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Metaphors and Their Function

It is a commonplace of elementary-school studies that a metaphor is "a figure of speech, an implied analogy in which one thing is imaginatively compared to or identified with another, dissimilar thing" (Morner and Rausch 131). But as Morner and Rausch explain, metaphors are not necessarily isolated to specific comparisons. Rather, a metaphor may be extended, or "sustained throughout the work and function[] as a controlling image" (132). Metaphorical extension reaches well beyond individual word associations or discrete instances of metaphorical comparison. Metaphor can be thought of as a mechanism for empowering diction, inasmuch as it need not be thought of so much as an instance of reaching or conveying a particular meaning, as a process that enables a larger project of experiencing language in a way that has the effect of arriving at a more immediate picture of reality.

The power of metaphor to create meanings by the simplest or most elaborate of comparisons between unlike elements suggests why metaphor touches on metaphysics; the terms share more than a Greek root meaning change. Metaphor and metaphysics both go to the mysteries of identifying what is real or existent and how reality and existence can be defined. Whereas metaphysics as a branch of philosophy seeks to identify and explain the nature of what is real (or simply what is), metaphor seeks a connection with that nature that is higher, deeper, more immediate, and vital all at the same time. Embedded in language as it is, effective metaphor functions as its vital force. That language can be considered to have such a force is equally evident, however, when effective diction is elusive.

When does language speak itself as language? Curiously enough, when we cannot find the right word for something that concerns us, carries us away, oppresses or encourages us. Then we leave unspoken what we have in mind and, without rightly giving it thought, undergo moments in which lan...

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Metaphors and Their Function. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 21:19, June 26, 2019, from