They are not just an adornment. In some respects, they are the bedrock of communication. Figures of Speech are a set of tools essential for all writers.
Conveying a complex idea can be virtually impossible without an IMAGE or analogy. Indeed, this process is probably central to thought itself. Even the simple letters 'a' and 'b' began as symbols for an 'ox' and 'house' respectively. The Greeks took ('borrowed') these symbols from the Phoenicians. 
FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE: A word/phrase is said to be used figuratively when it is intended to convey, not its literal (ME/OF = letter of alphabet) meaning, but a secondary or derived meaning which is understood by the listener / reader.
Thus, the adjective SWEET applies literally to TASTE.
But we also speak of SWEET MUSIC, SWEET WORDS, SWEET-HEART etc. These (metaphors) are all Figures of Speech. Use them wisely and enjoy the process.

Everyday language is riddled with METAPHOR - so deeply embedded that they are often overlooked. For example, the verbs 'to consider' and 'to contemplate'.
CONSIDER is related to SIDEREAL - examining the fixed stars or stellar constellations.
CONTEMPLATE is related to TEMPLE (Latin templum) - open or consecrated place, a place for observation.
Both these Latin-rooted verbs originally referred to the meditation and observation of the Heavens by Roman soothsayers. Therefore, every time you use / utter these 'everyday' words, you are evoking the ancient gods of pagan times.

FIGURES of SPEECH serve two roles:

Who has ornaments around their house? What would your home be like without them? It is the same with your writing. You have the power to ornament it - or not. Figures give beauty and variety to what we wish to say and lift it from a commonplace / monotonous level. Without Figures of Speech our writing would be plodding and boring.

A complex subject can best be conveyed by an analogy.

A Figure of Speech usually contains both the above functions - they are at once ARTISTIC and EXPLANATORY. As a writer, it is important for you to be aware of the power and degrees of choice you have when using figures of speech in English (Dict: FIGURE - Latin: fashion).

When looking at siblings, parents do not just comment upon how alike their children are. What other factors are considered (differences)? So it is the same with the family of Figures of Speech. We will look not only at SIMILARITIES, but also at CONTRASTS, ASSOCIATION and ARRANGEMENT. Of all Figures of Speech the most used are SIMILIE and METAPHOR.

The four major Figures of Speech are:

Simile / Metaphor / Allegory / Fable / Parable / Personification

Antithesis / Oxymoron / Epigram / Irony / Sarcasm / Innuendo / Hyperbole / Litotes / Euphemism / Pun

Metonymy / Synecdoche

Interrogation / Apostrophe / Repetition / Pleonasm / Bathos [Anticlimax] / Climax


An effective way of communicating a complex abstract idea / notion is to emphasize how it resembles something else - preferably something which is familiar and concrete. In everyday life, we often use SIMILARITY to get our point across. (Dict: Latin similis = like).
Simile is an EXPLICIT / OPEN / OVERT COMPARISON. It brings out the 'likeness' between two things. Similes are clearly indicated by the words
LIKE or AS (as if, as though). Examples:

L I K E :
My love is LIKE a red, red rose.
Your teeth are LIKE stars (they come out at night!)
He is LIKE a mad dog.
She was shaking LIKE a leaf.
The Assyrians came down LIKE a wolf on the fold.
A face LIKE a frightened sheep

A S :
AS brave AS a lion.
I wandered lonely AS a cloud.
When SHAKESPEARE wanted to convey the abstract 'quality of mercy', he used a simile:
The quality of mercy is not strained, / It droppeth AS the gentle rain from Heaven upon the earth beneath.

SIMILIES are usually drawn from HISTORY, LEGEND, or NATURE.

