The metaphor definition in the Oxford Dictionary is “a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.” Used clearly, metaphors can add depth and clarity to your writing. For example, Shakespeare’s famous metaphor, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players,” clearly compares the world to a stage and the people on it as actors. Nevertheless, this assertion is meant to be taken figuratively, not literally, to highlight the similarities between the world and the stage.
Types of Metaphors
As a figure of speech, the category of metaphors includes the following types:
- Allegory: a person, place or event used to signify an important attribute of the subject. For example, the allegorical novel “Animal Farm,” compares the life of animals on a farm to events surrounding the Russian Revolution of 1917.
- Antithesis: Parallel uses of words, clauses or sentences used to contrast ideas rhetorically. When Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the moon, he famously proclaimed (in the form of an antithesis): “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
- Catachresis: Also known as a mixed metaphor, this type can occur either by design or in error; for example, Barack Obama’s defense of himself against accusations of naivete, “that somehow, you know, I’m green behind the ears.”, may combine “wet behind the ears,” with “greenhorn.” Whether he said it by design or in error is a subject that is open to debate.
- Hyperbole: Excessive exaggeration. For example, “This is the worst day of my life,” is often stated in a moment of pique.
- Metonymy: Referring to a thing or idea using another, closely associated thing or idea; for example, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” In this instance, “pen” alludes to the written word.
- Parable: An anecdote to illustrate a moral or spiritual teaching. For example, ”The Parable of the Faithful Servant” teaches that followers of Christ should always be ready for his second coming.
- Pun: Frivolous allusion exploiting the different meanings of one word or the idea that two or more words sound alike but have different meanings; for example, “The show was a blast!” or “Why are fish so smart? Because they live in schools.”
Each of these types of metaphor refers to a word or phrase or idea by mentioning another word or phrase or idea to highlight some fundamental meaning.
The following examples list metaphors that are in common use. How many do you recognize?
- House of cards
- High and dry
- Birds of a feather flock together
- Shot across the bow
- Life is but a dream
- Light of my life
- Shake a leg
- Simmer down
- Smoking gun
- Love is a fine wine
Metaphors are one of the most popular forms of figurative language. They add a richness to plain language that increases interest in the reader and adds insight into the work of the writer or the speaker.