The Full Wiki

Metaphor: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.

Did you know ...

More interesting facts on Metaphor

Include this on your site/blog:


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A metaphor is an analogy between two objects or ideas, conveyed by the use of a word instead of another. The English metaphor derives from the 16th-century Old French métaphore, from the Latin metaphora “carrying over”, Greek (μεταφορά) metaphorá “transfer”, [1] from (μεταφέρω) metaphero “to carry over”, “to transfer” [2] and from (μετά) meta “between” [3] + (φέρω) phero, “to bear”, “to carry”.[4] Moreover, metaphor also denotes rhetorical figures of speech that achieve their effects via association, comparison, and resemblance, e.g. antithesis, hyperbole, metonymy, and simile; all are species of metaphor. [5]



The Philosophy of Rhetoric (1936), by I. A. Richards, reports that metaphor is in two parts: the tenor and the vehicle. The tenor is the subject to which attributes are ascribed. The vehicle is the subject whose attributes are borrowed. Other writers employ the general terms ground and figure to denote tenor and the vehicle. Consider the All the world's a stage monologue from As You Like It:

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, 2/7

In this metaphoric example, "the world" is compared to a stage, describing it with the attributes of “the stage”; "the world" is the tenor, and "a stage" is the vehicle; "men and women" is a secondary tenor, "players" is the secondary vehicle.

In cognitive linguistics, the terms target and source correspond to the terms tenor and vehicle. In this nomenclature, metaphors are named with the small-capital typographic convention TARGET IS SOURCE, and all-capitals when small-caps are unavailable; in this notation, the metaphor discussed above would be LIFE IS THEATRE. In a conceptual metaphor, the elements of an extended metaphor constitute the metaphor’s mapping — in the Shakespeare quotation above, exits would be mapped to “death” and entrances mapped to “birth”.

Types, terms, and categories

A metaphor is more forceful (active) than an analogy, because metaphor asserts two things are the same, whereas analogy acknowledges difference; other rhetorical comparative figures of speech, such as metonymy, parable, simile, and synecdoche, are species of metaphor distinguished by how the comparison is communicated. [6] The metaphor category also contains these specialized types:

  • allegory: An extended metaphor wherein a story illustrates an important attribute of the subject
  • catachresis: A mixed metaphor used by design and accident (a rhetorical fault)
  • parable: An extended metaphor narrated as an anecdote illustrating and teaching a moral lesson

Common types

  • A dead metaphor is one in which the sense of the transferred image is absent. Examples: "to grasp a concept" and "to gather what you've understood" use physical action as a metaphor for understanding, most do not visualize the action; dead metaphors normally go unnoticed. Some people distinguish between a "dead metaphor" whose origin most speakers ignore, e.g. "to break the ice". Others use dead metaphor to denote both concepts, and generally use it to describe a metaphoric cliché.
  • An extended metaphor (conceit), establishes a principal subject (comparison) and subsidiary subjects (comparisons). The As You Like It quotation is a good example, the world is described as a stage, and then men and women are subsidiary subjects further described in the same context.
  • A mixed metaphor is one that leaps from one identification to a second identification inconsistent with the first. Example: "If we can hit that bullseye then the rest of the dominoes will fall like a house of cards... Checkmate."Quote from Futurama TV show character Zapp Brannigan, [1]
  • Per Hans Blumenberg’s metaphorology, absolute metaphor denotes a figure or a concept that cannot be reduced to, or replaced with solely conceptual thought and language. Absolute metaphors, e.g. “light” (for “truth”) and “seafaring” (for “human existence”) – have distinctive meanings (unlike the literal meanings), and, thereby, function as orientations in the world, and as theoretic questions, such as presenting the world as a whole. Because they exist at the pre-predicative level, express and structure pragmatic and theoretical views of Man and the World.

