Comparisons Are Odious

Meanings of “Comparisons Are Odious”

The proverb/phrase “comparisons are odious” means almost the same thing if not used otherwise. The phrase is commonly used to remind ourselves that we should not compare things, behaviors, or abilities with others, as they are not always the same. There are various things, which contribute to differences in them. Hence, comparisons are terrible.

Origin of “Comparisons Are Odious”

The origin of this proverb/phrase “comparisons are odious” is stated to have occurred in The Debate Between Horse, Goose, and Sheep written by John Lydgate. It is stated to have been published in 1440. The proverb/phrase in the book goes thus; “Odyous of olde been comparisonis, And of comparisonis engendyrd is haterede.” Later, it was used by John Donne, Marlow, and Cervantes in their writings respectively.

Examples in Literature

Example #1

Elegy VIII.  THE COMPARISON by John Donne

Doth not thy fearful hand in feeling quake,
As one which gathering flowers still fears a snake?
Is not your last act harsh and violent,
As when a plough a stony ground doth rent?
So kiss good turtles, so devoutly nice
Are priests in handling reverent sacrifice,
And such in searching wounds the surgeon is,
As we, when we embrace, or touch, or kiss.
Leave her, and I will leave comparing thus,
She and comparisons are odious”

John Done is popular for his odd comparison and conceits. He uses different metaphors and similes such as a snake lurking under the roses, stony ground in the fields, and the kissing of the turtles. However, when he comes to tell about his beloved saying that if there is a comparison, then he is right in saying that she has no comparison. However, when he compares his beloved it becomes an unusual conceit or a metaphor.


The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac

“There’s nothing wrong with you Ray, your only trouble is you never learned to get out to spots like this, you’ve let the world drown you in its horse**t and you’ve been vexed… though as I say comparisons _are_ odious, but what we’re saying now is true.”

In this passage, the narrator is making Ray understand things in a clear perspective, saying that he has not paid attention to himself, the reason that the other people have taken him for granted which the narrator says is true. The phrase has been given with underscores and the meanings are quite clear. The speaker doesn’t want to compare life’s struggles even if they are vexed.

Example #3

Brümmer on Meaning and the Christian Faith: Collected Writings of Vincent By Vincent Brümmer

Comparisons are odious, as the saying goes. And this is quite true, of course, since we all resent being compared to other people. I want my own individuality to be acknowledged since, in my own eyes, I am myself and not like everybody else! Comparisons are odious because they tend to ignore our individuality. Furthermore, this is true of all things and not only of people. Everything is itself and not another thing. By comparing anything to something else, we ignore its individuality and look upon it as an instance of some general characteristic shared by many things. In this way, we forget that every individual thing is not like any other thing.

The author explains that he is a unique individual with his own individuality, while comparisons ruin this individuality. Comparisons may make people lose their original characteristics or nature.

Example #4

On Lying in Bed and Other Essays by Gilbert Keith Chesterton

i am far from books, and I quote from memory, but I think that a Scotsman, vexed at the ritual jeers of Johnson against his country, said: ‘Do you remember that God made Scotland?” Johnson replied promptly; ‘Sir, you are to remember that he made it for Scotsmen.’ Then after a pause, he said in grave meditation; ‘Comparisons are odious’ but God made hell.’ Now the vague popular opinion Johnson would concentrate on long words like ‘comparisons’ and ‘odious,’ and retain the impression that he was pedantic.

Keith Chesterton has commented on the Scottish background of Johnson. The narrator emphasizes that Scotland’s for Scottish people. There should be no comparisons but when he stresses on individual words, it means that he wants to seem a sophisticated person and tries to clarify the meanings of this phrase. Therefore, it is used in a literal sense.

Example in Sentences

Example #1: “You cannot think like Remi, for comparisons are odious and so the comparison between you and him is odious, too.”

Example #2: “Comparisons are odious is a new mantra of this town, he told us all and continued that now it would be used against all and sundry. However, it does not seem true that only he knows and others are unaware of it.”

Example #3: “Comparisons are odious or not, the fact is that we would not let things happen in this way, for comparisons mar the very spirit of the childhood even if they are not proved odious.”

Example #4: “Harry was tired of his grandmother comparing him to his neighbor’s son. He told his grandmother that comparisons are odious and she agreed.”

Example #5: “Lillian often says that comparisons are odious because she doesn’t like underperforming at work.”