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The Art of Language

Language is truly an art form. There are so many variations and intricacies available that can convey
several different meanings, all of which come together to serve one main purpose: to communicate.
Communication is crucial to the function of our society, and we use many different methods to
express meaning. One of the most common methods involves figures of speech. Figures of speech
are so common, you most likely use them on a daily basis and don't even notice.

Figures of Speech
Figures of speech are plainly defined as saying one thing in terms of something else. What does
that mean? Well, it's simple, actually. Whenever you say something, but you don't mean it literally,
you are using a figure of speech. Let's say you are about to head out to the store and your mother
says, 'Ya better take a jacket; it's raining cats and dogs out there.'
Does your mom literally mean animals are falling from the sky? Of course not. Her meaning is that it
is raining hard outside. So why doesn't she just say, 'Take a jacket. It's raining!' Because figures of
speech are meant to clarify and describe in more detail. Rain itself has many different forms. It could
be drizzling, sprinkling, misting or even downpouring. Your mother used a figure of speech to clarify
that the rain is hard and would probably soak anyone caught in it. Figures of speech are very useful
in giving a more detailed and accurate description.

Types of Figures of Speech


There are many different types of figures of speech. Two that are closely related are similes and
metaphors. A simile is a comparison between two objects using the words 'like,' 'as,' 'seems' or
'appears.' Look at the following example: 'My dog is like a tornado; she dashes through the house,
destroying everything she touches.'
The first part contains the simile: the dog is being compared to a tornado. The second part explains
the comparison. The dog is like a tornado because she destroys things wherever she goes. The use
of the simile gives a better picture of the dog and adds some color to the description.
A metaphor, then, is a comparison between two objects without using the words listed above.
Metaphors are usually stated as one object is another object. Look at the following poem by Emily
Dickinson:
'Presentiment - is that long shadow - on the lawn -
Indicative that Suns go down -
The notice to the startled Grass
That Darkness - is about to pass -'
In this poem, Dickinson states that presentiment is a shadow. Is presentiment, which means
foreboding or anxiety, literally a shadow? Of course not. Dickinson makes the comparison to give a
better description of how anxiety can creep up on a person and cause fear.
Another common figure of speech is a pun. A pun is a manipulating word that has more than one
meaning or that sounds like other words. For example: 'I'm reading a book about mazes; I got lost in
it.'
The play on words here is the use of the word 'lost.' Getting lost in a good book means the reader is
so absorbed in the story that he can hardly take his eyes off the page. The joke in this pun is the
reader is looking at a book of mazes, which of course are designed to make the reader get lost.
Puns are usually used in a humorous way.
A third type of figure of speech is personification. Personification occurs when the author or
speaker gives human characteristics to non-human objects. Personification is similar to similes and
metaphors in that it basically compares some inhuman object to a person. For example: 'The trees
scream in the raging wind.'
Can trees actually scream? No, that is a human trait. So the use of personification here gives a
better description of the sound trees make in strong winds.

Can you really hear this tree scream?


Two more figures of speech which are related are the hyperbole and understatement. These two
terms are basically opposites. Hyperbole is an extreme exaggeration, or overstatement, whereas
understatement is saying less than what is intended. Look at this statement: 'The teenage boy ate
everything in the house.'
Did the boy literally eat everything? The chairs? The couch? The sink? Of course he didn't! The
speaker is exaggerating to make a point of how much the boy eats. An understatement, then, is the
opposite. Look at a few lines from Andrew Marvell's poem 'To His Coy Mistress':
'The grave's a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.'
This is a great example of an understatement. Describing a graveyard as 'fine' and 'private' is far
from showing the seriousness of the emotions that usually take place at a gravesite. And, obviously
the dead are not up to 'embracing.' The use of these words understates the importance of that
particular location.
Two final examples of common figures of speech are also terms that are closely related:
the paradox and the oxymoron. The paradox is a statement that seems to contradict itself. Look at
this statement by George Bernard Shaw: 'What a pity that youth must be wasted on the young.'
What does Shaw mean? Well, it seems he is saying that the privilege of being young shouldn't be
given to those who are young, which of course is contradictory because that is precisely the
definition of the word 'young'! But upon closer inspection, you can see that Shaw means that young
people often take their youth for granted and are not wise in their decisions. The paradox often does
make sense once you analyze the context.
The oxymoron is basically a condensed form of a paradox. It is using two contradictory words
together in a phrase. For example, 'sweet sorrow,' 'cold fire' and 'silent scream' are all examples of
oxymorons. Each pair of words has the opposite definitions, but they are used side by side.
Lesson Summary
Figures of speech are a very important method of communication in our society. They specify
between different shades of meaning and give more accurate descriptions. Some examples of
common figures of speech include
the simile, metaphor, pun, personification, hyperbole, understatement, paradox and oxymoro
n. However, these are just some figures of speech. Whenever a speaker does not intend the literal
interpretation of his words, then he is using a figure of speech. The English language is full of
various figures of speech and other colorful methods of communication.

Learning Outcomes
Study the lesson's content and then showcase your readiness to:

State the definition of figures of speech


Impart the importance of using figures of speech in communication
Recognize different types of figures of speech