Revised as of:
2 Feb 2017
“Writers are merely ants scrambling through their jumbled manuscripts of words and paragraphs, struggling to edit, and obeying the commands of their muses.”
Don’t freak out! It is a long and involved exploration of metaphors…who knew there were so many different kinds! HOWEVER, the only thing that’s really important is understanding the idea of the metaphor.
None of your readers are going to be picking through and categorizing them. My greatest reason for the plethora below is to provide a repository of the varieties and the also known ases. For the rest, enjoy the examples and have a good laugh *grin*
One author who is fabulous with metaphors (and will make you laugh along the way) is Terry Pratchett and his Discworld series. For graphic and easy examples, he can’t be beat.
“Nothing but stars, scattered across the blackness as though the Creator had smashed the windscreen of his car and hadn’t bothered to stop to sweep up the pieces.” – Sir Terry Pratchett Pyramids
And be warned, some metaphors and rhetorical devices criss-cross from category to category. That’s English fer ya…
It’s a Hardworking Figure of Speech
The beauty of the metaphor is how much of your work it does for you, a graphic contrast…imagine the difference between poetry and a legal brief. Using very few words, you can paint a vivid description that pulls your readers in, to show your readers, appeal to their senses, give life to dialogue and your characters.
The emotional impact of talking about soldiers in the field is so much more when they are boots on the ground. Which is more interesting: I have too much email or I’m falling behind on my email? It’s raining out or it’s raining cats and dogs? Nice wheels says a lot more about a character than nice car. Just as I was happy as a lark makes a contrast with happy as a pig in mud. *Laughing*, I absolutely adored the complex sentence about the crazed teacher ripping into the exams.
Using appropriate metaphors appeals directly to the senses of listeners or readers, sharpening their imaginations to visualize your words. It gives a life-like quality to our conversations and to the characters of the fiction or poetry. Metaphors are also ways of thinking, offering the listeners and the readers fresh ways of examining ideas and viewing the world.
“A scorpion asks a frog to carry it across a river. The frog hesitates, afraid of being stung, but the scorpion argues that if it did so, they would both drown. Considering this, the frog agrees, but midway across the river the scorpion does indeed sting the frog, dooming them both. When the frog asks the scorpion why, the scorpion replies that it was in its nature to do so.”
“His new boss was a pig.”
“She looked at him like he was a looming boa constrictor about to squeeze her dry.”
“Trying to restore my hard disk using the instructions provided was as if somebody had given me an elastic band and two paper clips and told me to make a working model of the space shuttle.”
Stories Can Be Metaphors
Allegories and parables are extended metaphors that tell a story using symbolic objects, characters, figures or actions to express ideas or truths about human nature, political situations, or historical events to express an idea or teach a lesson. I’ve included puns as they are similar to a metaphor in how it uses words.
Allegories are the story
Metaphors use “is” (conjugations of “to be”)
Similes use “is like”
Grammar Explanations is…
…an evolving list of the structural rules and principles that determines where words are placed in phrases or sentences as well as how the language is spoken. Sometimes I run across an example that helps explain better or another “also known as”. Heck, there’s always a better way to explain it, so if it makes quicker and/or better sense, I would appreciate suggestions and comments from anyone… Are there areas of grammar with which you struggle? If you’d like to track it, bookmark this page and consider sharing this Grammar Explanation with friends by tweeting it.
|Credit to: Burckmyer, 133; Literary Devices; Bagnall; The Classroom;Merriam-Webster: simile and catachresis; Carson-Newman University: Nordquist: dead metaphor and mixed metaphor; Richard A. Nordquist: “13 Ways of Looking at a Metaphor“|
|Part of Speech: Literary Device; Figure of Speech; Rhetorical Device|
|Definition: All metaphors are used in a specific instance to draw attention to similarities and parallels between different things.
It typically uses is a to join subjects.
Be aware that, if the metaphor becomes overused, it turns into a cliché.
|Anatomy of a Metaphor|
|Tenor: thing being talked about, a.k.a., target domain, topic
Vehicle: that which is being compared, a.k.a., source domain
Ground: the link between tenor and vehicle, i.e., common properties (Ullmann). This is not any set of words, but a concept
Tension: the dissimilarities between the tenor and the vehicle
The guy was a real firecracker, determined to live life on his own terms.”
Life is a walking shadow.
The ground that links these two is the concept of transience.
The bow bent remembers home long,
the years of its tree, the whine
of wind all night conditioning
it, and its answer — Twang!
