Figures Of Speech

Figures of Speech #

T.S. Eliot claims:

“Emotions are sometimes too complex for simple rational language and the thoughts too deep for intellectual articulation. For this reason, Poets resort to metaphor, images, rhythm, style and myth."

T.S. Eliot further maintaines:

“The reader’s interpretation may be different from the author’s and be equally valid – it may even be better. There may be much more in a poem than the author is aware of. “

We may express our thoughts in

• plain or literal language;

• figurative language.

In figurative language, the writer or speaker employs FIGURES of SPEECH, which may be described as form of expression in which words are intentionally not used with their ordinary meaning or in their usual order.

Figures of speech are used to make expression more:

forceful, emphatic, striking, or pleasing.

The main figures of speech are:

1. Simile: #

a formal comparison of one thing with another, introduced by like, as, or some other comparing word, e.g.,

(a) I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills.

(b) And, like a lobster boiled, the morn
From black to red began to turn.

2. Metaphor: #

a figure that likens one object to another by declaring it to be that other, e.g.,

(a) The plain was a sea of silver, the light of the moon was clear.

(b) And down by Kosciusko, where the pine-clad ridges raise Their torn and rugged battlements on high.

It is an error to use mixed metaphors, that is, to use metaphors inconsistent with one another, e.g.,

I smell a rat, I see it floating in the air, but I will nip it in the bud.

The cynical political power of metaphor

Howard Manns and Kate Burridge, Monash University

Pollies and pundits love metaphors. In fact, we all do. They are the containers you put ideas in before you hand them over to the world. And they can be shiny linguistic confetti for the brain.

Going back as far as Aristotle, scholars have emphasised the ability of metaphors to bring to mind new aspects of the world and new ways of understanding reality. They have been shown to be effective pedagogical tools, and their therapeutic value is well established.

Metaphors can be helpful — but they can also be harmful.

Good political metaphors can move a nation. Post-war Australian Prime Minister Ben Chiefly’s “light on the hill” had good pedigree (the Sermon on the Mount) and a positive message (“betterment of mankind” in Australia and beyond).

But the pedigree and message of political metaphors can get dark, very fast. When Premier Dan Andrews was up in the polls, some political pundits accused Victorians of suffering from “Stockholm syndrome” — a traumatic bonding as might happen between captives and their abusers.

Metaphorical uses of this controversial condition, and the domains it’s been applied to, have grown exponentially since the 1970s.

3. Personification: #

a form of metaphor that attributes the qualities of a person to an abstract idea or a lifeless object,

e.g., In an instant, Death can humble the proud and insolent.

Pathetic Fallacy: to attribute human feelings to an abstract idea or object.

anthropomorphism - giving human attributes to inanimate objects.

4. Metonymy: #

the figure that substitutes the name of one thing for the name of another thing with which it is connected in some way, e.g.,

(a) We are loyal to the throne.

(b) Please show more respect for grey hairs.

In these sentences, the throne and grey hairs have been substituted for “royal authority” and “old age”.

Unlike simile and metaphor, which are figures of likeness, metonymy is based on association of ideas.

5. Synecdoche: #

a form of metonymy which uses:

(a) the name of the part for the name of the whole, e.g.,

I haven’t a stitch to wear to the ball. (for dress)

(b) the name of the whole for the name of the part, e.g.,

Wielding the willow, he hit the leather for four..

6. Antonomasia: #

another form of metonymy. It substitutes a proper noun for a common, also an allusion e.g.,

He is a Donald Bradman. (excellent batsman)

7. Hyperbole: #

an exaggerated statement, e.g.,

The ball missed my wicket by a mile.

8. Meiosis: #

the figure that represents a thing as less than it is. It is the opposite of hyperbole, e.g.,

The car missed my sister by a hair’s breath.

9. Apostrophe: #

a figure by which an absent person or a personified idea is addressed. No reply is possible. eg.,

0 Death, where is thy sting? 0 Grave, where is thy victory?

10. Antithesis: #

a figure in which a sharp contrast is achieved by placing words or sentences in direct opposition, e.g.,

(a) Be not the first by whom the new are tried, Nor yet the last to lay the old aside.

