This post is part of a series on rhetoric and rhetorical devices. For other posts in the series, please click this link.
Origin: From the Greek μεταφορά (metaphora), meaning “transfer”.
In plain English: Comparing two things (that are often not alike) by stating that one is the other.
- Metaphors can be used to help an audience understand a new idea by linking it to something that they already know. When cars were first sold, they were often referred to as “horseless carriages”.
- Metaphors can also be used to help an audience see something that is already known in a new light.
- Metaphors contain an element of surprise. They catch the audience’s attention and are usually easy to remember.
- Aristotle said, “The greatest thing by far is to have mastered the metaphor.”
- Simile is similar to metaphor in that it compares two things, but it must contain “like” or “as”; e.g., as hungry as a bear; as sly as a fox; fight like cats and dogs; eat like a pig.
- In his book, Style, F.L. Lucas wrote, “The simile sets two ideas side by side; in the metaphor, they become superimposed.”
- Immediately below are two scenes from the wonderful movie, Il Postino, in which the two main characters—a simple postman and the famous Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda—discuss metaphors.
“The eyes are the window to the soul.“
— English Proverb (but also attributed to other sources)
“One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.
“But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.
“Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.
“Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest — quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality.
“With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr., 28 August 1963
“I would like to make it clear, in parenthesis, that I do not blame my parents for their point of view. There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you.”
— J.K. Rowling, Harvard Graduation Ceremony, 5 June 2008
I’m a shooting star leaping through the skies
Like a tiger defying the laws of gravity
I’m a racing car passing by like Lady Godiva
I’m gonna go go go
There’s no stopping me
I’m a rocket ship on my way to Mars
On a collision course
I am a satellite, I’m out of control
I am a sex machine ready to reload
Like an atom bomb about to
Oh oh oh oh oh explode
— Queen, Don’t Stop Me Now
And finally, some classic banter between Tina Fey and Aaron Sorkin in an episode of Thirty Rock, with some tongue-in-cheek advice about metaphors.