Uncommon types

Other types of metaphor have been identified as well, though the nomenclatures are not as universally accepted:

  • An absolute or paralogical metaphor (sometimes called an anti-metaphor) is one in which there is no discernible point of resemblance between the idea and the image. e.g. “light” as a metaphor for virtue.
  • An active metaphor is one which by contrast to a dead metaphor, is not part of daily language and is noticeable as a metaphor.
  • A complex metaphor is one which mounts one identification on another. Example: "That throws some light on the question." Throwing light is a metaphor: there is no actual light, and a question is not the sort of thing that can be lit up.
  • A compound or loose metaphor is one that catches the mind with several points of similarity. Examples: "He has the wild stag's foot." This phrase suggests grace and speed as well as daring.
  • A dying metaphor is a derogatory term coined by George Orwell in his essay Politics and the English Language. Orwell defines a dying metaphor as a metaphor that isn't dead (dead metaphors are different, as they are treated like ordinary words), but has been worn out and is used because it saves people the trouble of inventing an original phrase for themselves. In short, a cliché. Example: Achilles' heel. Orwell suggests that writers scan their work for such dying forms that they have 'seen regularly before in print' and replace them with alternative language patterns.
  • An epic metaphor or Homeric simile is an extended metaphor containing details about the vehicle that are not, in fact, necessary for the metaphoric purpose. This can be extended to humorous lengths, for instance: "This is a crisis. A large crisis. In fact, if you've got a moment, it's a twelve-storey crisis with a magnificent entrance hall, carpeting throughout, 24-hour porterage and an enormous sign on the roof saying 'This Is a Large Crisis.'" (Blackadder)
  • An implicit metaphor is one in which the tenor is not specified but implied. Example: "Shut your trap!" Here, the mouth of the listener is the unspecified tenor.
  • An implied or unstated metaphor is a metaphor not explicitly stated or obvious that compares two things by using adjectives that commonly describe one thing, but are used to describe another comparing the two.
    An example: "Golden baked skin", comparing bakery goods to skin or "green blades of nausea", comparing green grass to the pallor of a nausea-stic person or "leafy golden sunset" comparing the sunset to a tree in the fall.
  • A simple or tight metaphor is one in which there is but one point of resemblance between the tenor and the vehicle. Example: "Cool it". In this example, the vehicle, "Cool", is a temperature and nothing else, so the tenor, "it", can only be grounded to the vehicle by one attribute.
  • A submerged metaphor is one in which the vehicle is implied, or indicated by one aspect. Example: "my winged thought". Here, the audience must supply the image of the bird.
  • A synecdochic metaphor is a trope that is both a metaphor and a synecdoche in which a small part of something is chosen to represent the whole so as to highlight certain elements of the whole.

Use outside of rhetoric

The term metaphor is also used for the following terms that are not a part of rhetoric:

  • A cognitive metaphor is the association of an object to an experience outside the object's environment.
  • A conceptual metaphor is an underlying association that is systematic in both language and thought.
  • A root metaphor is the underlying worldview that shapes an individual's understanding of a situation.
  • A therapeutic metaphor is an experience that allows one to learn about more than just that experience.
  • A visual metaphor provides a frame or window on experience. Metaphors can also be implied and extended throughout pieces of literature.

History in literature and language

Metaphor is present in the oldest written Sumerian language narrative, the Epic of Gilgamesh:

My friend, the swift mule, fleet wild ass of the mountain, panther of the wilderness, after we joined together and went up into the mountain, fought the Bull of Heaven and killed it, and overwhelmed Humbaba, who lived in the Cedar Forest, now what is this sleep that has seized you? — (Trans. Kovacs, 1989)

In this example, the friend is compared to a mule, a wild donkey, and a panther to indicate that the speaker sees traits from these animals in his friend (A comparison between two or more unlike objects).

