Breaking Down the Meaning of Metaphor
Metaphor is a figure of speechOpens in new window which by its expression or suggestion, exclusively consists in the resemblanceOpens in new window of two objects by applying either the name, or some attributeOpens in new window, adjunctOpens in new window, or actionOpens in new window, of the one, directly to the other. Generally, metaphors take two different objects, and equates them as the same, by stating that the first object is the second object.
EtymologicallyOpens in new window, metaphor is derived from the Latin etymon “metaphora”, translated as: a carrying over; literally meant to move a word from one place to another. Metaphors allow rhetorsOpens in new window to move beyond the limitations of languageOpens in new window because their meaning is not literalOpens in new window but is informed by contextOpens in new window.
Based in the definitionOpens in new window offered by the rhetor, I. A. RichardsOpens in new window, metaphor is “a shift, a carrying over of a word from its normal use to a new use.” This definition supposes that there is an ordinary word that could have been used but isn’t, and in its stead, another word is used — a word with remote connotation — that drives the expression in an unexpected twist. Here, two terms are used to name the original or expected word, and the unexpected one, which Richards calls the tenor, and the vehicleOpens in new window.
The tenor —which is the original or expected word— is the subject to which attributes, adjuncts, or actions are ascribed. The vehicle —that which represent the unexpected word— is the object whose attributes, adjuncts, or actions are borrowed.
The metaphor is the whole episode, tenor and vehicle altogether connotes, the relationship of the two. To exemplify the relation between the tenor, and the vehicle, I render in verbatim, one of Denis DonoghueOpens in new window’s masterpiece examples, from his work, Metaphor:
- Eliot, in “The Waste Land” wrote:
- ‘A woman drew her long black hair out tight
And fiddled whisper music on those strings’
“The first line is literal, the second metaphorical: the whole metaphor begins with some such unspoken word as “brushed,” which would be the tenor. Then the vehicle begins with “fiddled.” The point of the metaphor is to bring different associations, more dramatic connotations, into the reader’s mind. The resemblance between a woman combing her hair and a violinist with long black hair playing a pianissimo passage is remote — a brush is not much like a bow — but the visual relation is sufficiently active to hold the two images together. If the lines make us imagine for the moment a different world than our own, all the better. The force of a good metaphor is to give something a different life, a new life.
Denis Donoghue goes on to add:A metaphor is all the better the more the vehicle differs from the tenor: it would be a simile if it is consorted with the tenor in a local degree of likeness; it would be a conceit if the unlikeness were wild, bizarre, too much of a good thing: a noun, say, by itself, is merely what it is. It is locked in its local meaning, whatever its context deems that to be: a woman is brushing her hair. The effect of Eliot’s metaphor is to give her a new, strange life, not by deleting the old one but by drawing a new image across it, that of a woman with long, black hair playing the fiddle. The woman has been given another life for the time being.”