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Term Definition

The main purpose of a metaphor is to draw attention to certain qualities of the objects being associated through the figure of speech. For example, the Bible identifies Jesus as the Lion of Judah; this calls attention to a certain ferocity in the figure of Jesus that may otherwise go unnoticed. A metaphor is different from a simile in that whereas a simile uses the transition "like" or "as", the metaphor just directly links the two objects in question.  

Introduction to metaphors

A metaphor is a literary device comparing to unlike things through a perceived similarity. Metaphor, unlike simile, does not use the words “like” or “as” to make a comparison for rhetorical effect. Metaphor uses implicit, implied, or hidden comparison to draw out the resemblance of two contradictory objects or concepts. In the English language, metaphor is when a person, place, or thing is described as being another person, place, or thing. Metaphor is derived from the Middle English methaphor, and the Latin metaphora which is from the Greek metapherein meaning “to transfer” or “to bear.” Its first known use was in the 15th century.

Using metaphors

Metaphor uses an analogy to compare two things that appear to be very unlike each other. The following examples demonstrate the usage of metaphor in literature.

  • “It is raining cats and dogs.”
  •  “The noise of toddlers was music to her ears.”

From Enid Bagnold’s National Velvet:

“The rain came down in long knitting needles.”

From Austin O’Malley’s Keystones of Thought:

“Memory is a crazy woman that hoards colored rags and throws away food.”

From Peckham’s Marbles by Peter De Vries:

“For we are all swimmers ephemerally buoyed by what will engulf us at the last; still dreaming of islands though the mainland has been lost; swept remorselessly out to sea while we spread our arms to the beautiful shore.”

Pablo Picasso used a metaphor when he stated, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

Albert Einstein (who used lots of metaphors in his scientific theories) did likewise with the following quote:

“All religions, arts, and sciences are branches of the same tree.”

Other uses in literature

Musicians often use metaphor in song lyrics, to which it is particularly suited because it can shorten ideas, expressions, and make points succinct without removing the poetry of song lyrics.

Bob Dylan sang that “Chaos is a friend of mine,” and Tom Cochrane that “Life is a highway.” Elvis Presley’s song “Hound Dog” is metaphorical, as well: “You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog/Cryin’ all the time.” Lonestar’s “I’m Already There” contains the following lyrics which a father sings to his children:

“I’m the sunshine in your hair

I’m the shadow on the ground

I’m the whisper in the wind

I’m your imaginary friend.”

Maroon 5’s song “My Heart’s a Stereo” contains the following metaphor:

“My heart’s a stereo

It beats for your so listen close

Hear my thoughts in every note

Make me your radio

And turn me up when you feel low

This melody was meant for you

Just sing along to my stereo.”

Conventional metaphors abound in the English language in particular. Here are some commonly used metaphors.

  • “She was so angry that steam was emanating from the top of her head.”
  • “The examination was a breeze.”
  • “The stars were diamonds in the summer night sky.”

Using metaphors in literature and speech appeals to the senses in a way that straightforward language does not. Metaphor asks the listener or reader to use their imaginations to conjure up connections between unlike things, as well as asks the writer or speaker to create those same connections through their arts. If you use our essay or dissertation writing services, you know our writers are ready to use metaphors upon request.

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