Figurative Speech

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Tropes (Tropen)

any expression which implies a transference of meaning


explicit/overt comparison, ‘as’, ‘like’.

Example: I wandered lonely as a cloud (Wordsworth); "Hercules fought like a lion."


implicit/covert comparison without the usage of 'as' or 'like'.

Example: But ye lovers, that bathen in gladnesse (Chaucer, T&C); "Hercules was a lion in battle."


replaces one expression by another, which has a spatial, temporal, or logical connection with it.

Example: "I'll have a glass or two." "The whole village rejoyced."


a part stands for the whole, or vice versa.

Example: The Vatican has commented on recent events.


a set of analogies. -- an abstract concept personified and made recognisable by a set of conventional attributes.

Example: 'Justice' as a woman, blindfolded, holding a sword and scales. 'Love' as a little boy, nearly naked, with wings and a bow and arrows which he shoots in order to make people fall in love.


an object which suggests an implied but not entirely definite meaning.

Example: It was the nightingale, and not the lark (Shakespeare, R&J). A heart as a symbol for love. The cross as a symbol for death and resurrections, Christ's triumph over death (different types of cross symbolise different Christian denominations etc.).

Analysing Metaphors (Leech, Geoffrey, 1969.)

  • Step 1: Separate literal from figurative use
L: But ye lovers, that ———— gladnesse
F: " " " " bathen in ————
  • Step 2: Construct tenor and vehicle, by postulating semantic elements to fill in the gaps of the literal and figurative interpretations
TEN: But ye lovers, that [feel] gladnesse
VEH: " " " " bathen in [water, etc]
  • Step 3: State the ground of the metaphor

Gladness is the lovers' element which they enjoy as a simple natural pleasure

Analysing Conceptual Metaphors (Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson, 2003.)

Thesis/Assumption: Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature. Our concepts structure what we perceive, how we get around in the world, and how we relate to other people. Metaphor is not just a matter of language. On the contrary, human thought processes are largely metaphorical.

Example: Concept: ARGUMENT Conceptual Metaphor: ARGUMENT IS WAR (the conceptual metaphor structures the actions we perform in arguing):

  • We see the person we are arguing with as an opponent. We can lose or win an argument. We attack positions and defend our own. We gain and lose ground. We plan and use strategies. Your claims are indefensible. His criticisms were right on target. I demolished his argument. If you use that strategy, he’ll wipe you out. He shot down all of my arguments.

--> The concept ARGUMENT is partly structured, understood, performed, and talked about in terms of WAR.

Conceptual metaphors versus metaphorical expressions:

Conceptual metaphor: TIME IS MONEY.

Metaphorical expressions: You’re wasting my time. This gadget will save you hours. How do you spend your time? That flat tire cost me an hour. I’ve invested time. You’re running out of time. I lost time. ...

--> Time as a limited resource, as valuable. But: concepts depend on culture, time, and also language!

Analysing Interplay

Interplay: tension between the verse metre and the actual rhythm

  • Step 1: Identify the metre (maximization principle)
  • Step 2: Identify realized accentuation
  • Step 3: Identify the points of deviation when comparing the outcome of step 1 and step 2
  • Step 4: Describe the points of deviation in historic context


  • Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson. Metaphors We Live by. Chicago and London: U of Chicago P, 2003. 3-6.
  • Leech, Geoffrey N. A Linguistic Guide to English Poetry. London: Longman. 1969. 147-165, in particular: 147-157.
  • Ludwig, Hans-Werner. Arbeitsbuch Lyrikanalyse. Tübingen: Francke. 5th ed. 2005, 30-63, in particular: 47-60.