Definition and Examples 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.

Examples of Metaphor

  1. Her voice is music to his ears.

    (This implies that her voice makes him feel happy)

  2. My brother was boiling mad.

    (This implies he was too angry.)

  3. It is going to be clear skies from now on.

    (“Clear skies” implies absence of difficulties)

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.

According to 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 Donoghue’sOpens in new window 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.”

Other examples of metaphor include

  1. All the world's a stage,
    And all the men and women merely players;
    They have their exits and their entrances ...

    — (William Shakespeare, As You Like It)

  2. At night the lake is a wide silence, without imagination.
  1. Fame is the fragrance of heroic deeds
    and not of weeds.
  2. Her hair was a flowing golden river streaming down her shoulders.
  3. Words are daggers when spoken in anger.
  4. His words are pearls of wisdom.

The function of metaphor in literary works is usually to address one object or situation while alluding another. It is used as a figure of speech and as a form of analogy. Famous examples of the metaphor in poetry include “Cut” by Sylvia Plath, “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost and “The Country of the Blind” by C.S. Lewis.

In Ancient Greece, Aristotle believed there were only four types of metaphor. Of these four, only analogy is still considered an element of metaphor. The other three are now considered to be elements of metonymy and synecdoche. Regardless of the other three, Aristotle believed that analogy was the most important of all.

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  • References
    • Rhetorica ad Herennium 4.34 p.45 (“translation”); Denis Donoghue (Metaphor);
    • Quintilian 8.6. p. 4-18;
    • Susenbrotus 1540 p. 7 (“metaphor,” “translatio”);
    • Sherry 1550 p. 40 (“metaphora,” “translatio,” “translacion”);
    • Puttenham 1589 p. 189 (“metaphora,” “figure of transsporte”)

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