The figurative language of Kathryn Schulz…

Reading time: Less than 2 minutes

I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about a series of metaphors and similes from Kathryn Schulz…

As a longtime fan of the New Yorker, I keep an eye out for writers I like. Then, when my weekly copy of the magazine arrives, I can flip to the table of contents page and see which articles I want to read first. Kathryn Schulz (pictured above) is now on that list of preferred writers.

She joined the magazine as a staff writer in 2015 and won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing for her New Yorker article on a potential large earthquake in the Pacific Northwest.

I recently raced through an entire New Yorker article she wrote on, of all things, the brown marmorated stinkbug. It was captivating, filled with fascinating detail and, surprisingly, humourous. She also displayed superb skill with figurative language. Here are my favourite examples:

  • [The stinkbug’s] six legs prop its shield-shaped body up in the air, as if they were pallbearers at the funeral of a Knight Templar.
  • Its antennae are striped with bands of dark and light, while its eyes, should you get close enough to gaze into them, are the vivid red of an alarm clock at night.
  • The “marmorated” in its name means “marbled,” but “mottled” is closer to the truth. Entomologists, who have a color palette as elaborate as Benjamin Moore’s, describe the underside of its body as “distinctly pale luteous”…
  • Slightly less noxious but vastly more pervasive, the smell of the brown marmorated stinkbug is often likened to that of cilantro, chiefly because the same chemical is present in both. In reality, stinkbugs smell like cilantro only in the way that rancid cilantro-mutton stew smells like cilantro, which is to say, they do not.
  • Along with cheap yoga pants, mass layoffs, and the recent surge in nationalism, the brown marmorated stinkbug is a product of globalization.
  • Like a dance party that technically starts at nine but doesn’t really get going until one in the morning, there’s a long lag between when stinkbugs show up in a new place and when their population booms.
  • The injury they do to corn, for instance, is invisible until the ear is husked, at which point certain kernels—the ones into which a stinkbug stuck its pointy mouth—will reveal themselves to be sunken and brown, like the teeth of a witch. 
  • A class of pesticides known as pyrethroids, which are used to control native stinkbugs, initially appeared to work just as well on the brown marmorated kind—until a day or two later, when more than a third of the ostensibly dead bugs rose up, Lazarus-like, and calmly resumed the business of demolition.
  • It is why Pam Stone found so many behind her paintings, and why Doug Inkley, the biologist who counted upward of twenty-six thousand stinkbugs in his home, could pull them out of his attic by the handful, like popcorn.
  • Worse, they will die with the sublime stoicism of a soldier who knows that ten thousand of his compatriots are lined up behind him, ready to take his place.

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on March 22/18.

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