Figures of speech

June 18, 2006 at 11:59 pm (General)

Figures of speech
Writing techniques that furnish the writer with a nonliteral means of conveying images. Figures of speech include hyperbole, irony, metaphor, metonymy, onomatopoeia, oxymoron, paradox, personification, simile, synecdoche and understatement.
When used effectively, figures of speech are appropriate to the characters and the setting of a story. A skillful writer uses them selectively and in moderation.

An exaggeration that is so extreme as to render the writer's meaning clearer than it would be in literal form. Hyperbole is used to characterize in the following statement: "Mary changed her mind as often as she inhaled." Other functions hyperbole can serve are to describe someone or something ("His voice was so loud that our relatives on the other side of town called to ask what was going on.") and to establish a mood.

Imagery is description that clarifies for the reader a sensory experience, an action, a thing, a place or an idea. To create imagery, the writer chooses words so carefully that the reader feels he is experiencing a situation or a sensation.
Imagery can be literal or figurative. Literal meaning is directly conveyed through the words as they stand; in using figurative imagery, the writer speaks indirectly to stir the reader's imagination.
Both fiction and nonfiction writers use this device. The following paragraph, from Walker Percy's novel The Second Coming, contains both literal and figurative imagery:
Down, down he crawled, letting himself feet first down a rockslide, first prone then supine because he needed the flashlight. There was no way, he figured, to go wrong going down. He wished for a miner's head lamp and, thinking of it, seemed to catch a whiff of acetylene. The slide leveled gradually and entered a crawl. Dry rock gave way to wet clay. The crawl was longer than he remembered, a good hundred yards. There were places where the ceiling came so close to the floor that he had to turn his head sideways like a baby getting through a pelvis. Progress could only be made by a slow scissors kick and rowing with his elbows. Once he got stuck. The mountain pressed on his back."
The next example, also a combination of literal and figurative imagery, is from a nonfiction piece, "A Sense of Where You Are," by John McPhee:
Then he began another series of expandingly difficult jump shots, and one jumper after another went cleanly through the basket with so few exceptions that the crowd began to murmur. Then he started to perform whirling reverse moves before another cadence of almost steadily accurate jump shots, and the murmur increased. Then he began to sweep hook shots into the air. He moved in a semicircle around the court. First with his right hand, then with his left, he tried seven of these long, graceful shots—the most difficult ones in the orthodoxy of basketball—and ambidextrously made them all.

A figure of speech in which the intended meaning of a word or statement is the opposite of its literal meaning. For example, Peter De Vries, author of Let Me Count the Ways and many other books, once said, "I love being a writer. What I can't stand is the paperwork."
What is stated ironically need not always be precisely the opposite of what is suggested, however. Irony may assert somewhat less than it suggests by the use of understatement; for instance, author Fran Lebowitz once remarked, "Having been unpopular in high school is not just cause for book publication." In addition to understatement, irony may be achieved through the use of devices such as hyperbole, sarcasm and satire.
A particular type of irony, Socratic irony, is named for Socrates, the fifth-century-B.C. Athenian philosopher who often feigned ignorance in a discussion with a view toward later defeating his conversational opponent. Socratic irony is a technique that involves adopting another's point of view to reveal that person's weakness and eventually to ridicule him.

A figurative comparison that usually uses some forms of the word is, although a verb is not absolutely essential to a metaphor. It is generally considered a strengthened simile (and doesn't use the words like or as). "He's nothing but a bag of wind" or "She's a doll" exemplify this technique.
The mixed metaphor, which is an inconsistent image, should be avoided, e.g., "Publicity is a two-edged sword, somebody said once, and it can get you into hot water."
Metaphors must be used with caution. Too many, too close together, can obscure rather than clarify meaning.

The figure of speech that substitutes the name of one thing for the name of another. With this technique, the substituted name is associated with the original by a common quality or function, as when "Pollyanna" refers to a person who is excessively optimistic, or "the White House" refers to the President. Metonymy can be used for quick characterization.

A word whose sound represents a physical sound. Deliberate use of such words is most frequent in poetry, but occurs in prose—and in common speech—as well. Plop, click and sizzle are onomatopoeic words.

A Greek word meaning "acutely silly," oxymoron names a figure of speech that combines contradictions, like jumbo shrimp and thunderous silence.

