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A metaphor, as defined in our glossary, is a figure of speech in

which an implied comparison is made between two unlike things

that actually have something important in common. The
word metaphor itself is a metaphor, coming from a Greek word
meaning to "transfer" or "carry across." Metaphors "carry" meaning
from one word, image, or idea to another.

Metaphors in literature (not just English literature)

can be traced as far back as the Epic of Gilgamesh,
which is an ancient poem from Mesopotmia
(present day Iraq) and which historians have dated
to the eighteenth or seventeenth century BC.

To answer this question I am

going to ask you to read the
poem above again, slowly,
and then answer the following
questions once you finish.

1. Can you see that ocean?

2. Can you feel the slow
rhythm of the waves?
3. Can you feel calmness
and tranquility?
4. Do you understand the
term tranquility better

If your answer to the last

three questions was YES,
then you can say that you
have experienced a
metaphor. This is a tool
which writers use in order to
involve their readers more,
by making them FEEL as
opposed to helping them to
other words, when
metaphors are involved, the
meaning in that particular
piece of writing goes far
beyond the words of the text.

Let us look at these few examples, which will hopefully help to

1.Life is a journey.
2.Life is like a journey.
3.Life is as eventful as a journey.
As stated in the previous section, the first example is the metaphor,
whereas the second and third examples are both similes. One simple
way of remembering the distinction is to bear in mind that a simile
generally includes like or as, whilst in the case of a metaphor the writer
In mathematical terms here's how one can describe it:
Simile: something is APPROXIMATELY EQUAL to something else.

A simple metaphor has a single link between the

subject and the metaphoric vehicle. The vehicle thus
has a single meaning which is transferred directly to
the subject.
Cool down! [Cool = temperature]
He was mad. [mad = anger]
I'll chew on it. [chew = think]
It was raining cats and dogs. [cats and dogs = rain]
Max was an angel. [angel = lovely person]
In the simple metaphor, the effort to understand what the author or speaker intends is relatively low, and hence it may easily
be used with a wider and less sophisticated audience.

A complex metaphor happens where a simple

metaphor is based on a secondary metaphoric element.
For example using a metaphor of 'light' for
'understanding' may be complexified by saying
'throwing light' rather than 'shining light'. 'Throwing' is
an extra metaphor for how light arrives.
That lends weight to the argument.
They stood alone, frozen statues on the plain.
The ball happily danced into the net.
"But at my back I always hear.

A compound metaphor is one where there are

multiple parts in the metaphor that are used to
snag the listener. These parts may be enhancement
words such as adverbs, adjectives, etc.
Each part in the compound metaphor may be used
to signify an additional item of meaning.
Thick, primal, blind fog descended before his eyes.
The car screeched in hated anguish, its flesh laid bare in the raucous collision.

Compound metaphors are like a multiple punch, hitting the listener repeatedly with metaphoric
elements. Where the complex metaphor uses stacked layers to enhance the metaphor, the compound
metaphor uses sequential words. The compound metaphor is also known as a loose metaphor.

A live metaphor is one which a reader notices. A dead metaphor is one

no-one notices because it has become so common in the language.
Two people walk off a tennis court. Someone asks the loser: "What
"He won". Literal truth.
"He beat me". Obviously a dead metaphor.
"He thrashed me". This one is slightly alive.
The river runs. Dead, and many variations on this theme.
Electricity is a fluid. Nearly dead.
All our efforts are running into the sand. Live.

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