Figure of speech

technique used to give an auxiliary meaning, idea, or feeling to a literal message, including assonance, consonance and alliteration

A figure of speech is an indirect way of communicating an idea. Many figures of speech are not meant to be understood exactly as they are said: they are not literal, factual statements. They use indirect language, and mean something different from ordinary language.

Linguists call these figures of speech "tropes"—a play on words, using words in a way that is different from its accepted literal or normal form. DiYanni wrote: "Rhetoricians have catalogued more than 250 different figures of speech, expressions or ways of using words in a nonliteral sense".[1]

Metaphors are very common examples. A common figure of speech is to say that someone "threw down the gauntlet". This does not mean that a person threw a protective wrist-covering down on the ground. Instead, it usually means that the person issued a public challenge to another person (or many persons).

There is no one easy way to distinguish plain speech from figures of speech.[2]

List of common figures of speech change

  • Allegory—A sustained metaphor in which a story is told to illustrate an important attribute of the subject. May be continued through whole sentences or even through a whole discourse. For example: "The ship of state has sailed through rougher storms than the tempest of these lobbyists".
  • Antithesis - Putting contrasting ideas in the same sentence with similar sentence structures
  • Alliteration—when a sentence or phrase has many words that start with the same sound.
  • Antanaclasis—Repeating a single word, but with a different meaning each time. Antanaclasis is a common type of pun, and like other kinds of pun, it is often found in slogans.
  • Aphorism—A tersely phrased statement of a truth or opinion, an adage
  • Euphemism—Substitution of a less offensive or more agreeable term for another
  • Hyperbole—Use of exaggerated terms for emphasis
  • Innuendo—Having a hidden meaning in a sentence that makes sense whether it is detected or not
  • Irony—Implying the opposite of the standard meaning, such as describing a bad situation as "good times".
  • Metonymy—A trope through proximity or correspondence, for example referring to actions of the U.S. president as "actions of the White House".
  • Metaphor—an explanation of an object or idea through juxtaposition of disparate things with a similar characteristic, such as describing a courageous person as having a "heart of a lion".
  • Paradox—Use of apparently contradictory ideas to point out some underlying truth
  • Proverb—Succinct or pithy expression of what is commonly observed and believed to be true
  • Pun—Play on words that will have two meanings
  • Rhetorical question—statement in the form of a question, asked and answered without a needed reply
  • Synecdoche—Related to metonymy and metaphor, creates a play on words by referring to something with a related concept. For example, referring to the whole with the name of a part, such as "hired hands" for workers; a part with the name of the whole, such as "the law" for police officers; the general with the specific, such as "bread" for food; the specific with the general, such as "cat" for a lion; or an object with the material it is made from, such as "bricks and mortar" for a building.
  • Truism—a self-evident statement

References change

  1. DiYanni, Robert Literature - reading fiction, poetry, drama and the essay. 2nd ed, McGraw-Hill, p451. ISBN 0-07-557112-9
  2. Ortony, Andrew 1993. Metaphor and thought. Cambridge University Press, p204. ISBN 9780521405614