This morning I happened to come across the old chestnut
Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.
I was surprised (well, no I suppose wasn’t surprised really) to find that this sentence has its own Wikipedia entry listing no fewer than 11 possible interpretations:
- (as an imperative) measure the speed of flying insects like you would measure that of an arrow - i.e. (You should) time flies as you would (time) an arrow
- (imperative) measure the speed of flying insects like an arrow would - i.e. (You should) time flies by the same method that an arrow would (time them)
- (imperative) very quickly measure the speed of flying insects - i.e. (You should) time flies as quickly as an arrow would (be or move)
- (imperative) measure the speed of flying insects that are like arrows - i.e. (You should) time (those) flies (that are) like an arrow
- (declarative, i.e. neutrally stating a proposition) all of a type of flying insect, “time-flies,” collectively enjoy a single arrow (compare Fruit flies like a banana)
- (declarative) each of a type of flying insect, “time-flies,” individually enjoys a different arrow (similar comparison applies)
- (declarative) each of a type of flying insect, “time-flies,” individually enjoys an occasional arrow when there is an opportunity (compare: “He prefers beer, but I like a martini”)
- (declarative) the common metaphor “time,” moves in a way an arrow would (which, depending on the context of the phrase may mean “moves in a straight line”, “moves by parabola”, “its move depends on the wind”, etc.)
- (declarative) a copy of the magazine Time, when thrown, moves in a similar manner to that of an arrow.
- (declarative) time flees (attempts to escape) in the same way that an arrow does.
- (declarative) The company responsible for publishing Time Magazine (via synecdoche) is fleeing like an arrow would.