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[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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Poeticheskaia frazeologiia Pushkina. Moscow, 1969.
Levin, lu. I. “Russkaia metafora . …” Uch. zap. Tartus. gos. Un-ta, 1969, fasc. 236.
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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.
References in periodicals archive ?
Weick (1978) suggests that poetic devices like metaphoric language increase a leader's ability to describe complex relationships.
This linguistic act of naming is extraordinarily metaphoric, for as Morgoth names Arda to himself, it becomes both a physical extension of his own power, and inseparably a part of himself.
* metaphor underscores the ultimate unity of all existence as we express what we believe of life through metaphoric means (i.e., primarily through comparison and analogy conveying the interconnectedness of all things);
Defense professionals interested in creative thinking should be aware of the evolutionary processes of metaphoric reasoning.
To make an affirmation that within a given field of meanings is unwarranted (i.e., breaks the rules) and that changes our larger fields of meanings is an example of what Gerhart and Russell call metaphoric process.
Metaphoric process, in contrast, "equates a known concept [in one field of meanings] with another known [concept in a separate field of meanings] thereby forcing the two different concepts to be isomorphic on a new field of meanings." (21) This process creates a new connection between these previously disassociated fields of meanings in a cognitive tension that, in the act, has the power to reshape the entire world of meanings and can make possible surprising new conceptions and insights not previously possible.
The child is likely to express his/her ideas relating to this subject using metaphoric structures.
A review of the supervision literature revealed several professional references in which metaphoric activities were suggested as a means for enhancing the supervision experience.
This study builds on this substantial foundation, but with a greater eye toward understanding how metaphoric language employed by reporters functioned to invite and encourage certain interpretations of dynamics within the political process.
Moving on to the practical application of metaphoric thinking, we suggested, contrary to Reed's criticism, that Morgan's approach has led to genuinely new insights about organizations, as evidenced by the growing number of empirical studies which use a metaphoric approach.
On the heels of MOTHER ANGELICA, the fundamentalist tele-evangelist, comes the ANGELIC DOCTOR, a metaphoric name for Saint Thomas Aquinas.
She is the metaphoric "nonbodily" lesbian whom Farwell links to 1970s lesbian feminist identification of "lesbian as woman, as autonomous female desire and agency," "a utopian, nonbodily category of sameness": the lesbian as she appears in the work of Adrienne Rich, Judy Grahn, or Audre Lorde, "determined less by physical attributes than by her positioning toward other women." But she is also the still metaphoric yet now bodily lesbian of postmodern writing a la Monique Wittig and Jeanette Winterson, suffused with the physicality of butch-femme role-playing, cross-dressing and other performances that insist equally on the sexuality of bodies and the artificiality of gender.