An apparently self-contradictory statement that actually contains truth. For example, Oscar Wilde said, "Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about." George Bernard Shaw once remarked, "The truth is the only thing that no one will believe."
Like wise sayings and quotable quotes, paradoxes come to an individual in a flash of inspiration. A writer ordinarily cannot sit down at his typewriter with the intention of creating a paradox; for this reason, paradoxes are found infrequentl

A figure of speech based on comparison. In a simile, two things are compared to each other, generally using either the word like or the phrase as . . . as. The two things or person and thing being compared must be dissimilar in more ways than they are similar, since one purpose of the simile is to make the unfamiliar (e.g., a new character) immediately familiar to the reader. For example, the writer might use comparison to describe a new character in a story as Maugham did in Of Human Bondage: "She had large black eyes and her nose was slightly aquiline; in profile she had somewhat the look of a bird of prey. . . ." In his description of a student's rented room, John Irving used this simile: "It was a cheerless place, as dry and as crowded as a dictionary. . . ." y in most writing.

A figure of speech that substitutes a part for the whole or a whole for the part. For example, in "The pen is mightier than the sword," pen substitutes discourse and sword substitutes warfare.

A device in which a writer uses deliberate restraint in expressing his idea. In understating, a writer phrases his remark less strongly than would be expected, or communicates the idea in negative terms. A critic for a Hearst newspaper, for example, who was assigned to write a review of Hearst friend Marion Davies's latest film, is reported to have closed his review this way: "Marion Davies was never better."

The interview is a research method in which the writer talks with a primary source. The interview may be the foundation on which a personality profile is constructed, or it may be one means of gathering information for an article on a subject the interviewee is familiar with.
The first, and perhaps most difficult, step is to arrange an interview with a subject. After gaining an appointment with his subject, a writer must do advance research in two areas: biographical and subject interest. A profile writer should bring to the interview a thorough knowledge of the interviewee's background—date of birth, real name (in the case of actors), hometown, education, current job responsibilities, etc. In addition, the writer must acquaint himself as thoroughly as possible with the subject area(s) he intends to talk about with the interviewee—politics, nuclear energy, Hollywood, baseball, etc.—by reading and talking with authorities in the field. Based on this knowledge, the writer will be able to prepare incisive questions before the interview, and interpret answers (checking with other sources on new information) and raise additional questions during the interview.
An interviewer probably should start out with two or three set questions firmly in mind. To avoid routine responses and monosyllabic answers such as "Yes" and "No," the interviewer must ask open-ended questions that give the subject the opportunity to elaborate.

A term that refers to the writer's or reporter's stating the source of a direct quote.
Attribution is important because it lends credibility to a story. However, whether to use a speaker's actual name in attribution can cause a dilemma for the writer when his material pertains to personal or controversial subjects. A method of solving the writer's problem is to print the direct quote while using a descriptive phrase or a professional title to name the source. For example, certain information about news in Washington might be attributed to "a prominent White House aide."

Indirect quote
An indirect quote is information paraphrased by the writer; that is, information quoted in substance rather than verbatim. For example: Mary Heaton Vorse once said that the art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair. Although such remarks aren't enclosed in quotation marks, indirect quotes are usually attributed to an identified source. An indirect quote may be rewritten to shorten it, improve the grammar or make it more precise, but such revision must not distort or misrepresent the original intent of the remarks being paraphrased.

This term can be used to refer either to the words enclosed in quotation marks or to the quotation marks themselves.
Quotes from printed material must be reproduced exactly as they appear on the page. Words may be omitted with the use of ellipsis points—as long as the context is not changed—and incorrect spelling or usage may be acknowledged by placing (sic) after the word or phrase in question.
When quoting material from a live interview or speech, the writer faces the decision of whether to correct faulty grammar or insert words for the sake of logic.
Quotations can add authority to an article, but the writer must learn to decide when a quote would enhance his work and when too many would detract from it.



  1. nostringsattached said,

    Hi, I´m florencia. I am sorry that I posted the file twice.
    You see, I am not good at this yet, since it is the first time I post something. Next time I promise I´ll try to do it better.
    Anyway, I hope you find it useful and it adds to the information we already have for the analysis of texts.

  2. nostringsattached said,

    Florencia, thank you for the information. It is great! I just erased the twin-post 🙂
    Hope you are having a nice Monday.

  3. nostringsattached said,

    Thanks Flo!!!
    I’m Gaby Brosan and this is the first time I have posted a comment, though I have visited the blog quite often. I hope I do it right.
    By the way, this blog is great and I hope I’ll be helpful some time in the future

  4. María de los Angeles Gutiérrez said,

    The info you came up with is awesome; even when we may not be using so many techniques in the near future, I think the info is invaluable, specially for our future assingments (and work as translators!)

    Thank you!


  5. Euge said,

    As Gabriela said, this is also my first comment although I also visit the blog frequently. I found this information really useful for the texts analysis. I also think this blog is a great way of being connected and exchange opinions as well as information.
    I promise to write more frequently.

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