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Metaphor; we are constantly hearing and using it in our daily lives

EF_Team [Moderator] 41 / 222 15  
Sep 10, 2006   #1
Although we do not always see it so obviously, we are constantly hearing and using metaphors in our daily lives. Even turning on the sports network, a decidedly non-literary source, will reveal countless examples of metaphorical usage: "It was a David versus Goliath match-up," "Their backs are against the wall," and "He launched a rocket over the wall in right field" are all very common sporting expressions that are metaphorical in nature, and this is just a tiny sampling of the thousands of metaphors that have become commonplace in everyday life.

Like simile, metaphor is a comparison of two things which are in general dissimilar. In the case of metaphor, however, the comparison is indirect rather than direct; it is implied rather than stated outright. For example, when I use the simile "the boy fought like a tiger," it is evident that I am comparing the two things, that I am aware of the comparison, and that I am comparing specific characteristics in an exaggerated way. However, when this simile is turned into the simplest kind of metaphor, we see that the directness and specificity of the comparison are lost: "The boy was a tiger when he fought." The first difference is the absence of like or as, keys words in the formation of similes which make the comparison direct. In this case, the comparison is implicit. We have not stated that the boy can be compared to a tiger, but rather that the boy is a tiger. This immediately alerts us to the presence of figurative language, because the statement, taken literally, simply cannot be true. Two dissimilar things may be comparable in some way, as the simile shows, but two dissimilar things cannot be each other, and so the metaphor cannot work on the level of the literal.

Because it need not be so direct as a simile, a metaphor can be conveyed in a far wider variety of forms, ranging from the very simple to the very complex. The shortest and easiest form of the metaphor is the kind mentioned above, where one thing is called another. This achieves the basic function of metaphor, which is to invite us to explore the possible relationships between the two entities which are said to be the same. It allows for vivid description, and even more than simile asks us to consider the two entities together, holding each in our imaginations as we read. Because it is less direct, the metaphor also forces us to think more closely about the basis of comparison between the things under comparison, and this causes us to be more involved in the reading.

More complex metaphors show an even greater divergence from similes, as they do not even have to explicitly state both of the things being compared. Take the following as an example: "As the sun set, night slowly spread its black wings against the clouded sky." At first glance, it is possible to miss the fact that there is a comparison here at all. Looking through the elements of the sentence in order, we come first to the sun, but find nothing to which it is compared. Next we see night, then black wings, and a clouded sky. The clouded sky is merely the background against which the wings are spread, and so is not an object for comparison either. This leaves us with night and black wings. These are not being compared here, but we can see that these wings belong somehow to the night. Again, since this is a literal impossibility, we know we are in the presence of figurative language. So, night is said to possess some feature that is could not possibly possess, black wings. Now, this makes us think what creature might have black wings that would be the origin of the comparison. There are many options here, but a bat, that infamous creature of the dark, seems like the most likely candidate. So, in this subtle metaphor, night is being compared to a bat even though bats are never explicitly mentioned. Even more than the simplest sort of metaphor, this more subtle kind forces us to think more deeply about the situation at hand, and as a result we generate more vivid and unexpected ideas and images, which is the purpose of metaphor.


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