“To the people here who would fret me down
Life is a yo-yo. It’s a series of ups and downs.
That both life and a yo-yo have ups and downs is the ground.
|Definition: Uses a word or phrase to describe a person, place, thing, or action that creates an indirect comparison between two disparate things to represent an idea.|
|Caution: Don’t Mix Metaphors|
|Rule: Do not blatantly mix metaphors unless you’re trying to create an inane scenario or make your character look really stupid. It can be handy if you do a subtle job of it, but you should explore mixed metaphors, catachresis, and abusio for a better way.|
|She’s a witch who flocks to lasso every new kid on the block.
So, she’s a witch, a sheep, and a cowgirl.
Better: She’s a witch who puts a spell on every new kid on the block.
|Absolute Metaphor||Definition: There is absolutely no connection between tenor and vehicle. A state which can confuse and make people work hard to understand what it means.|
|Other ways to identify an absolute metaphor:
A.k.a., antimetaphor, paralogical metaphor
|Active Metaphor||Definition: A new metaphor which is not yet part of everyday linguistic usage. It can be a metaphor just written, but the audience knows that a metaphor has been used.
A.k.a., live metaphor
|Complex Metaphor||Definition: The literal meaning is expressed through several layers in a combination of primary metaphors.|
|Compound Metaphor||Definition: Uses a number of metaphors and sometimes more than one association.
A.k.a., loose metaphor
|Conceptual Metaphor||Definition: Creates a novel thought or universal concept that is understood in terms of another (Fez-Barringten, 120).|
|The Literary Link has a slew of examples you may want to explore.
|Conventional Metaphor||Definition: A commonly used comparison that doesn’t call attention to itself as a figure of speech.|
|Time is running out.
It’s time to get on with your life.
What can I say? I’m an early bird.
He is such a night owl.
I can never catch up on my email.
It’s raining cats and dogs.
|Creative Metaphor||Definition: An original comparison that does call attention to itself as a figure of speech.|
|He was eager to help but his legs were rubber.” – Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye
“Scratching at the window with claws of pine, the wind wants in.” – Imogene Bolls, “Coyote Wind” (Purdue OWL)
“Little boys lie still, awake wondering, wondering delicate little boxes of dust.” – James Wright, “The Undermining of the Defense Economy” (Purdue OWL)
“The clouds were low and hairy in the skies, like locks blown forward in the gleam of eyes.” – Robert Frost, “Once by the Pacific” (Purdue OWL)
|Dead Metaphor||Definition: A metaphor which has lost the original imagery of its meaning due to extensive, repetitive, and popular usage and normally goes unnoticed.|
|Some people distinguish between a dead metaphor and a cliché while others use dead metaphor to denote both (Nordquist).
A.k.a., frozen metaphor, historical metaphor
|arms of the chair
body of the lamp
foot of the bed
face of the mountain
grasp a concept
tying up loose ends
a submarine sandwich
a branch of government
gather what you’ve understood
Money has died as a metaphor because no one remembers it was so-named because it was first minted at the temple of Juno Moneta (Shipley, 197).
|Dormant Metaphor||Definition: Contact with the initial idea it denoted has been lost.
When the metaphor’s meaning becomes unclear.
|Dying Metaphor||Definition: Unfashionably clichéd metaphors.
A.k.a., dying metaphor, mummy metaphor, rising-from-the-dead metaphor
|needle in a haystack
a different ball game
time is money
|Extended Metaphor||Definition: A comparison between two unlike things that continues throughout a series of sentences in a paragraph, a long passage, or an entire poem.
A.k.a., telescoping metaphor, sustained metaphor, conceit
|Allegory||Definition: An extended metaphor or symbol that uses symbolic objects, characters, figures or actions to express ideas or truths about human nature, political situations, or historical events using a narrative in its entirety to express an idea or teach a lesson — the symbolism will permeate the story.
Allegory is also a genre.
In Western culture, allegories have often been used for instructive purposes around Christian themes.
|The stories in Aesop’s Fables are narratives with an underlying message:
“The Scorpion and the Frog”
“All the world’s a stage,And all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts,” – the monologue from Shakespeare’s As You Like It
|Bibliomancy||Definition: Bases a plot event on religious texts and may use religious images or stories or even verses to tell a story.
The author may randomly select a bible passage as the base of the story.
|While Christians look to the Bible and Hindus use The Vedas while Muslims rely on the Koran.
