', or likewise in the verb phrase 'to boomerang against'. So, my manager explained that he meant that we should always return those umbrellas to the office after using them. Have you, as a native speaker, ever heard of this usage?

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    Smile at your boss to let him think that you think he's clever. A boomerang by design returns to the thrower when it fails to hit something. If umbrellas were like boomerangs, they would automatically return to the umbrella stand when someone took one but it didn't rain.
    – deadrat
    Mar 14 '17 at 3:26
  • @deadrat So you haven't heard such expression of his before?
    – Danny
    Mar 14 '17 at 3:36
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    I have heard this before (not with umbrellas, but other communal objects). To an Australian this meaning is pretty obvious and I personally would have understood what was meant straight away. The bit that I don't understand is why your manager thought this was an appropriate or effective phrase to use in another country. It doesn't really work in your context, I don't think. Mar 14 '17 at 3:42
  • @Danny As applied to umbrellas? No. As applied to something that returns to you upon your launching it, sure. And it's not hard to understand what the manager meant. It's just inapt enough to be a ridiculous analogy. You have to consciously remember to bring back a borrowed umbrella, whether it rains or not.
    – deadrat
    Mar 14 '17 at 4:01
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    @Danny I would say so. I wouldn't describe it as being a common idiom though, but it is fairly easily understood in an Australasian context. Mar 14 '17 at 5:20

It's not a common usage, but one of the marvellous things about language is that it is extensible and flexible. This kind of creative use of language is frequently found in poetry. If poets didn't do this, we would find their use of metaphor tired and hackneyed.

When Robert Burns wrote "My love is like a red red rose", he didn't mean it as an analogy. Love isn't red, scented, with thorny stems. He meant it as a metaphor: that the effect of love on him was similar to the effect of looking at a beautiful rose (or something like that).

Saying that the office umbrellas are boomerangs is a poor analogy, but it's OK as a metaphor - we know what he means.

Analogies should have several features that can be mapped from the analogy to the thing being described (e.g. an explanation of an atom containing a nucleus with electrons orbiting round it as being a bit like planets orbiting around the sun - though actually this isn't really how electrons behave).

A metaphor can have only a vague resemblance to the thing being described.

As to whether a boomerang is a good metaphor for an umbrella that must be returned to the office: it may not be great poetry, but it's at least memorable.

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