In some ways it is a CONDENSED SIMILIE. The words 'like' and 'as' are not especially used.
Instead of making the comparison side-by-side (like against like) a metaphor is stated together in combination e.g., 'silver moon' means that 'the moon is as bright as silver' - not that it is made of silver.
Metaphorical language takes many forms:
Frankie is a tower of strength.
Your the CREAM in my coffee.
How did Dickens describe 'the Law'? The law is an ASS (he did not state: The law is like an ass).
The EVENING of her life.
Christ is the BREAD of Life.
Thy word is a LAMP unto my feet and a LIGHT unto my path.
SHAKESPEARE: What type of metaphor is the Bard using here?
There is a TIDE in the affairs of men
Leads on to fortune.
Omitted, ALL THE VOYAGE of our life
Is bound in SHALLOWS and in miseries.

CAUTION: THE METAPHOR needs to be used carefully. Some degree of mental effort is needed by your reader. THEREFORE, do not get too far-fetched, otherwise, the images you conjure up may be confusing or foolish. Do not OVERUSE or sustain beyond the point of interest.
He put his foot down with a firm hand" or "When your back is against the wall, turn around and start fighting" - Whoops!  (Dict: GREEK: transference / META - involving change + PHEREIN - to bear, carry).

ALLEGORY is a metaphor (or series of linked metaphors) EXPANDED into a tale. Its purpose is to teach by illustrating some ABSTRACT TRUTH (e.g., moral or religious). Therefore, once a writer gets into a metaphorical mode, the imagination can stretch it into a full story or allegory.
John Bunyan (1628-86) preacher and writer Pilgrim's Progress (1678) the hero's journey is comparable with that of an ordinary Christian's life.
William Langland (1332-1400?) English poet Piers the Ploughman a religious poem about the state of the clergy?
Spencer's Faerie Queen - based upon the reign of Elizabeth I.
George Orwell (1903-50 Eric Arthur Blair) English novelist / essayist. His Animal Farm (1945) is an allegory of the Russian Revolution.
(Dict: Greek ALLEGORIA: ALLO - other + AGORIA - to make a speech in public).

FABLE is a SHORT moral story which is SIMILAR to an allegory. in which animals (or objects) speak and act as people in order to highlight human failings. The MORAL is often stated at the end of the piece.
The best known are AESOPS FABLES (translated into many languages). Aesop was a deformed Phrygian slave (?620-564 BC), but some of his tales have been traced back to Egyptian documents 1,000 years earlier. Some of his fables are: the Tortoise and the Hare; the Boy who cried Wolf; the Fox and the Grapes; the Ant and the Grasshopper.
Lewis Carroll (1832-86 Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) English writer, Oxford mathematics don who produced Alice in Wonderland (1865), Looking-Glass (1872).
(Dict: ME/OF from Latin FABLA = discourse / speak).

PARABLE is a simple story from ordinary human (not animal) life, intended to imply some deep moral or spiritual TRUTH.
EXAMPLES: Jotham's Parable of the Bramble or Christ often spoke in parables such as: The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) / The Sower whose seeds fall on rocky ground (Mark 4:3-9) / The buried Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) Talent - Greek unit of money, but then applied to human abilities) / the Ten Wise Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), etc. (Dict: Latin comparison / Greek PARABOLE, analogy - placing side-by-side; like PARALLEL - alongside one another).

Personification - is a figure of speech which ascribes the animate qualities (life, thoughts, speech, feelings, etc.) to things or abstract notions (love is blind or a ship as 'she'). PERSONIFICATION, therefore, is similar to Metaphor and Allegory but slightly different with the personal or human element). MORE EXAMPLES: Necessity knows no law / Hope springs eternal / Let the floods clap their hands / I kissed the hand of death.
NOTE: We frequently use personification - whether we know it or not - when we describe: a promising morning / a treacherous sea / a thankless task (Dict: Latin persona = actor's mask, character in a play, human being).


We now move from Figures of Speech which highlight SIMILARITY to ones which stress DIFFERENCE in order to communicate our meaning to others. (Dict: Latin CONTRA - against; STAER - stand, stand against).

Antithesis - conveys a clear idea of what a thing is by stating what IT IS NOT.
EXAMPLES: He wept for joy / Speech is silver; Silence is golden / To err is human, to forgive is divine / The evil that men do lives after them / The good is often interred with their bones. (Dict: Greek: ANTI - against / TITHERM - place, putting).

