Figurative Language

Language itself is a mental construct, an illusion. Take nouns for instance. The word ‘HOUSE’ whether you see it written or hear it spoken, is not the house itself. It is simply a physical form of part of a sign. It is the signifier that points to the signified which is a mental conceptualization of an actual house. Both the signifier (the spoken or written form) and the signified (the mental conceptualization) are linked together by a 3rd element called a sign. This is what constitutes a “word” in language. It is because a speech community shares the same “signs” within their mental lexicon that we are able to communicate and comprehend each other. Figurative expressions are masterful manipulations on this phenomena. Many of the deities in indigenous cultures are ontological and taxonomic categorical labels serving as mnemonic devices for a package or container of various related concepts. Until this is understood, people who read foreign text and look at cultures and traditions foreign to them will be confused and perplexed that generally result in nonsensical questions. That is not a problem initially. But when those people refuse to take time to learn and study in order to help facilitate a paradigm shift and continue to ask the same questions over and over, this becomes the problem and a waste of time. At that point, you have to ask their motive and intent.

The understanding of cultural codes needed to decipher the figurative systems of the culture is not obtained on street corners or social media. This has always been done in an educational environment i.e., initiatic environments. Those who are not even willing to read materials and do literature review, become a liability to any progress that we are thinking of making as a people.

I always encourage people to take time to actually study figurative language and its applications around the world from past to present. Most people have a lack of understanding of the figurative systems used by various communities around the world especially from historical or ancient times. This results in people projecting a shallow and warped understanding onto other cultural expressions. There are even borderline mental disorders that account for the lack of ability to comprehend figurative language. This has contributed to many arguments over believe systems and also uninformed questions asked of them. There are many different types of figurative language. For example, it often includes the use of a specific type of word or word meaning:

Metaphor: A metaphor is a comparison made between things which are essentially not alike. One example of a metaphor would be to say, “Nobody invites Edward to parties because he is a wet blanket.”

Simile: A simile is like a metaphor and often uses the words like or as. One example of a simile would be to say, “Jamie runs as fast as the wind.”

Personification: When something that is not human is given human-like qualities, this is known as personification. An example of personification would be to say, “The leaves danced in the wind on the cold October afternoon.”

Hyperbole: Exaggerating, often in a humorous way, to make a particular point is known as hyperbole. One of example of hyperbole would be to say, “My eyes widened at the sight of the mile-high ice cream cones we were having for dessert.”

Symbolism: Symbolism occurs when a noun which has meaning in itself is used to represent something entirely different. One example of symbolism would be to use an image of the American flag to represent patriotism and a love for one’s country.

In addition to various types of words relating to the word’s meaning, figurative language also includes unusual constructions or combinations of words that provide a new perspective on the word. For example:

Onomatopoeia: When you name an action by imitating the sound associated with it, this is known as onomatopoeia. One example of onomatopoeia would be to say, “The bees buzz angrily when their hive is disturbed.”

Idiom: An idiom is an expression used by a particular group of people with a meaning that is only known through common use. One example of an idiom would be to say, “I’m just waiting for him to kick the bucket.” Many idioms that are frequently used are also considered clichés.

Synecdoche: A synecdoche is a figure of speech using a word or words that are a part to represent a whole. For example, referring to credit cards as “plastic” is a synecdoche.

Cliché: A cliché is a phrase that is often repeated and has become kind of meaningless. An example of a cliché is the expression “walk a mile in my shoes.”
Assonance: When you repeat a vowel sound in a phrase is it assonance. For example, “True, I do like Sue.”

Metonymy: A metonymy is a figure of speech where one thing is replaced with a word that is closely associated with it such as using “Washington” to refer to the United States government.

Related Articles