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What Is a Metaphorical Language?

By Lee Johnson
Updated May 23, 2024
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Metaphorical language is any form of language that makes use of metaphor. Metaphors are literary devices which say that something is, in fact, something different entirely. William Shakespeare’s famous quote, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” is a good example of metaphorical language. Shakespeare is not suggesting that the world is literally a stage, but is instead using the word stage to represent to discuss something else that would be associated with stages.

The word “metaphor” comes from the Greek word metapherin, which literally means "to transfer." The literary device of metaphor transfers meaning from one word to another. The statement, “The car became an oven in the summer heat,” does not mean that the car is literally an oven but that it takes on some of the qualities of an oven, such as being very hot, in the summer heat. Metaphors are like similes but do not use the words “like” or “as” in the comparison of two things. A metaphor states that one thing is another thing.

There are many uses for metaphorical language, but it is used often in poetry, song lyrics, or novels. For example, in “The Highwayman,” Alfred Noyes writes “The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.” By using the metaphor of the wind being a “torrent of darkness,” he is able to evoke the feelings that he wants to be associated with both the darkness and the wind. He creates a particular mood through the comparison of two unrelated things. Writers can also use metaphorical language for descriptive purposes, by saying things such as “The room was a cell,” which automatically conjures up an image of an unfurnished, confining space.

Ordinary people also use metaphorical language quite heavily in speech. If someone was to say “John is a pig when he eats,” he wouldn’t be says that John transforms into a pig when presented with food but saying that John has characteristics commonly associated with pigs when he eats. Essentially, the person would be saying that John is greedy and messy with food. Metaphorical language can also be used in other ways, by saying things such as, “The conversation sparked my interest in philosophy.” The verb “sparked” is being used metaphorically to mean caused or initiated.

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Discussion Comments

By ddljohn — On Feb 06, 2015

@serenesurface-- I don't quite agree because all of us use metaphorical language every single day. We don't imagination to use it because these phrases are embedded in our language and speech. There are so many popular phrases involving figurative speech that we all use without really thinking about them. For example, I may say that my mind is foggy today.

God also uses metaphorical language. There are so many metaphors in religious texts and stories. Metaphors and similes are used to describe people and situations. It's obvious that metaphorical language has existed for as long as language has existed.

By serenesurface — On Feb 05, 2015

I think using metaphorical language requires a good deal of imagination. My favorite authors are people who have great imagination and use a lot of metaphorical language in their books. The way they describe things and their resemblances makes the writing very colorful and exciting. If I read something without any metaphorical language, I get bored. Without metaphors, literature is too plain and simple.

By bear78 — On Feb 05, 2015

Metaphorical language is a great way to explain complex or difficult to understand concepts. They also use a lot of symbolism so through metaphors, we can visualize what a concept means.

It can be trick to use metaphors successfully. I think writers need to think about them a lot and make sure that the metaphors are understandable and logical. Sometimes people use metaphorical language that doesn't make a lot of sense just to have used it. I don't agree with that. Metaphors are very effective, but only when used correctly and when they really help explain something.

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