Literal and figurative language
Literal and figurative language is a distinction in traditional systems for analyzing language
Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication...

. Literal language refers to words that do not deviate from their defined meaning. Figurative language refers to words, and groups of words, that exaggerate or alter the usual meanings of the component words. Figurative language may involve analogy to similar concepts or other contexts, and may involve exaggerations. These alterations result in figures of speech
Figures of Speech
Figures of Speech is a hip hop group consisting of MCs Eve and Jyant. They performed at the Good Life Cafe in the early 1990s and were featured on the Project Blowed compilation....


Details and examples

In traditional analysis, words in literal expressions denote
Denotation (semiotics)
In semiotics, denotation is the surface or literal meaning encoded to a signifier, and the definition most likely to appear in a dictionary.-Discussion :Drawing from the original word or definition proposed by Saussure , a sign has two parts:...

 what they mean according to common or dictionary usage, while the words in figurative expressions connote
Connotation (semiotics)
In semiotics, connotation arises when the denotative relationship between a signifier and its signified is inadequate to serve the needs of the community. A second level of meanings is termed connotative...

—they add layers of meaning. To convert an utterance into meaning, the human mind requires a cognitive framework, made up of memories of all the possible meanings that might be available to apply to the particular words in their context. This set of memories will give prominence to the most common or literal meanings, but also suggest reasons for attributing meanings, e.g., the reader understands that the author intended it to mean something different.

For example, the sentence "The ground is thirsty" is partly figurative: "Ground" has a literal meaning, but the ground is not alive and therefore neither needs to drink nor feels thirst. Readers immediately reject a literal interpretation and confidently interpret the words to mean "The ground is dry," an analogy to the condition that would trigger thirst in an animal. However, the statement "When I first saw her, my soul began to quiver" is harder to interpret. It could describe infatuation, panic, or something else entirely. The context a person requires to interpret this statement is familiarity with the speaker's feelings. Other people can give a few words a provisional set of meanings, but cannot understand the figurative utterance until acquiring more information about it.

Figurative language departs from literal meaning to achieve a special effect or meaning. Techniques for doing so are listed in the article on Figures of speech
Figures of Speech
Figures of Speech is a hip hop group consisting of MCs Eve and Jyant. They performed at the Good Life Cafe in the early 1990s and were featured on the Project Blowed compilation....


Specific Examples

A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two different things, usually by employing the words "like", "as". Even though both similes and metaphors are forms of comparison, similes indirectly compare the two ideas and allow them to remain distinct in spite of their similarities, whereas...

A figure of speech in which one thing is explicitly compared to another, as in “she is like a rose.” Compare metaphor.
Origin: 1350–1400; Middle English < Latin: image, likeness, comparison, noun use of neuter of similis similar.
Example: Suzie is as quiet as a mouse and as tall as a giraffe

A metaphor is a literary figure of speech that uses an image, story or tangible thing to represent a less tangible thing or some intangible quality or idea; e.g., "Her eyes were glistening jewels." Metaphor may also be used for any rhetorical figures of speech that achieve their effects via...

 [met-uh-fawr, -fer]
A figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance, as in “A mighty fortress is our god.” Compare mixed metaphor, simile def. 1 .
Origin: 1525–35; < Latin metaphora < Greek metaphorá a transfer, akin to metaphérein to transfer. See meta-, -phore
Example: She was a hippo compared to her ant of a sister.

Onomatopoeia [on-no-mat-oh-pee-uh, ‐mah-tuh‐]
The formation of a word, as cuckoo or boom, by imitation of a sound made by or associated with its referent.
Origin: 1570–80; < Late Latin < Greek onomatopoiía making of words = onomato- (combining form of ónoma name) + poi- (stem of poieîn to make; see poet) + -ia -ia
Example: “Bark! Bark!” went the dog as he chased the car that vroomed past.

Personification [per-son-uh-fi-kay-shuhn]
The attribution of a personal nature or character to inanimate objects or abstract notions, especially as a rhetorical figure.
Origin: 1745–55; personi(fy) + -fication
Example: The sun opened its sleepy eyes and smiled down on the Earth as a new day began.

