Figurative Language Breakdown

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Figurative Language Breakdown

By | September 2013
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Figurative language

Figurative language is a departure from what speakers of a particular language would take to be the standard - or "literal" - meaning of words, in order to achieve some special meaning or effect. "Figurative language" is a general term for a group of linguistic devices usually called "figures of speech." We know that a word or phrase or statement is figurative when it cannot be taken literally.

In this course, we will concentrate on the following figures of speech: metaphor and simile, metonymy and synecdoche, apostrophe (as well as other forms of address), and personification. [We might pay some attention to symbol and allegory later in the course. But for now, please don’t be tempted to say or write “x symbolizes y.” Usually what you’re dealing with is a metaphor, not a symbol, in which case it’s better to say something like “x represents y” or “the speaker metaphorically compares x to y.”]

Metaphor and Simile are both forms of figurative comparison – in which one thing (or action or feeling) is figured or pictured or described as if it were something else. Logically, metaphor and simile are examples of the same figure, for they both express a figurative comparison.

The distinction between metaphor and simile:

A metaphor expresses an implicit comparison, whereas a simile is explicit, because it uses the words "like" or "as" to announce and call attention to the fact that a comparison is being made.

To compare figuratively is to draw an analogy between one thing and another. There’s an element of logical argument to be analyzed when you’re analyzing a metaphor. What are the grounds of the comparison? (What precise part of the second term is being brought to bear on the first?)

Tenor and Vehicle

The two terms of a metaphorical comparison are often called the “tenor” and the “vehicle.” (A critic named I. A. Richards introduced these terms in the early twentieth century, and they are still widely used...
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