Oxymoron - is a statement which, on the surface, seems to contradict itself - a kind of concise paradox.
EXAMPLES: Bitter sweet / True lies / Masterly inactivity / There is method in his madness / Condemned to a living death / Faith unfaithful kept him falsely true. (Dict: Greek OXUS - sharp / MORON - foolish; pointedly foolish or dull. The word  oxymoron is an oxymoron itself).

Epigram - a pointed saying; a short poem with a witty ending; a thing written upon. An epigram was originally an inscription to some hero. If this was inscribed in stone, it obviously had to be a brief, pointed expression of the person's qualities showing a contrast.
Epigram is in the same camp as a PROVERB. Indeed, many epigrams have become proverbs.
EXAMPLES: More haste, less speed / Conspicuous by its absence.
Epigram written to Charles II during his lifetime: "
Here lies a man whose word no man relies on; Who never said a foolish thing, and never did a wise one".
He replied in like vein: "
True; my words are my own; My actions, my ministers". (Dict: Greek EPI- - upon / above; -GRAM - a thing written or recorded).

Irony - With irony the words used suggest the OPPOSITE of their literal meaning. The effect of irony, however, can depend upon the tone of voice and the context.
EXAMPLES: Mark Anthony: "
Brutus is an honourable man"/ When it is raining, to declare "what a nice day".
NOTE: AN IRONIC remark implies a double / dual view of things:
a. a literal meaning, and
b. a different intention.
Irony can be used to create amusement - unlike Sarcasm. (Dict: Greek - 'pretend ignorance' or saying the opposite of what is meant).

Sarcasm - is irony, but with a bitter and offensive tone / intent (a parallel between Humour and Satire). A sarcastic remark suggests a cruel and taunting ridicule; a bitter, wounding comment; a taunt.
See how these Christians love one another.
He is a perfect Solomon.
Expression: '
Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit'. (Dict: Greek verb 'to tear the flesh' hence to 'bit one's lips in rage' or 'speak bitterly').

Innuendo - is a figure by which a certain meaning - usually unpleasant - is conveyed by insinuation. An oblique remark or hint; a remark with double meaning - usually suggestive / disparaging.
EXAMPLES: The bank's resources are like the snakes in Ireland (none existent).
His idea of the truth is peculiar (he lies). (Dict: Latin - nod at or point to).

Hyperbole or overstatement - exaggeration for effect (rather than deceiving anyone). No one imagines that a hyperbolic statement be taken seriously.
EXAMPLES: The burglar ran as fast as lightning / The face that launched a thousand ships / The professor's ideas are as old as the hills / The troops were swifter than eagles and stronger than lions.
I loved Ophelia: forty thousand brothers could not with all their quantity of love make up the sum" (to Laertes). (Dict: Greek - HYPER- over, beyond; BALLO - to throw; excess).

Litotes OR UNDERSTATEMENT - is the opposite of hyperbole. Ironical understatement. The expressing of a positive by a negative statement.
The writer purposely under-rates a thing and achieves an effect by denying the contrary.
EXAMPLES: I sharn't be sorry = I shall be glad / The nurse is not a fool (is clever) / Marlborough was a general of no mean reputation (he was great) / The executive is not a millionaire (is poor). Generally, Anglo-Saxon verse contained many examples of litotes ("
That [sword] was not useless to the warrior now" Beowulf). (Dict: Greek - LITOS plain, meagre).

Euphemism - literally 'speaking well'. A euphemism contrast something terrible with something pleasant in order to soften the effect of the bad news. The words used do not bear their literal meaning. Euphemism resembles irony and innuendo, but while the effects of the latter can be offensive or irritating, those of euphemism are meant to be soothing. A mild or vague expression instead of one thought to be too harsh or direct.
EXAMPLES: Last night, my granddad passed away (died) or kicked the bucket / What, must our mouths be cold? (must we die?). (Dict: Greek - EU- well, easily; PHEME speaking).

