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Figures of Speech —
the Metaphor


the MetaphorThe metaphor does not state a likeness; it assumes it. It is an implied comparison between things essentially different. It never uses introductory words. The metaphor is the commonest of all figures. We often refer to all figurative language as metaphorical. Whenever the English language gives a word a new meaning, it becomes, for a time, a metaphor. Metaphors are generally short, consisting of a single word.

From expressions like "it's raining cats and dogs" to "table leg" and "old flame," everyday speech is full of them.

EX.— Her home was a prison.
EX.— The committee shot her ideas down one by one.
EX.— He broke into her conversation.
EX.— It wasn't long before their relationship turned sour.
EX.— The team decided to abandon the project.
EX.— Love is a battlefield.
EX.— The boss was boiling mad.

Good writing practice allows a series of good metaphors, but we must use caution not to use more than one metaphor in a sentence otherwise we begin to sound ridiculous. You also need to be careful to prevent mixing metaphors with literal statements. Do not say, "The strong arm of the law is marching through the land breathing out fire and pestilence." Readers may laugh at you.

Make sure each part of a metaphor relates with every other part. Mixed metaphors, which constitute serious errors of writing, result from confusing metaphors in the same sentence or from joining metaphorical language with literal language.

In selecting metaphors avoid trite and worn-out expressions, hackneyed ones, and grotesque ones. Also avoid overdeveloped metaphors, with useless details. They do not help; they hinder.

It is always possible to convert a metaphor into a simile by making the comparison formal, using like or as; likewise, you can convert a simile into a metaphor by dropping like or as. EX.— "A man's life is like an open book."

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