(b) To err is human; to forgive, divine.

11. Epigram: #

a condensed and pointed statement, e.g.,

A favourite has no friend.

12. Paradox: #

an epigrammatic staement that seems to be absurd, e.g.,

(a) The child is father of the man.

(b) It takes a wise man to play the fool.

13. Oxymoron: #

a form of paradox in which an a contradiction is added to a word, e.g.,

(a) Parting is such sweet sorrow.

(b) A witty fool is preferable to a foolish wit.

14. Pun: #

a play on words having two or more different meanings, or on words resembling one another in sound, e.g.,

(a) A bad liver makes an unhappy liver.

(b) Better to be neat and tidy than tight and true,

15. Onomatopoeia: #

When a word makes its own sound.

Many words for the gross are onomatopoeic, like blat, they stir up a synesthetic reaction. Scientific experiments indicate that sound symbolism is at play in word formation.

Instead of exploring euphony this time, let’s turn up the volume on cacophony. What are the most gross, icky, blah-ful words you find in our usually delightful language to round out our exploration of phonaesthetics.

16. Climax: #

a figure in which the words are arranged in an ascending scale of importance, e.g.,

To gossip. is a fault; to libel, a crime; to slander, a sin,

17. Anticlimax: #

The opposite of climax. The last term in a series is made less impressive than those preceding it. There, is a descent “from the sublime to the ridiculous”, also called bathos: e.g.,

Oscar is the brightest, bravest, ugliest lad I know.

18. Irony #

Irony comes in many forms, but essentially refers to a discrepancy between what is said and what is meant. There is the obvious, literal or superficial meaning and on another level, an intended, deeper or opposite meaning. Irony is often subtle. There are at least 5 kinds:

  • Dramatic - The audience/reader knows something the speaker is not aware of.

  • Situational — When circumstances turn out opposite of what is expected.

  • Verbal - The words used are the opposite to the intended meaning.

  • Tonal - The writer adopts one tone but the reader responds with an opposite one. Eg: the writer calmly describes an horrific scene that arouses horror in the reader.

  • Authorial - Comments or interpretation of the author is undermined by an undercurrent or below-the-surface implication, contradicting each other.

Irony has the ability to heighten and hold the reader’s interest by giving pleasure, relief, humour and stimulus. It is an inclusive device seeming to take the responder into the composer’s confidence. Irony is seldom malicious or spiteful.


He has, despite what we see on the video, a natural affinity and love of horses.

Barrister Ian Hill KC defends the Melbourne Cup-winning horse trainer Darren Weir, who has admitted to three animal cruelty charges.

If only Weir could express his love in ways that do not involve torturing horses with an electronic cattle prod (The Guardian).

Literary Devices #

Artifacts have certain standard devices to engage readers or audiences.

  1. Exposition:

The reader needs to know the background or context of the action - to know what happened before the story begins. You can have a narrator, or chorus to expose the situation, write a short introduction or you can introduce new characters that are filled in by other characters.

  1. Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing is “an indication of something that will happen in the future.” As a literary device, it’s typically incorporated to hint at future plot developments. The term foreshadow has been in use in English since the late 1500s, and you can find foreshadowing itself exemplified in some early great works of literature.

Essentially you are providing hints as to what to expect in the plot.

  1. motif

A motif is “a recurring subject, theme, idea, etc., especially in a literary, artistic, or musical work.” The word motif can be traced to the Medieval Latin mōtīvus, meaning “serving to move.” The repetition makes the item, symbol, or character a driving force that connects the reader to the work.

These variations upon a theme are situations that are similar to others in the work of art to emphasise an issue.

Shakespeare’s plays use them prolifically such as “blood”, or sleep in Macbeth, Hamlet has many references to appearance and reality, conscience.

  1. archetype

These are stock characters that represent historical figures. An archetype is “the original pattern from which all things of the same kind are copied or based on.” Archetypes in literature may be characters modeled on a well-known character type or even story tropes that repeat throughout genres.