Pun - is a play on words - either their different meanings or upon two different words sounding the same. Humorous use of a word to suggest different meanings; or of words of the same sound and different meanings.
EXAMPLES: Is life worth living? That depend on the liver! / That lie shall lie so heavy upon thy sword / Not on thy sole but on thy soul, harsh fool. (Dict: 17th.c. perhaps from obsolete word PUNDIGRION - a fanciful formation).


Two elements of comparison are FUSED into one word.

Metonymy - An item is replaced by something closely associated with it:
EXAMPLES: The CROWN is used in the place of THE MONARCHY / Turf for Horse-racing / The Law for the Police. (Dict: Greek substitute naming; META involving transfer + ONOMA a name).

Synecdoche - The item under discussion is replaced by something referring to one of its PARTS or something that it is part of:
EXAMPLES: A fleet of 80 sail where the word SAIL stands in for SAILING SHIP / England won by six wickets / New faces at the meeting / Newcastle might stand in for NEWCASTLE UNITED FOOTBALL TEAM. (Dict: Greek - SYN- with, together, alike; EKDOKHE to take up, or understand, with another).


Interrogation is a rhetorical question. It is asked not in the hope of getting an answer, but for effect. When this device / stratagem is used it is a Figure of Speech.
EXAMPLES: Can a leopard change its spots? / To be or not to be? That is the question... / What kind of fool am I? / How long is a piece of string? (Dict: Latin INTER- between, among; ROGARE ask).

Apostrophe - is a figure of speech by which a person - generally ABSENT or dead - or personified abstract idea is addressed:
EXAMPLES:  Our Father, which art in Heaven...Hallowed be thy name... / Good-bye Norma Jean, though I never knew you at all - England's Rose tribute to Princess Diana (Elton John) / England, with all thy faults I love thee still, My Country! (Dict: Greek APO- from, away; STREPHO turn - turning away).

Repetition - as a figure of speech, is a mode of EMPHASIZING a point by saying it more than once. This can take two forms:
(a) SAME WORDS: same word repeated over and over
Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink (published 1798 by Samuel Taylor Coleridge 1772-1834).
Half a league, half a league, half a league onward (published 1854 by Lord Alfred Tennyson 1809-1892).
Education, education, education (Tony Blair 1997 Election).
She loves you, Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! (The Beatles 1963).
(b) DIFFERENT WORDS: - this is called
PARALLELISM - At her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay down (Bible. Judges 5.27). (Dict: Latin RE- again, back; PETERE seek).

Pleonasm - Superfluous words - is a form of REPETITION in which the SAME IDEA is expressed again in a DIFFERENT GRAMMATICAL CONSTRUCTION.
A VERB may be repeated by an ADVERBIAL PHRASE; or a NOUN may be mirrored by an ADJECTIVE.
EXAMPLES: I saw it with my own eyes. / Most falsely doth he lie. / Essex had a sole monopoly of the sweet wines.
Pleonasm can be effective, but should be used sparingly. (Dict. Greek pleonasmos - to be excessive). The grave danger is that of slipping into TAUTOLOGY:

TAUTOLOGY - is a faulty style when the same thing is said twice in different words.
EXAMPLES: They arrived one after the other in succession / free gift / forward planning / short summary / new innovation. (Dict: Greek tautologos - needless repetition).

Bathos (AnticlimaX) - Statements gradually DESCEND in order of importance. It is used humorously with success; but otherwise, when unintentional, it can produce a ludicrous effect.
EXAMPLES: He is a great philosopher, a member of parliament and plays golf well. / She lost her husband, her children - and her purse. / Montague had a great love for Agnes, such as words could never express. When he first set eyes upon her, she was cutting her toe-nails. (Dict: Greek BATHOS depth).

Climax - is the arrangement of a series of statements in order of ASCENDANCY, so that the last is the STRONGEST of all - the most positive, and uplifting.
I came, I saw, I conquered.
What piece of work is Man? How infinite in faculties! In form and motion how express and admirable! In action how like an angel! In apprehension how like a god! (Dict: Greek - CLIMAX ladder).

And upon this climatic point, I end this long section on Figures of Speech / Writing.


Last modified: Saturday, 24 March 2018, 3:16 PM