The idea of metaphor can be traced back to Aristotle who, in his “Poetics” (around 335 BC), defines “metaphor” as follows: “Metaphor is the application of a strange term either transferred from the genus and applied to the species or from the species and applied to the genus, or from one species to another or else by analogy.”[7] For the sake of clarity and comprehension it might additionally be useful to quote the following two alternative translations: “Metaphor is the application of an alien name by transference either from genus to species, or from species to genus, or from species to species, or by analogy, that is, proportion.”[8] Or, as Halliwell puts it in his translation: “Metaphor is the application of a word that belongs to another thing: either from genus to species, species to genus, species to species, or by analogy.”[9]

Therefore, the key aspect of a metaphor is a specific transference of a word from one context into another. With regard to the four kinds of metaphors which Aristotle distincts against each other the last one (transference by analogy) is the most eminent one so that all important theories on metaphor have a reference to this characterization.

The Greek plays of Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides, among others, were almost invariably allegorical, showing the tragedy of the protagonists, either to caution the audience metaphorically about temptation, or to lambast famous individuals of the day by inferring similarities with the caricatures in the play.

Even when they are not intentional, they can be drawn between most writing or language and other topics. In this way it can be seen that any theme in literature is a metaphor, using the story to convey information about human perception of the theme in question.

In historical linguistics

In historical onomasiology or, more generally, in historical linguistics, metaphor is defined as semantic change based on similarity, i.e. a similarity in form or function between the original concept named by a word and the target concept named by this word.[10]

ex. mouse: small, gray rodentsmall, gray, mouse-shaped computer device.

Some recent linguistic theories view language as by its nature all metaphorical; or that language in essence is metaphorical. [11]

Historical theories of metaphor

Metaphor as style in speech and writing

Viewed as an aspect of speech and writing, metaphor qualifies as style, in particular, style characterized by a type of analogy. An expression (word, phrase) that by implication suggests the likeness of one entity to another entity gives style to an item of speech or writing, whether the entities consist of objects, events, ideas, activities, attributes, or almost anything expressible in language. For example, in the first sentence of this paragraph, the word "viewed" serves as a metaphor for "thought of", implying analogy of the process of seeing and the thought process. The phrase, "viewed as an aspect of", projects the properties of seeing (vision) something from a particular perspective onto thinking about something from a particular perspective, that "something" in this case referring to "metaphor" and that "perspective" in this case referring to the characteristics of speech and writing.

As a characteristic of speech and writing, metaphors can serve the poetic imagination, enabling William Shakespeare, in his play "As You Like It", to compare the world to a stage and its human inhabitants players entering and exiting upon that stage; [12] enabling Sylvia Plath, in her poem "Cut", to compare the blood issuing from her cut thumb to the running of a million soldiers, "redcoats, every one";[13] and, enabling Robert Frost, in "The Road Not Taken", to compare one´s life to a journey. [14]

Viewed also as an aspect of speech and writing, metaphor can serve as a device for persuading the listener or reader of the speaker-writer´s argument or thesis, the so-called rhetorical metaphor....

Metaphor as foundational to our conceptual system

Cognitive linguists emphasize that metaphors serve to facilitate the understanding of one conceptual domain, typically an abstract one like 'life' or 'theories' or 'ideas', through expressions that relate to another, more familiar conceptual domain, typically a more concrete one like 'journey' or 'buildings' or 'food'. [15][16] Food for thought: we devour a book of raw facts, try to digest them, stew over them, let them simmer on the back-burner, regurgitate them in discussions, cook up explanations, hoping they do not seem half-baked. Theories as buildings: we establish a foundation for them, a framework, support them with strong arguments, buttressing them with facts, hoping they will stand. Life as journey: some of us travel hopefully, others seem to have no direction, many lose their way.

A convenient short-hand way of capturing this view of metaphor is the following: CONCEPTUAL DOMAIN (A) IS CONCEPTUAL DOMAIN (B), which is what is called a conceptual metaphor. A conceptual metaphor consists of two conceptual domains, in which one domain is understood in terms of another. A conceptual domain is any coherent organization of experience. Thus, for example, we have coherently organized knowledge about journeys that we rely on in understanding life.[16]

How does this relate to the nature and importance of our conceptual system, and to metaphor as foundational to our conceptual system?

