Metaphorical English

Welcome to our metaphorical English page.

On this page you will find a growing list of resources regarding metaphor in English.

If you would like to contribute with a link or links, please contact us.

Metaphors for learners

View our definition of metaphor.

View our definition of metaphorical.

Metaphor discussions from our blog posts

It’s all in the genes: DNA and metaphor
As often happens with scientific and technical vocabulary, the term DNA soon broke out of the specialized field in which it originated, and began to be seen in newspaper articles about genetics and similarly general texts. More recently, it has taken a further step into the mainstream by acquiring a metaphorical use.

Depending on metaphor
A character in Sarah Kane’s play 4:48 Psychosis says that “the defining feature of a metaphor is that it’s real”. This might seem a strange paradox if we think of metaphors as the imaginative literary flourishes we were taught to look out for in Shakespeare.

Metaphors in mind
Mention the word ‘metaphor’ and most of us think of our favorite line from Shakespeare or Keats. But metaphor is everywhere. We utter about six metaphors a minute. Metaphor infuses not just the way we speak but the way we think.

Metaphor and message
We’re often told that teachers “deliver” courses or particular “units” of work. But I’m a teacher: if I’d wanted to deliver units I’d have got a job as an IKEA driver.

For I met a metaphor
Certainly some metaphors are little more than decorative and peripheral, but others are indispensable – sometimes less obviously so because they are deeply embedded in our everyday language.

Game of competing truths
It’s very common for politics to be described in terms of competitive sports like football (“Andrew Lansley scored a spectacular own goal today”) or cricket (“David Cameron hit for six over trip cost”) or even as warfare (“Joanna Lumley ambushed Immigration Minister Phil Woolas”) …

Dirty tricks and honest metaphors
As Diane Nicholls shows in her interesting article about the metaphors used to convey these concepts, honesty is felt to be white, clean, straight, up, bare and open, while dishonesty is characterised as dark, dirty, crooked, down, covered and closed.

It’s easy to get the wrong end of the stick
Contextual clues may of course put the learner on the right interpretational path, although much vocabulary research cautions that we should not have too much faith in the effectiveness of guessing-from-context strategies.

Metaphor can make your eyes water
For me, the most important word in Lakoff’s definition is experiencing. In much the same way that brain scientists learn about normal brain function by studying patients with diseased and injured brains, there is a group of people who can teach us a great deal about the experiential dimension of conceptual metaphor that Lakoff points up in his definition: they are people with Asperger’s syndrome …

Malfunctions, misdemeanours, metaphors
The expression mutton dressed as lamb is a rather unkind way of talking about an older woman who dresses in a manner that’s more appropriate for someone younger – and here this is presented as a sort of minor crime, or misdemeanour.

The bottom line on trickle-down
Picture the archetypal hard-nosed businessperson, to whom facts and figures, statistics and sales figures, and profit and loss are the be-all and end-all. Surely businesspeople are not concerned with the niceties and vagaries of imagery and metaphor? Surely all they are concerned with is the bottom line?

Sport metaphors

They think it’s all over…
Why some sports contribute more metaphors to the language than others is an interesting question. My own favourite sport is cricket (don’t all yawn at once) and it is a fact that British English has taken more idioms from cricket than from any other sport.

Blunt as a bag of wet mice
True, the fluid act of a footballer scoring a good goal doesn’t suggest something painstakingly carved from stone or bronze, but Hudson makes the unlikely metaphor work, in a way; he sees beauty and magnificent craft in the goal, and he doesn’t shy from comparing it hyperbolically to fine art.

Metaphor definitions, lists and resources

What is a metaphor?
A metaphor is a type of comparison: when you use a word or phrase metaphorically, you are using a meaning that has developed from the literal meaning and has some of the same features.

Common metaphors
A list of common metaphors with example sentences.

Famous metaphors
A list of famous metaphors or famous sayings/quotes that are metaphors.

A list of metaphors
A list of metaphors relating to, for example, responsibility, emotion, knowledge and more.

Metaphor in English – other useful links

Metaphor in Macmillan Dictionary
There are over 40 special boxes that deal with metaphor in the Macmillan English Dictionary.

When new words are needed in order to describe things that did not exist before, they are often created by means of metaphor.

What we talk about when we talk about …
A short series of articles on metaphor (love, money, illness, success & failure, words & language, anger, friendship, honesty & dishonesty).

Metaphor and phrasal verbs
Very few languages have phrasal verbs like English, but the same conceptual metaphors can be found in the vocabulary of other languages. In fact, some metaphors seem to occur in nearly all languages.

Understanding phrasal verbs: is there a system?
Most of the common phrasal verb particles are – in their basic meanings – words which describe positions in space: up, down, in, out, on and off all have literal uses that relate to ‘spatial orientation’. Many of these concepts also have figurative uses which are found in many languages: for example, the ideas of being ‘up’ or ‘down’ are often equated metaphorically with quantities and with power.

Sign Languages Help Us Understand the Nature of Metaphors
A recent study of the use of metaphors in spoken language and various sign languages shows that certain types of metaphors are difficult to convey in sign language.

This figure of speech isn’t dead – it’s just resting
By condemning the commonplace metaphor, the Plain English Campaign betrays a lack of sensitivity to the power of everyday language
(article first published here)

Metaphor – language resources

Articles and lesson plans aimed at helping you approach teaching metaphors with your students by Lindsay Clandfield.

Metaphor – video

James Geary, metaphorically speaking
Aphorism enthusiast and author James Geary waxes on a fascinating fixture of human language: the metaphor. Friend of scribes from Aristotle to Elvis, metaphor can subtly influence the decisions we make, Geary says.

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