Figurative and literal language is a distinction in traditional systems for analyzing language. Figurative language refers to words or expressions which alter the conventional meaning of the component words. On the other hand, literal language refers to the original meaning or words which convey exactly what they mean. English language is at times considered as the most difficult language to learn due to the use of figurative language. This paper will define and give examples of different types of figurative language with their appropriate usage. The examples of figurative words are idioms, amphibole, metaphors, analogies, euphemisms, cliché among others.
An idiom is a figure of speech whereby its original meaning cannot be predicted from the constituent word. According to Webster’s dictionary, an idiom is defined as “an expression in the use of a language that is peculiar to itself either grammatically in having a meaning that cannot be derived from the conjoined meanings of its elements” (Brenner, 2011). Additionally, an idiom is an expression whose meaning is totally different from the original word and is used to enrich and make language more colorful. Idioms are used to supersede a literal word. An example is “jumping the gun” which means an individual acted hastily or made a snap decision after receiving information that was inadequate. By reason of assumption, one can “jump the gun” and assume the worst or best of a situation. This person’s action can either bring a positive result but mostly the people who jump the gun eventually makes erroneous decisions based on the inaccurate information received.
Amphiboly refers to confusing speech owing to ambiguity in the use of grammar in a speech. Amphiboly is where a word has more than one meaning. Amphiboles can be extremely confusing and misleading especially when one does not really know what a person originally said because the words have two different meaning. Amphiboly can either be contingent or deliberate whereby they are used to confuse someone or are used to mean what they say. Moreover, amphiboly can be discombobulating and hence can put a person in a state where he/she is open to different conceptions of a statement. For example the statement “They are chasing the cars”. This speech can either mean that something is chasing cars or someone is chasing cars. These are two different meanings of one statement which can confuse someone.
Analogy refers to the connection between two situations whereby a comparison can be drawn. Furthermore, an analogy can be used to explain or simplify a complex situation by comparing it to things with similar features. Using an analogy is the best way to put across important points but it should be noted that when the analogy used is obscure, it can hinder instead of helping to pass the information. For example, the expression “she has a velvet voice” means that one is paralleling a singer’s voice to the smoothness of a velvet. The person’s voice is smooth and is being compared to velvet which is smooth too. Analogy is used to describe something in a few words through comparison.
It is an expression or phrase used to intensify a point. Flame words are emotional words that can get into someone negatively thus triggering reactions. Most flame words leads to misunderstandings because one might not realize how hurtful the word he/she used on someone or something until they trigger a reaction. It is a figurative speech that is often used by people. An example is “useless, incompetent” meaning that someone is not useful and does not have the skills to do what they are assigned. Such words always create negative reactions and can lead to quarrels and even fights.
A metaphor is a word or phrase that describes one thing being used to describe another. It is a phrase that is utilized in a place of another to suggest the analogy between them. According to Kirby and Goodpaster (2007), a metaphor is comparison between two things. An example can be the phrase “time is a thief” meaning that time passes quickly and waits on no one.
This refers to an overstatement that distorts the facts by making them more colossal than they are if visually examined objectively. It is exaggerating words by making them bigger than they are if looked at objectively. An example is when one says “I endeavored a thousand times”. This statement is not literally true yet most people prefer to use it in order to sound impressive or accentuate a feeling. It means that person was more than successful. The media uses hyperboles all the time to make stories appear to be bigger and interesting than they really are. For example in news there can be a headline, “crime of the century” meaning that the crime is bigger even than murder but they use bigger headings to attract viewers.
A simile portrays the attributes of something by comparing it with something else with the same attributes. It is simply comparing two different things. An example is “her face lit up like the night sky”. This statement portrays the person’s face as if it holds the features of the night sky. It means that her face was shining like the night sky please note that the face and the night sky are two very different things.
This is a phrase used in place of another that would be offensive. It is the supersession of a vague or indirect expression to be offensive. Most people use euphemism to protect the harsh realities of life or events. Euphemism deals with death, sex, murder, profanity and other things that are not considered to be polite both in writing and conversation. For example “she passed away” meaning she died. This phrase has been used to conceal the original meaning so as not to offend someone or to make it not to sound harsh by saying it directly that she died.
A cliché is an overused statement that becomes boring or trite since its original meaning has been lost. For example “time heals all wounds”. It is evident that it takes time to heal all wounds whether physical, emotional or mental and this statement has been overused until it has become boring and lost its value.
These are expressions characteristic of normal conversation rather than formal speech. A colloquialism is a casual expression that can not be used in formal speech or writing (Brenner, 2011). They are used by specific people who understand the meaning of the words better. They are mostly used by friends and family rather than with strangers and at a place of work. For example “y’all” which means you all, “gonna” meaning going to, “wanna” which stands for want to and many more. An outsider might have difficulty in understanding the colloquial words since they are used with people of the same dialect.
Kirby, G. R., & Goodpaster, J. R. (2007).Thinking (4th Ed.). (Edition for Strayer University) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.
Brenner, G. (2011). Webster’s New World: American Idioms Handbook. New York. NY: Wiley Publishing, Inc.