More than just a figure of speech

Some theorists have suggested that metaphors are not merely stylistic, but that they are cognitively important as well. In Metaphors We Live By George Lakoff and Mark Johnson argue that metaphors are pervasive in everyday life, not just in language, but also in thought and action. A common definition of a metaphor can be described as a comparison that shows how two things that are not alike in most ways are similar in another important way. They explain how a metaphor is simply understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another. The authors call this concept a ‘conduit metaphor.’ By this they meant that a speaker can put ideas or objects into words or containers, and then send them along a channel, or conduit, to a listener who takes that idea or object out of the container and makes meaning of it. In other words, communication is something that ideas go into. The container is separate from the ideas themselves. Lakoff and Johnson give several examples of daily metaphors we use, such as “argument is war” and “time is money.” Metaphors are widely used in context to describe personal meaning. The authors also suggest that communication can be viewed as a machine: “Communication is not what one does with the machine, but is the machine itself.” (Johnson, Lakoff, 1980).[17]

See also


  1. ^ Metaphora, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, at Perseus
  2. ^ Metaphero, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, at Perseus
  3. ^ Meta, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, at Perseus
  4. ^ Phero, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, at Perseus
  5. ^ The Oxford Companion to the English Language (1992) pp.653–55
  6. ^ The Oxford Companion to the English Language (1992) pp.653–55
  7. ^ Aristotle in 23 Volumes, Vol. 23, translated by W.H. Fyfe. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1932, 1457b.
  8. ^ Aristotle, Poetics, trans. I. Bywater, in The Complete Works of Aristotle, ed. Jonathan Barnes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), vol 2, 1457b.
  9. ^ Aristotle: Poetics. Translated by Stephen Halliwell; Longinus: On the Sublime; Demetrius: On Style (Loeb Classical Library No. 199), 1996, 1457b.
  10. ^ Cf. Joachim Grzega (2004), Bezeichnungswandel: Wie, Warum, Wozu? Ein Beitrag zur englischen und allgemeinen Onomasiologie, Heidelberg: Winter, and Blank, Andreas (1997), Prinzipien des lexikalischen Bedeutungswandels am Beispiel der romanischen Sprachen, Tübingen: Niemeyer.
  11. ^ See, for example, Vilayanur S Ramachandran, Reith Lectures 2003 The Emerging Mind, lecture 4 "Purple Numbers and Sharp Cheese", BBC
  12. ^ "As You Like It": Entire play From: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare
  13. ^ "Cut" by Sylvia Plath From: The Sylvia Plath Forum
  14. ^ "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost From: Great Books Online
  15. ^ Lakoff G., Johnson M. (1980, 2003). Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226468011. 
  16. ^ a b Zoltán Kövecses. (2002) Metaphor: a practical introduction. Oxford University Press US. ISBN 9780195145113.
  17. ^ Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. Metaphors We Live By (IL: University of Chicago Press, 1980), Chapters 1-3. (pp. 3-13).


  • This article incorporates material from the Citizendium article "Metaphor", which is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Unported License but not under the GFDL.
  • Stefano Arduini (2007). (ed.) Metaphors, Roma, Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura.
  • Aristotle. Poetics. Trans. I. Bywater. In The Complete Works of Aristotle: The Revised Oxford Translation. (1984). 2 Vols. Ed. Jonathan Barnes. Princeton, Princeton University Press.
  • I. A. Richards. (1936). The Philosophy of Rhetoric. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
  • Max Black (1954). Metaphor, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 55, pp. 273-294.
  • Max Black (1962). Models and Metaphor, Ithaca, Cornell University Press.
  • Max Black (1979). More about Metaphor, in A. Ortony (ed) Metaphor & Thought.
  • Clive Cazeaux (2007). Metaphor and Continental Philosophy: From Kant to Derrida. New York: Routledge.
  • L. J. Cohen (1979). The Semantics of Metaphor, in A. Ortony (ed) Metaphor & Thought
  • Donald Davidson. (1978). "What Metaphors Mean." Reprinted in Inquiries Into Truth and Interpretation. (1984), Oxford, Oxford University Press.
  • Jacques Derrida (1982). "White Mythology: Metaphor in the Text of Philosophy." In Margins of Philosophy. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
  • Paul Ricoeur (1975). The Rule of Metaphor: Multi-Disciplinary Studies in the Creation of Meaning in Language, trans. Robert Czerny with Kathleen McLaughlin and John Costello, S. J., London: Routledge and Kegan Paul 1978. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press 1977)
  • John Searle (1979). “Metaphor,” in A. Ortony (ed) Metaphor & Thought
  • Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. Metaphors We Live By (IL: University of Chicago Press, 1980), Chapters 1-3. (pp. 3-13).