A perfect example of this device is found in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Uncle John places a dead baby in a box and floats it down stream. This is reminiscent of the story of Moses whose mother places him in a basket and floats him down the Nile river. Another example is in the film “Braveheart” where William Wallace is “sacrificed” for the people of Scotland with his arms and legs in a crucifix position.
|Analogy||Definition: An extended metaphor that compares an idea or a thing to another thing that is quite different from it by using metaphors, similes, and other figures of speech as mechanisms for making those comparisons. The key is to compare in a way that gets the reader thinking about what things both things may have in common.|
|It often demonstrates how two things are alike by pointing out shared characteristics, with the goal of showing that if two things are similar in some ways, they are similar in other ways as well.
It’s useful when trying to explain something complex and use something familiar as an example, and it often uses metaphors and/or similes to do it.
|The structure of an atom is like a solar system. It’s nucleus is the sun and the electrons are the planets revolving around their sun.
“Like” compares the atomic structure to a solar system = simile.
Not using “like” or “as” to compare that atomic structure in more detail = metaphor. And using simile and metaphor together makes an analogy.
Life is like a race. The one who keeps running wins the race and the one who stops to catch a breath loses.
Just as a sword is the weapon of a warrior, a pen is the weapon of a writer.
How a doctor diagnoses diseases is like how a detective investigates crimes.
Just as a caterpillar comes out of its cocoon, so we must come out of our comfort zone.
You are as annoying as nails on a chalkboard.
Life is like the hundred-yard dash.
Birth is but the starting gun on life.
God is the judge.
Humans and ants each build elaborate cities and structures, demonstrate hierarchical social behaviors, and utilize other creatures for labor.
It compares the two species to show similarities, but does not say that ants and humans are the same.
Examples courtesy of Literary Devices.
|Conceit||Definition: An extended metaphor using unusual and unlikely, sometimes shocking or farfetched, comparisons to link two vastly different objects, with the help of similes or metaphors that aids the reader into a more sophisticated understanding of an object of comparison, in seeing in a new way.|
May Use Other Literary Devices including:
It may use a complex logic that governs a poetic passage or entire poem.
You may want to read David Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary.
|“Oh stay! three lives in one flea spare
Where we almost, yea more than married are.
This flea is you and I, and this
Our marriage-bed and marriage-temple is” – John Donne, “The Flea”
Donne is telling his lover that “she has no reason to deny him sexually as the flea has sucked blood from both of them and their blood has mingled in its gut, so the flea has become their ‘wedding bed’, though they are not married yet” (Literary Devices)..
“Thou counterfeit’st a bark, a sea, a wind;
For still thy eyes, which I may call the sea,
Do ebb and flow with tears; the bark thy body is,
Sailing in this salt flood; the winds, thy sighs;
Who, raging with thy tears, and they with them,
Without a sudden calm, will overset
Thy tempest-tossed body.” – Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act 3, Scene 5
Shakespeare “compares Juliet to a boat in a storm, using conceit in which he compares her eyes to a sea, her tears to a storm, her sighs to the stormy winds and her body to a boat in a storm” (Literary Devices).
|Parable||Definition: An extended metaphor narrated as an anecdote using symbolism, similes, and metaphors to illustrate and teach morality. The most familiar usage is the stories from the Bible.|
|“The Good Samaritan”, Luke 10:25-37
“The Emperor’s New Clothes”
“Parable of the Lost Sheep”, Luke 15:3-7
“Parable of the Talents”, Matthew 25:14-30
“Parable of the Lost Son”, Luke 15:11-32
Examples are from Your Dictionary.com.
|Proverb||Definition: A popular phrase expressing a basic truth which may be applied to common situations or experiences.|
|Be aware that, if the phrase has become overused, it turns into a cliché.
Some authors who have created, used, or twisted proverbs include J.R.R. Tolkein, Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar series, C. S. Lewis’s The Horse and His Boy, François Rabelais’ Gargantua, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, J.D. Robb’s In Death series, Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey–Maturin series, and on and on and on, lol…
A.k.a., paremia, parimia, adagium, adage, paroemia, saying, adage, saw, maxim, axiom, motto, bon mot, aphorism, apophthegm, epigram, gnome, dictum, precept
|when the going gets tough, the tough get going
the blind leading the blind
a bird in the bush is worth two in the hand
a stitch in time
when in Rome
the pen is mightier than the sword
two wrongs don’t make a right
the squeaky wheel gets the grease
returning like a dog to his vomit
Examples are from Brigham Young University.
