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Figures of Speech. Taken from: Columbia Encyclopaedia Encyclopaedia Brittanica merriam Personification.

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figures of speech

Figures of Speech

Taken from:

Columbia Encyclopaedia

Encyclopaedia Brittanica



(1755) metaphorically represents an animal or inanimate object (and ideas and abstractions) as having human attributes — of form, character, feelings, behaviour, etc.

  • Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground. --Genesis 4:10b
  • That ignorance and perverseness should always obtain what they like was never considered as the end of government; of which it is the great and standing benefit that the wise see for the simple, and the regular act for the capricious. --Samuel Johnson
  • Wisdom cries aloud in the streets; in the markets she raises her voice . . . .--Psalm 1:20
pathetic fallacy
Pathetic Fallacy

The ascription of human traits or feelings to inanimate nature is called FICTIO and when this natural-world personification is limited to emotion, John Ruskin called it the PATHETIC FALLACY.

…the difference between the ordinary, proper, and true appearances of things to us; and the extraordinary, or false appearances, when we are under the influence of emotion, or contemplative fancy; false appearances, I say, as being entirely unconnected with any real power or character in the object, and only imputed to it by us. (1856. Of the Pathetic Fallacy).

  • They rowed her in across the rolling foam- The cruel, crawling foam.
  • After two hours of political platitudes, everyone grew bored. The delegates were bored; the guests were bored; the speaker himself was bored. Even the chairs were bored.

Figure of speech in which an absent person, a personified inanimate being, or an abstraction is addressed as though present. The term is derived from a Greek word meaning “a turning away,” and this sense is maintained when a narrative or dramatic thread is broken in order to digress by speaking directly to someone not there, e.g., “Envy, be silent and attend!”—Alexander Pope, “On a Certain Lady at Court.”


(Gk. metapherein, to transfer, 1533) a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object/idea is used in place of another dissimilar object/idea to suggest a likeness; ascribing to the first some of the qualities of the second. Unlike a simile or analogy, metaphor asserts that one thing is another thing, not just that one is like another.

  • Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life." --John 6:35
  • Thus a mind that is free from passion is a very citadel; man has no stronger fortress in which to seek shelter and defy every assault. Failure to perceive this is ignorance; but to perceive it, and still not to seek its refuge, is misfortune indeed. --Marcus Aurelius

a-is-b form is not necessary:

  • What sort of a monster then is man? What a novelty, what a portent, what a chaos, what a mass of contradictions, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, a ridiculous earthworm who is the repository of truth, a sink of uncertainty and error; the glory and the scum of the world. --Blaise Pascal

(14th century) is a direct, expressed comparison between two things essentially unlike, but resembling each other in at least one aspect. It is a device both of art and explanation, comparing the unfamiliar thing to be explained to some familiar thing known to the reader. There is no simile in the comparison, "My car is like your car," because the two objects are not "essentially unlike" each other.

When you compare a noun to a noun, the simile is usually introduced by like:

  • My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun. . . . --Shakespeare

When a verb or phrase is compared to a verb or phrase, as is used:

  • As wax melts before the fire,/ may the wicked perish before God. --Psalm 68:2b

Whenever it is not immediately clear, the point of similarity between the unlike objects must be specified to avoid confusion and vagueness.

  • And money is like muck, not good except it be spread. --Francis Bacon

(Gk. synecdoche, sense, interpretation, 15th c.) a figure of speech by which a part is put for the whole (as fifty sail for fifty ships), the whole for a part (as society for high society), the species for the genus (as cutthroat for assassin), the genus for the species (as a creature for a man), or the name of the material for the thing made (as boards for stage).

  • Farmer Jones has two hundred head of cattle and three hired hands.
  • Give us this day our daily bread. --Matt. 6:11
  • Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. --Genesis 2:7

(Gk. metonymia, 1547)a figure of speech consisting of the use of the name of one thing for that of another of which it is an attribute or with which it is associated; it is another form of metaphor.

  • The orders came directly from the White House.
  • You can't fight city hall.
  • This land belongs to the crown.
  • In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread . . . . --Genesis 3:19
  • Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing. --Psalm 100:1-2
allusion and hyperbole
Allusion and Hyperbole

(Lat. alludere, 1548)an implied or indirect reference especially in literature or a short, informal reference to a famous person or event:

  • You must borrow me Gargantua's mouth first. 'Tis a word too great for any mouth of this age's size. --Shakespeare

(Gk. hyperballein, to exceed, 15th c.) the counterpart of understatement, extravagant exaggeration for emphasis or effect.

  • If anyone comes to me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. --Luke 14:26
epithet and transferred epithet
Epithet and Transferred Epithet

(Gk. epithetos, added, 1579) is an adjective or adjective phrase qualifying a noun by naming an important characteristic of it.

  • untroubled sleep peaceful dawn lifegiving water

The epithet may also be metaphorical,

  • lazy road tired landscape

A TRANSFERRED EPITHETis an adjective modifying a noun which it cannot logically modify, yet which works because the metaphorical meaning remains clear:

  • Blind mouths! that scarce themselves know how to hold / A sheep hook . . . . --John Milton

Late Greek oxymOron, from neuter of oxymOros pointedly foolish, from Greek oxys sharp, keen + mOros foolish

Oxymoron is a a combination of contradictory or incongruous words, a paradox reduced to two words, usually in an adjective-noun ("eloquent silence") or adverb-adjective ("inertly strong") relationship, and is used for effect, complexity, emphasis, or wit:

  • I do here make humbly bold to present them with a short account of themselves and their art.....--Jonathan Swift
  • The bookful blockhead, ignorantly read, / With loads of learned lumber in his head . . . . -- Alexander Pope
  • He was now sufficiently composed to order a funeral of modest magnificence… --Samuel Johnson

Juxtaposition/contrast of ideas/words in a parallel construction

  • "Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more." (Julius Caesar, III, ii)
  • Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate. - JFK
  • And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. - JFK
  • To err is human; to forgive, divine. --Pope
  • That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind. --Neil Armstrong