The metaphor and its sibling simile are two of my favourite figures of speech that enrich our prose and speech. A metaphor applies a non-literal meaning to something because both share some common attribute. We can say the ‘man is a lion’ while clearly he is not literally the wild African creature, but he and the lion share the attribute of courage or bravery. I could create a fresh metaphor and say ‘The rainbow is a necklace of coloured jewels arcing across the sky’. In this example I have actually used two metaphors — ‘necklace’ and ‘coloured jewels’ — to describe the rainbow’s attributes of shape and colour. I could also express the rainbow in a simile where I am comparing rather than stating that one thing is another thing. In this case I would say ‘The rainbow is like a necklace of coloured jewels arcing across the sky’.
The first metaphor stating a man is a lion has become a common metaphor along with many other expressions. Examples include the person ‘is a tower of strength’, her ‘fingers were smoking over the keyboard’, the car ‘rocketed’ down the street. In some instances, these oft used metaphors can become somewhat cliche, and can be unkindly referred to as ‘dead metaphors’.
The initial metaphor can be extended, which can become a device for humour or lose its initial flavour. Using the rainbow example above, I could extend the metaphor and say ‘The queen of the heavens proudly displays her jewels until the clouds part and they fade back into nothing’ . This can enhance the original metaphor but if extended too far will lose its original effect.
Similes can be used to great effect in ways that metaphors cannot. But that is another story. What common metaphors can you think of? Feel free to add them in a comment.