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Related to metaphor: simile


[Gr.,=transfer], in rhetoric, a figure of speech in which one class of things is referred to as if it belonged to another class. Whereas a simile states that A is like B, a metaphor states that A is B or substitutes B for A. Some metaphors are explicit, like Shakespeare's line from As You Like It: "All the world's a stage." A metaphor can also be implicit, as in Shakespeare's Sonnet LXXIII, where old age is indicated by a description of autumn:
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
  Where yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
  Bare ruined choirs, where once the sweet birds sang.
A dead metaphor, such as "the arm" of a chair, is one that has become so common that it is no longer considered a metaphor.


the application of a descriptive phrase or term to a phenomenon to which it does not literally apply (see also ANALOGY). In organizational theory, for example, metaphor can be a significant vehicle for highlighting different forms of organization (e.g. Morgan, 1995).

The role of metaphor in sociology and the sciences generally is considerable (e.g. the notion of light waves as ‘particles’) and is arguably indispensable. The value of metaphor is in suggesting new relationships or new explanatory mechanisms. However, its use can be problematic if metaphors are taken literally and their applicability is not confirmed by independent evidence.

In the STRUCTURALISM of LACAN and the SEMIOLOGY of BARTHES, metaphor and METONYMY in which one signifier takes the place of another, are seen as playing a central role in the overall process of signification. See also MODEL.

Linguistic analysis focuses on the use of metaphor by noting the differentiation between the Speaker Utterance Meaning (SUM) and Literal Sentence Meaning (LSM). (Searle, 1979), the difference between the intended meaning of the metaphor when uttered and the received meaning. It is difficult to distinguish between such a metaphor as ‘my dentist is a butcher’ and utterances as part of everyday dialogue. In the final analysis, all words are metaphors; a means of representing and conveying thought processes. Precise and literal reception of transmitted words cannot be guaranteed. There is always likely to be a difference between LSM and SUM because of a basic incompatibility of sensory description.



(1) A trope based on the principle of comparability and on the fact that words may have a double (or multiple) meaning. Thus, in the phrase “the pine trees raised their gold-glistening candles to the sky” (Gorky), the word “candles” designates two objects simultaneously: candles and tree trunks. The referential meaning of the metaphor, which is part of the context and forms the inner, hidden pattern of the metaphor’s semantic structure, denotes that which is being compared—in this instance, the tree trunks. The direct meaning of the metaphor, which contradicts the context and forms the metaphor’s external, visible structure, denotes that which is the means of comparison (the candles).

Thus, in a metaphor, both levels of meaning are merged. By contrast, in a simile the two levels are separated (for example, “trunks like candles”).

Any part of speech may be used metaphorically: a noun (”diamonds hung in the grass”); a genitive construction—that is, a metaphor plus a noun in the genitive case (“the colonnade of the forest”; “the bronze of muscles”); an adjective (”duck nose,” a metaphorical epithet); or a verb, including the participial form (“there, where sound the streams of Aragva and Kura, merging together, embracing like two sisters”).

There are several kinds of metaphor. In concrete metaphor, real objects compared metaphorically constitute “object pairs” whose common feature may be color or shape, for example. In logical metaphor the trope is an operation with cosubordinate concepts. Psychological metaphor is an association of concepts related to different spheres of perception, such as hearing, sight, and taste (for example, the synesthesia “a sour mood”). Semantics, grammar, and stylistics are used in linguistic metaphor. Literary theory and criticism considers metaphor a poetic technique and focases on its dependence on creative individuality, literary schools, and national culture.

Metaphor is used in everyday nonliterary speech (for example, “ass,” meaning fool), journalism and publicism (“labor’s watch”), popular science (salt referred to as “edible rock”), artistic speech in folklore (riddles and proverbs), and literature. In poetry the metaphor is particularly important. For example, in ten pages of V. V. Mayakovsky’s tragedy Vladimir Maiakovskii there are about 350 metaphors. Poetic metaphors, which are striking expressions of emotional states, can be understood on many levels and are often similar to symbols (for example, A. Blok’s “Over the bottomless gulf flies, gasping, the trotter into eternity”). Metaphors may be simple or complex, consisting of a series of phrases (for example, Gogol’s comparison of Russia to a “Troika, the Bird of a Troika”), paragraphs, or even chapters.

(2) The term “metaphor” also refers to the use of a word in its secondary meaning, which is related to the primary meaning by the principle of similarity: for example, “the nose of a rocket” (secondary) and “his nose turned red” (primary); the “field of gravitation” and “the field beyond the forest.” This usage, however, involves a designation, rather than the referential meaning or renaming found in the true metaphor. Only one meaning is intended, and the imagistic emotional effect is absent. Thus, it is perhaps better to call this phenomenon metaphorization.


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Meilakh, B. “Metafora kak element khudozhestvennoi sistemy.” In his book Voprosy literatury i estetiki. Leningrad, 1958.
Poeticheskaia frazeologiia Pushkina. Moscow, 1969.
Levin, lu. I. “Russkaia metafora . …” Uch. zap. Tartus. gos. Un-ta, 1969, fasc. 236.
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Shibles, W. A. Metaphor: An Annotated Bibliography and History.
Whitewater, Wis., 1971.



a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action that it does not literally denote in order to imply a resemblance, for example he is a lion in battle


The derivation of metaphor means "to carry over." For example, the "desktop metaphor" means that the office desktop has been simulated on computers. See paradigm.
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