An oxymoron is a figure of speech that combines contradictory terms...

A figure of speech in which a pair of opposite or contradictory terms are used together for emphasis.
Origin: < post-classical Latin oxymoronfigure of speech in which a pair of opposed or markedly contradictory terms are placed in conjunction for emphasis (5th cent.; also oxymorum) < ancient Greek ὀξυ-oxy- comb. form1+ μωρόςdull, stupid, foolish (see moron n.2).
Examples: Organized chaos, or Same difference.

Similar to Circular reasoning, A paradox is a seemingly true statement or group of statements that lead to a contradiction or a situation which seems to defy logic or intuition...

A statement or proposition which is self-contradictory, unreasonable, or illogical.
Origin: < Middle French, French paradoxe(1495 as noun; 1372–4 in plural paradoxesas the title of a work by Cicero; paradoxon(noun) philosophical paradox in post-classical Latin also a figure of speech < ancient Greek παράδοξον, especially in plural παράδοξαStoical paradoxes, use as noun of neuter singular of παράδοξος(adjective) contrary to received opinion or expectation < παρα-para- prefix1+ δόξαopinion (see doxology n.), after ancient Greek παρὰ δόξανcontrary to expectation.
Example: This statement is a lie.

Hyperbole is the use of exaggeration as a rhetorical device or figure of speech. It may be used to evoke strong feelings or to create a strong impression, but is not meant to be taken literally....

A figure of speech which uses an extravagant or exaggerated statement to express strong feelings.
Origin: < Greek ὑπερβολήexcess (compare hyperbola n.), exaggeration; the latter sense is first found in Isocrates and Aristotle. Compare French hyperbole(earlier yperbole).
Example: They had been walking so long John thought he might drink the entire lake when they came upon it.

Extended metaphor
Extended metaphor
An extended metaphor, also called a conceit, is a metaphor that continues into the sentences that follow. It is often developed at great length, occurring frequently in schools coursework or throughout a work, and are especially effective in poems and fiction.Symbolism is often a great tool to use...

A metaphor that is continued over multiple sentences.
Example: Suzie is a beautiful young flowering girl. Her cheeks are flush with the spring of life. She has the fragrance of youth about her.

Anthropomorphism is any attribution of human characteristics to animals, non-living things, phenomena, material states, objects or abstract concepts, such as organizations, governments, spirits or deities. The term was coined in the mid 1700s...

The attribution of a human nature or character to non-human forms of life or to inanimate objects.
Example: The plant greeted the rain with pleasure.

See also

  • Biblical literalism
    Biblical literalism
    Biblical literalism is the interpretation or translation of the explicit and primary sense of words in the Bible. A literal Biblical interpretation is associated with the fundamentalist and evangelical hermeneutical approach to Scripture, and is used almost exclusively by conservative Christians...

  • Figures of speech
    Figures of Speech
    Figures of Speech is a hip hop group consisting of MCs Eve and Jyant. They performed at the Good Life Cafe in the early 1990s and were featured on the Project Blowed compilation....

  • Linguistics
    Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. Linguistics can be broadly broken into three categories or subfields of study: language form, language meaning, and language in context....

  • Philosophy of language
    Philosophy of language
    Philosophy of language is the reasoned inquiry into the nature, origins, and usage of language. As a topic, the philosophy of language for analytic philosophers is concerned with four central problems: the nature of meaning, language use, language cognition, and the relationship between language...

  • Rhetoric
    Rhetoric is the art of discourse, an art that aims to improve the facility of speakers or writers who attempt to inform, persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific situations. As a subject of formal study and a productive civic practice, rhetoric has played a central role in the Western...

  • Semantics
    Semantics is the study of meaning. It focuses on the relation between signifiers, such as words, phrases, signs and symbols, and what they stand for, their denotata....

  • Semiotics
    Semiotics, also called semiotic studies or semiology, is the study of signs and sign processes , indication, designation, likeness, analogy, metaphor, symbolism, signification, and communication...

  • Trope

External links

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