PhraseMix has a list (and explanation) of the 50 most common proverbs.
Phrases has a much more extensive list…some 650 of ’em!
|Implicit Metaphor||Definition: An incomplete description in which the tenor is not specified but implied.|
|Mixed Metaphors||Definition: One that leaps from one identification to a second identification inconsistent with the first.
|I smell a rat.
We’ll have to nip that one in the bud.
“If we hit that bullseye, the rest of the dominoes should fall like a house of cards. Checkmate. – Captain Zapp Brannigan, Futurama.
“I conclude that the city’s proposal to skim the frosting, pocket the cake, and avoid paying the fair, reasonable, and affordable value of the meal is a hound that will not hunt.” – a labor arbitrator, quoted by the Boston Globe, May 8, 2010
To my mind’s eye,
|Catachresis||Definition: A completely impossible figure of speech.|
|It is closely related to hyperbole and sometimes synaesthesia.
A mixed metaphor that is a concentration of meaning by purposely (sometimes through error) compressing, energizing, and intensifying a statement, or most likely, a line of poetry to create a rhetorical effect between two ideas or objects.
It may mix the extremes of such figures of speech as anthimeria, hyperbole, synæsthesia, and metonymy to create this exaggerated comparison. It is usually paradoxical, frequently expressing extreme alienation or heightened emotions by stacking one impossibility on top of another.
The tears falling from her eyes were so sad they too began to cry with her.
Joe will have kittens when he hears this!
|Abusio||Definition: A more comical and absurd form of catachresis that combines two metaphors to collide into a mixed metaphor.
When used intentionally for a subtle effect, abusio and catachresis can be powerful tools for originality. See the caution about metaphors.
|Pataphor||Definition: An extreme metaphor that expresses a statement by using extensions of a simple metaphor and creating its own context.
John Findlay has a great post, “Playing with Pataphors“, that has made the most sense to me.
|Primary Metaphor||Definition: A basic, intuitively understood metaphor that may be combined with other primary metaphors to produce complex metaphors.|
|Root Metaphor||Definition: An image, narrative, or fact that shapes an individual’s perception of the world and interpretation of reality. They can be tricky and not be obvious.|
|One’s religious conditioning will affect how each views birth, marriage, death and other universal life experiences.
A.k.a., basic metaphor, master metaphor, myth
|Simile||Definition: A type of metaphor in which the writer makes a direct comparison between two unlike things, usually with the words as, like, resembles or than.
Be aware that, if the simile has become overused, it turns into a cliché.
|Rule: Whether a word is a simile or a metaphor depends on if you use as or like.|
|Rule: Use known events or things that help your reader visualize a vivid description using fewer words.|
|Her cheeks were as red as cherries…
She glides through life like a swan.
He runs like a race horse.
“That was the way all the Aubignys fell in love, as if struck by a pistol shot.”
“He walked Seabiscuit through the masses of shouting fans to the winner’s circle. The horse was strutting like a prizefighter.” – Laura Hillenbrand, Seabiscuit
|Simple Metaphor||Definition: Usually two or three words at most with but one meaning, one point of resemblance between the tenor and the vehicle.
A.k.a., tight metaphor
You’re such a dinosaur!
|Submerged Metaphor||Definition: A part used as a metaphor for something else; one or the other, the tenor or the vehicle, is implied rather than stated explicitly.
A.k.a., implicit metaphor
|Synecdoche||Definition: A part used as a metaphor for the whole of something or a part for the whole. It may also function as a metonymic.
A.k.a., simultaneous understanding
|Merism||Definition: A rhetorical term for a pair of contrasting words or phrases used to express totality or completeness, that the parts of a subject are used to describe the whole.
A.k.a., universalizing doublet, merismu
May Use Other Literary Devices including:
|…for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health.
near and far
body and soul
life and death
Examples courtesy of About: Merism.
|Therapeutic Metaphor||Definition: Used by a therapist to assist a client in the process of personal transformation with a story or illustration to see alternative ways of looking at something.…Every culture and religion uses these types of stories, analogies, and parables to improve understanding, make a point more memorable, and help us make positive changes (Get Self Help.com).|
| All examples are also from Get Self Help.com with a great many more on their site.
|Visual Metaphor||Definition: The representation of a person, place, thing, or idea by way of a visual image that suggests a particular association or point of similarity.
A.k.a., pictorial metaphor, analogical juxtaposition