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Metaphors article)

From Wikiquote

Universal history is the history of a few metaphors. ~ Jorge Luis Borges

Quotes about metaphors.


Everything which distinguishes man from the animals depends upon this ability to volatilize perceptual metaphors in a schema, and thus to dissolve an image into a concept. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

[[Image:Caspar David Friedrich 032.jpg|144px|thumb|right|The drive toward the formation of metaphors is the fundamental human drive, which one cannot for a single instant dispense with in thought, for one would thereby dispense with man himself. ~

  • Universal history is the history of a few metaphors.
  • Metaphors and Similes are the beginning of the democratic system of envy.
  • The progress of science requires more than new data; it needs novel frameworks and contexts. And where do these fundamentally new views of the world arise? They are not simply discovered by pure observation; they require new modes of thought. And where can we find them, if old modes do not even include the right metaphors? The nature of true genius must lie in the elusive capacity to construct these new modes from apparent darkness. The basic chanciness and unpredictability of science must also reside in the inherent difficulty of such a task.
    • Stephen Jay Gould in "False Premise, Good Science", in The Flamingo's Smile (1985) p. 138
  • We often think, naïvely, that missing data are the primary impediments to intellectual progress — just find the right facts and all problems will dissipate. But barriers are often deeper and more abstract in thought. We must have access to the right metaphor, not only to the requisite information. Revolutionary thinkers are not, primarily, gatherers of facts, but weavers of new intellectual structures.
    • Stephen Jay Gould in "For Want of a Metaphor", in The Flamingo's Smile (1985) p. 151
  • The facts of nature are what they are, but we can only view them through the spectacles of our mind. Our mind works largely by metaphor and comparison, not always (or often) by relentless logic. When we are caught in conceptual traps, the best exit is often a change in metaphor — not because the new guideline will be truer to nature (for neither the old nor the new metaphor lies “out there” in the woods), but because we need a shift to more fruitful perspectives, and metaphor is often the best agent of conceptual transition.
  • Subjective conscious mind is an analog of what is called the real world. It is built up with a vocabulary or lexical field whose terms are all metaphors or analogs of behavior in the physical world.
    • Julian Jaynes, in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (1976)
  • The divine kingdom to be regained is psychological not physical. It is metaphorical not literal. It is "within" not in extenso.
    • Julian Jaynes, in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (1976)
  • We do not think good metaphors are anything very important, but I think that a good metaphor is something even the police should keep an eye on.
  • We believe that we know something about the things themselves when we speak of trees, colors, snow, and flowers; and yet we possess nothing but metaphors for things — metaphors which correspond in no way to the original entities.
  • What then is truth? A movable host of metaphors, metonymies, and anthropomorphisms: in short, a sum of human relations which have been poetically and rhetorically intensified, transferred, and embellished, and which, after long usage, seem to a people to be fixed, canonical, and binding. Truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions — they are metaphors that have become worn out and have been drained of sensuous force, coins which have lost their embossing and are now considered as metal and no longer as coins.
  • The metaphor is perhaps one of man's most fruitful potentialities. Its efficacy verges on magic, and it seems a tool for creation which God forgot inside one of His creatures when He made him.

