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Figure of speech
A figure of speech is an indirect way of communicating an idea. Many figures of speech are not meant to be understood exactly as they are said: they are not literal, factual statements. They use indirect language, and mean something different from ordinary language.
Linguists call these figures of speech "tropes"—a play on words, using words in a way that is different from its accepted literal or normal form. DiYanni wrote: "Rhetoricians have catalogued more than 250 different figures of speech, expressions or ways of using words in a nonliteral sense".
Metaphors are very common examples. A common figure of speech is to say that someone "threw down the gauntlet". This does not mean that a person threw a protective wrist-covering down on the ground. Instead, it usually means that the person issued a public challenge to another person (or many persons).
There is no one easy way to distinguish plain speech from figures of speech.
List of common figures of speech
- Allegory — A sustained metaphor in which a story is told to illustrate an important attribute of the subject. May be continued through whole sentences or even through a whole discourse. For example: "The ship of state has sailed through rougher storms than the tempest of these lobbyists".
- Alliteration — when a sentence or phrase has many words that start with the same sound.
- Antanaclasis — Repeating a single word, but with a different meaning each time. Antanaclasis is a common type of pun, and like other kinds of pun, it is often found in slogans.
- Aphorism — A tersely phrased statement of a truth or opinion, an adage
- Euphemism — Substitution of a less offensive or more agreeable term for another
- Hyperbole — Use of exaggerated terms for emphasis
- Innuendo — Having a hidden meaning in a sentence that makes sense whether it is detected or not
- Irony — Implying the opposite of the standard meaning, such as describing a bad situation as "good times".
- Metonymy — A trope through proximity or correspondence, for example referring to actions of the U.S. President as "actions of the White House".
- Metaphor — an explanation of an object or idea through juxtaposition of disparate things with a similar characteristic, such as describing a courageous person as having a "heart of a lion".
- Paradox — Use of apparently contradictory ideas to point out some underlying truth
- Proverb — Succinct or pithy expression of what is commonly observed and believed to be true
- Pun — Play on words that will have two meanings
- Rhetorical question — statement in the form of a question, asked and answered without a needed reply
- Synecdoche — Related to metonymy and metaphor, creates a play on words by referring to something with a related concept. For example, referring to the whole with the name of a part, such as "hired hands" for workers; a part with the name of the whole, such as "the law" for police officers; the general with the specific, such as "bread" for food; the specific with the general, such as "cat" for a lion; or an object with the material it is made from, such as "bricks and mortar" for a building.
- Truism — a self-evident statement
- DiYanni, Robert Literature - reading fiction, poetry, drama and the essay. 2nd ed, McGraw-Hill, p451.
- Ortony, Andrew 1993. Metaphor and thought. Cambridge University Press, p204.