Posts Tagged ‘linguistics’

F: figures of speech

In Колонка Олега on Январь 22, 2012 at 8:03 дп

Figures of speech are integral part in English and all other languages. They are international deviation from literal statement that emphasizes or clarifies spoken or written language. In literature figures of speech are also used and give a stronger emotional impact to the written text or article. However, figures of speech sometimes can lead to misunderstanding if they are used in improper situation or when people who have different cultural or social background communicate.

The first figure of speech is idiom which is a phrase which cannot be understood by literal or ordinary meaning. For example, it is difficult to understand what the idiom «tongue-in-chick» means if a person has not listened to the whole conversation. Basically, this idiom means that a person said something with intention to make a joke. Every country, even county, has a large number of idioms which may not be known to the speakers from other regions. So, this figure of speech can be difficult for understanding to the non-native speakers or people who live in the other regions or countries.

Analogy is one of the simplest and most widely used figures of speech. It is used in order to show how different things are similar. For example, in the following sentence “The train came out of the tunnel like a bullet from a gun.”  analogy is used to show that the train was extremely fast.  Speakers should be careful with comparing absolutely different things or simple and complex things, because a listener may misunderstand the idea of comparison.

Metaphor is a figure of speech which is similar to analogy. However, if analogy states «A is like B», the metaphor states «A is B». One of the definitions of metaphor is a thing symbolic to something else.  For example, «a wave of enthusiasm» means “a lot of enthusiasm». Metaphors are popular in written English in poetry and novels, but they are less used in everyday English.

One more figure of speech similar to metaphor is simile. Simile is usually indicated by words «like» and «as», for example: slow as a snail, quick as a flash, hard as a rock, etc.  Similes are used to brighten conversation; however they should be used in context to the discussion.

Cliché is expression, or even a figure of speech such as metaphor or simile, whose effectiveness has been decreased through its overuse and excessive familiarity (quite as a mouse, honesty is the best policy, etc.) These expressions should not be used in literature or written assignments, because they are already overused and do not present any new ideas.

Amphiboly is an ambiguous grammatical structure in a sentence.  Amphiboly occurs frequently in poetry, because it helps to reorder words for metrical reasons. In real life, amphibolies are deliberately used to confuse the listener or reader.  In the following sentence “Teenagers shouldn’t be allowed to drive. It’s getting too dangerous on the streets.” it is unclear if it is dangerous for teenagers to drive or that they might hurt other people. Amphiboly should be carefully used in order not to lead to misunderstanding, especially at work, in business or politics.

Hyperbole is a figure of speech that is an intentional exaggeration for the sake of effect («Children have an enormous appetite for learning»). In this case the word appetite is used to show that children like studying more than adults do.

Euphemism is the substitution of the expression that might offend or otherwise suggest something unpleasant to the audience, for a mild phrase. For example, the phrase «soldiers were killed» can be replaced with «soldiers lost their lives«. It helps to avoid the tension which would be caused after saying the first phrase.

Colloquialism is a word or phrase that is common in everyday conversation rather than in formal speech or academic writing (examples: wanna, gonna, slang and jargon words, etc.). It is important to avoid colloquialism words in academic writing or public speaking. What is more, colloquialism may cause misunderstanding, because in different regions there are a large number of own words.

In conclusion, figures of speech help to make the speech or written text richer, more understandable, and are used for the sake of the emotional effect. Some of figures of speech are widely used in poetry — metaphor, hyperbole, and amphibolies. On the contrary, such figures of speech as colloquialism, clichés and idioms are used in every day speaking. Figures of speech come from literature, folklore, and films from previous generations. They are a part of the language and culture and thus are often used by the people. However, they may be difficult for understanding if they are used in appropriate situation or wrong context. In addition, due to cultural differences and different level of command of English, figurative language can be difficult for non-native speakers.

FitzGerald, K., Wiegold M. (2010). Figures of Speech: The Official Handbook.

Nicolson D.B. (1950). A Handbook of English.  Cambridge University Press

Encyclopedia Britannica