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

METAPHOR (Gr. µerac i 50pet, transfer of sense, from µeracOpecv, to carry over), a figure of speech, which consists in the transference to one object of an attribute or name which strictly and literally is not applicable to it, but only figuratively and by analogy. It is thus in essence an emphatic comparison, which if expressed formally is a "simile" (Lat. similis, like); thus it is a metaphorical expression to speak of a ship ploughing her way through the waves, but a simile when it takes the form of "the ship, like a plough, moves," &c. The "simple" metaphor, such as the instance given, becomes the "continued" metaphor when the analogy or similitude is worked out in a series of phrases and expressions based on the primary metaphor; it is in such "continued metaphors" that the solecism of "mixed" metaphors is likely to occur.

<< Metamorphosis

Metaphysics >>

Simple English

Metaphor is a figure of speech. It uses words, not literally, but figuratively. It takes a word from its original context, and uses it in another.

"I beat him with a stick" = literal meaning of 'beat'.
"I beat him in an argument" = metaphorical meaning of 'beat'.

We use metaphors to make indirect comparisons, but without using 'like' or 'as' – because that would be a simile. A simile is a direct comparison: "Jane is like a child".

Most metaphors are concepts: see conceptual metaphor.

A metaphor very often uses the verb 'to be': "love is war", for example, not "love is like war" (that is a simile). Poetry includes much metaphor, usually more than prose.

Idioms use metaphors, or are metaphors: for example, the English phrase to kick the bucket means to die.

Spam is an example that any email user knows about – this word was originally a metaphor, from 'Spam', a type of canned meat. Servers putting unwanted email into somebody's inbox was similar to waiters putting unwanted Spam into food. This was originally suggested by a Monty Python skit (funny scene). When we use a metaphor very often and we forget the old meaning, or forget that the two meanings are connected, this is a 'dead metaphor'.

Originally metaphor was a Greek word for 'transfer'. It came from meta ('change') and pherein ('carry'). So the word metaphor in English was a metaphor, too. Today in Greek, metaphor is a trolley (a thing that is pushed for carrying shopping or bags).


Simple metaphors


A simple metaphor has a single link between the subject and the metaphoric vehicle. The vehicle thus has a single meaning which is transferred directly to the subject.


  • Cool down! [Cool = temperature]
  • He was mad. [mad = anger]
  • I'll chew on it. [chew = think]

In the simple metaphor, the cognitive effort to understand what the author or speaker intends is relatively low, and hence it may easily be used with a wider and less sophisticated audience.

The simple metaphor may be contrasted against metaphors which have multiple elements and meanings, for example in the compound metaphor or complex metaphor.

A simple metaphor is also known as a tight metaphor.

Complex metaphors


A complex metaphor happens where a simple metaphor is based on a secondary metaphoric element. For example using a metaphor of 'light' for 'understanding' may be complexified by saying 'throwing light' rather than 'shining light'. 'Throwing' is an extra metaphor for how light arrives.


  • That lends weight to the argument.
  • They stood alone, frozen statues on the plain.
  • The ball happily danced into the net.

Compound metaphors


A compound metaphor is one where there are multiple parts in the metaphor that are used to snag the listener. These parts may be enhancement words such as adverbs, adjectives, etc.

Each part in the compound metaphor may be used to signify an additional item of meaning.


  • Thick, primal, blind fog descended before his eyes.
  • The car screeched in hated anguish, its flesh laid bare in the raucous collision.

Compound metaphors are like a multiple punch, hitting the listener repeatedly with metaphoric elements. Where the complex metaphor uses stacked layers to enhance the metaphor, the compound metaphor uses sequential words. The compound metaphor is also known as a loose metaphor.

Live and dead metaphors

A live metaphor is one which a reader notices. A dead metaphor is one no-one notices because it has become so common in the language.


Two people walk off a tennis court. Someone asks the loser: "What happened?".

  • "He won". Literal truth.
  • "He beat me". Obviously a dead metaphor.
  • "He thrashed me". This one is slightly alive.
  • The river runs. Dead, and many variations on this theme.
  • Electricity is a fluid. Nearly dead.
  • All our efforts are running into the sand. Live.


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address