From the given sentence:

a siren calling attention to a fog without doing anything to dispel it!

What I understand is that, there is someone who discusses complex things, but does nothing to simplify them.

I am not sure if I understand it correctly.

Any help is appreciated.

  • I think it's a strange expression, because it's not reasonable to think that fog could be (or should be) dispelled. – nnnnnn Jul 21 '20 at 7:07
  • Does this answer your question? Another idiom that has the same meaning as "mere ink on paper" or "words without actions" 'Hot air' would perhaps mix metaphors. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 21 '20 at 13:57
  • One (but not the default) sense of 'academicism' is a synonym. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 21 '20 at 14:10
  • foghorns cannot dispel fog. Gees. – Lambie Jul 21 '20 at 16:03
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    Please note: You haven't given a sentence. There is no active verb. We need the whole sentence to make sense of this. At the moment we can guess that this is a metaphor or simile but we have no context to give it full meaning. – chasly - supports Monica Jul 21 '20 at 16:53

Your understanding corresponds to what is usually meant by this simile. A confirmation can be found here.

  • To paraphrase : 'scholars identify and talk about difficult things but don't explain them'. A siren warns ships of fog but does not make it go away.


Here are further points of interest concerning this simile; motivated by questions raised in the comments, I'm adding them to the answer. What is being asked is not an explanation of the logic in this comparison but what it means. That being said, this phrase is acknowledged as a definition of a scholar by John Nash Douglas Bush (1896–1983), a literary critic and literary historian from the past century (definition of a scholar, Wikipedia).
This definition, although of recent origin, is considered by some people as old (pejoratively so) and waggish, not serious, as it is a critique of scholarship (opinion).

On the question of this definition by simile being aptly made or not, let's say that it seems correct to consider it as wanting in the way of having minimal qualities of identification. As has been said in the comments the foghorns are made to warn of dangers in the fog, embarcations or rocks hidden by the fog, that is. It is only necessary to determine a course for the boat that makes for decreasing sound intensity to ward off the risk. So what the siren does is to call attention to a danger not saying how to keep safe from that danger. To explain the danger is irrelevant, to make it disappear (dispel it) is irrelevant too. As far as the parallel scholar's activity goes "to call attention" to a subject could in the extreme be assimilated to "describing a subject"; the subject is then a fog, which won't do: the idea of dispelling the subject has no consitency. If, instead, the opaquenes of the subject is assimilated to a fog, wrapping it up, then "dispelling the opaqueness" is acceptable, but calling attention to the opaqueness, in other words "describing the opaqueness" does not correspond well. What is important is the meaning of "scholars identify and talk about difficult things but don't explain them", the paraphrase; the attempt at a perfect correspondence in the explanation, such as "A siren warns ships of fog but does not make it go away." is bound to fail and is of not much consequence. The meaning in the paraphrase is expressed in a slightly different form that seems little known: "Science describes everything and explains nothing.". This conveys rather faithfully what Douglass Bush intended to say by means of his comparison.

  • It is, I think, broader than an absence of explanation; it could refer to any alert that is without a solution or response. – Xanne Jul 21 '20 at 6:57
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    Does a siren really warn ships of fog? Can't they see the fog for themselves? I thought the purpose of a foghorn was to warn of hazards that may not be visible because of fog; the fog itself is obvious. – nnnnnn Jul 21 '20 at 7:07
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    @nnnnnn Very true, a lighthouse doesn't warn of darkness either. – BoldBen Jul 21 '20 at 12:58
  • A metaphorical characterisation of something can hardly be called its definition. – jsw29 Jul 21 '20 at 19:04
  • @jsw29 I agree with you entirely as far as a defintion in the plain sense of the word should be in keeping with the strict evidence that can be elicited from what is being defined. It is to be noted that in the reference I quote, this definition is not left unqualified but is termed a good-humoured definition. Nevertheless, I do believe that metaphors have to a certain extent defining properties. – LPH Jul 21 '20 at 19:18

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