The definition of a metaphor is "a figure of speech containing an implied comparison, in which a word or phrase ordinarily and primarily used of one thing is applied to another. For example, "the curtain of night" or "all the world's a stage."
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Metaphor: Situation vs. the Real Thing
You may have often heard expressions such as:
- He drowned in a sea of grief.
- She is fishing in troubled waters.
- Success is a bastard as it has many fathers, and failure is an orphan, with no takers.
All these expressions have one thing in common: a situation is compared to a real thing, although the situation is not actually that particular thing.
- Sea of grief - How and where does one come across a sea that is filled not with water, but with grief?
- Fishing - It is not used to mean that the person is actually fishing; it is an expression which is used to signify that the person is looking for something that is difficult to obtain.
- Success is a sense of achievement, it is not an illegitimate child! - The saying is used to reinforce the age-old belief that everyone wants to take credit for something that became a success, either by fluke or by conscious effort. On the other hand, no matter how much effort or creativity may have gone into an enterprise, the moment it is considered a failure, no one wants to take responsibility for it, much like an abandoned infant.
- Broken heart - Your heart is not literally broken into pieces; you just feel hurt and sad.
- The light of my life - The person described by this metaphor isn't really providing physical light. He or she is just someone who brings happiness or joy.
- It's raining men - Men do not literally pour from the sky; there are simply an abundance of male suitors around at the time.
- Time is a thief - Time isn't really stealing anything, this metaphor just indicates that time passes quickly and our lives pass us by.
- He is the apple of my eye - There is, of course, no real apple in a person's eye. The "apple" is someone beloved and held dear.
- Bubbly personality - A bubbly personality doesn't mean a person is bubbling over with anything, just that the person is cheerful.
- Feel blue - No one actually ever feels like the color blue, although many people say they are "feeling blue" to mean they are feeling sad.
- Fade off to sleep - You don't actually fade, you simply go to sleep.
- Inflamed your temper - The news inflamed your temper is not a situation where there is any actual fire or flames, it is just a situation where someone gets mad.
- Reeks of infidelty - When said about a cheating partner, this doesn't actually mean that there is a literal smell. Instead, it is just apparent that the person is cheating.
- Rollercoaster of emotions - A rollercoaster of emotions doesn't exist anywhere, so when people are on a rollercoaster of emotions, they are simply experiencing lots of ups and downs.
- Stench of failure - The stench of failure is strong, according to the common metaphor, but of course failing doesn't really smell.
All of these expressions are examples of metaphors. They are juxtaposing an actual (literal) thing and a figurative thing in order to give more meaning to the figurative concept.
For metaphors that kids might enjoy, check out Metaphor Examples for Kids.
Purpose of Metaphors
Expressions are used to give effect to a statement. Imagine how bland a statement such as “he was sad” is, compared to a statement describing a “sea of grief.” The metaphor is sure to give the reader a better idea of the depths of grief in this situation.
Similarly, who would really spend time thinking of the vast differences between success and failure if the metaphor was missing, and the statement was just “Everyone wants to be successful, no one wants to be a failure?” That statement would be a failure itself, in inspiring interest in the conversation!
Metaphors are meant to create an impact in the minds of readers. The aim of this literary tool is to convey a thought more forcefully than a plain statement would.
They are exaggerated expressions no doubt, but they are exaggerated because they are supposed to paint a vivid picture, or become a profound statement or saying.
Do you have a good example to share? Add your example here.comments powered by
By YourDictionaryThe definition of a metaphor is "a figure of speech containing an implied comparison, in which a word or phrase ordinarily and primarily used of one thing is applied to another. For example, "the curtain of night" or "all the world's a stage." View & Download PDF
Metaphor, figure of speech that implies comparison between two unlike entities, as distinguished from simile, an explicit comparison signalled by the words like or as.
The distinction is not simple. A metaphor makes a qualitative leap from a reasonable, perhaps prosaic, comparison to an identification or fusion of two objects, the intention being to create one new entity that partakes of the characteristics of both. Many critics regard the making of metaphors as a system of thought antedating or bypassing logic.
Metaphor is the fundamental language of poetry, although it is common on all levels and in all kinds of language. Many words were originally vivid images, although they exist now as dead metaphors whose original aptness has been lost—for example, daisy, which is derived from the Middle English dayeseye, or “day’s eye.” Other words, such as nightfall, are dormant images. In addition to single words, everyday language abounds in phrases and expressions that once were metaphors. “Time flies,” for example, is often traced to the Latin phrase “tempus fugit,” as condensed from “sed fugit interea, fugit inreparabile tempus” in Virgil’s Georgics. Nearly two millennia later, Edward FitzGerald, in his 19th-century rendering of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, constructed a new metaphor on the foundations of this older, stock metaphor:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To flutter—and the Bird is on the Wing
When Tennessee Williams entitled his play Sweet Bird of Youth, he too was referring to that Bird of Time that flies. Thus, metaphorical language develops continuously in complexity just as ordinary language does.
In poetry a metaphor may perform varied functions from the mere noting of a likeness to the evocation of a swarm of associations; it may exist as a minor beauty or it may be the central concept and controlling image of the poem. For example, an iron horse—a metaphor for a train—becomes the elaborate central concept of one of Emily Dickinson’s poems, the first stanza of which is
I like to see it lap the Miles –
And lick the Valleys up –
And stop to feed itself at Tanks –
And then – prodigious step
The poem does not use the term iron horse, but Dickinson builds that metaphor throughout the poem, which concludes with the train, which “neigh[s] like Boanerges,” stopping “at its own stable door.”
A mixed metaphor is the linking of two or more disparate elements, which can result in an unintentionally comic effect produced by the writer’s insensitivity to the literal meaning of words or by the falseness of the comparison. A mixed metaphor may also be used with great effectiveness, as in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet when Hamlet considers the question of
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them.
A strictly literal completion of the metaphor would demand the use of a word such as host instead of sea. But the power of a mixed metaphor—like all metaphors—is its ability to delight and surprise readers and to challenge them to move beyond notions of “correct” or “incorrect” metaphors.