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The term 'metaphor', as the etymology of the word reveals, means transference of some quality from one object to another. From the times of ancient Greek and Roman rhetoric, the term has been known to denote the transference of meaning from one word to another. It is still widely used to designate the process in which a word acquires a derivative meaning. Quintilian remarks: "It is due to the metaphor that each thing seems to have its name in language." Language as a whole has been figuratively defined as a dictionary of faded metaphors.

Thus by transference of meaning the words grasp, get and see come to have the derivative meaning of understand. When these words are used with that meaning we can only register the derivative meaning existing in the semantic structures of the words. Though the derivative meaning is metaphorical in origin, there is no stylistic effect because the primary meaning is no longer felt.

A metaphor becomes a stylistic device when two different phenomena (things, events, ideas, and actions) are simultaneously brought to mind by the imposition of some or all of the inherent properties of one object on the other which by nature is deprived of these properties. Such an imposition generally results when the creator of the metaphor finds in the two corresponding objects certain features which to his eye have something in common.

The idea that metaphor is based on similarity or affinity of two (corresponding) objects or notions is, as I understand it, erroneous. The two objects are identified and the fact that a common feature is pointed to and made prominent does not make them similar. The notion of similarity can be carried on ad absurdum, for example, animals and human beings move, breathe, eat, etc. but if one of these features, i.e. movement, breathing, in pointed to in animals and at the same time in human beings, the two objects will not necessarily cause the notion of affinity.

Identification should not be equated to resemblance. Thus in the following metaphor:

"Dear Nature is the kindest Mother still" (Byron) the notion Mother arouses in the mind the actions of nursing, weaning, caring for, etc., whereas the notion Nature does not. There is no true similarity', but there is a kind of identification. Therefore it is better to define metaphor as the power of realizing two lexical meanings simultaneously.

Due to this power metaphor is one of the most potent means of creating images. An image is a sensory perception of an abstract notion already existing in the mind. Consequently, to create an image means to bring a phenomenon from the highly abstract to the essentially concrete. Thus the example given above where the two concepts Mother and Nature are brought together in the interplay of their meanings, brings up the image of Nature materialized into but riot likened to the image of Mother.

The identification is most clearly observed when the metaphor is embodied either in an attributive word, as in pearly teeth, voiceless sounds, or in a predicative word-combination, as in the example with Nature and Mother.

But the identification of different movements will not be so easily perceived because there is no explanatory unit. Let us look at this sentence:

"In the slanting beams that streamed through the open window the dust danced and was golden." (O. Wilde)

The movement of dust particles seem to the eye of the writer to be regular and orderly like the movements in dancing. What happens practically is that our mind runs in two parallel lines: the abstract and the concrete, i.e. movement (of any kind) and dancing (a definite kind).

Sometimes the process of identification can hardly be decoded. Here is a metaphor embodied in an adverb:

"The leaves fell sorrowfully."

The movement of falling leaves is probably identified with the movement of a human being experiencing some kind of distress—people swing their bodies or heads to and fro when in this state of mind. One can hardly perceive any similarity in the two kinds of movements which are by the force of the writer's imagination identified.

Generally speaking, one feature out of the multitude of features of an object found in common with a feature of another object will not produce resemblance. This idea is worded best of all in Wordsworth's famous lines:

"To find affinities in objects in which no brotherhood exists to passive minds."

Here is a recognition of the unlimited power of the poet in finding common features in heterogeneous objects.

Metaphorization can also be described as an attempt to be precise, as J. Middleton Murry thinks. But this precision is of an emotional and aesthetic character and not logical. This is what Middleton Murry writes:

"Try to be precise and you are bound to be metaphorical; you simply cannot help establishing affinities between all the provinces of the animate and inanimate world" 1

Metaphors, like all stylistic devices, can be classified according to their degree of unexpectedness. Thus metaphors which are absolutely unexpected, i.e. are quite unpredictable, are called genuine metaphors. Those which are commonly used in speech and therefore are sometimes even fixed in dictionaries as expressive means of language are trite metaphors, or de ad metaphors. Their predictability therefore is apparent. Genuine metaphors are regarded as belonging to language-in-action, i.e. speech metaphors; trite metaphors belong to the language-as-a-system, i.e. language proper, and are usually fixed in dictionaries as units of the language.

V. V. Vinogradov states:

"...a metaphor, if it is not a cliché, is an act of establishing an individual world outlook, it is an act of subjective isolation... Therefore a word metaphor is narrow, subjectively enclosed, ...it imposes on the reader a subjective view of the object or phenomenon and its semantic ties." The examples given above may serve as illustrations of genuine metaphors. Here are some examples of metaphors that are considered trite. They are time-worn and well rubbed into the language: 'a ray of Rope 'floods of tears', 'a storm of indignation', 'a flight of fancy', 'a gleam of mirth', 'a shadow of a smile' and the like.

The interaction of the logical dictionary meaning and the logical contextual meaning assumes different forms. Sometimes this interaction is perceived as a deliberate interplay of the two meanings. In this case each of the meanings preserves its relative independence. Sometimes, however, the metaphoric use of a word begins to affect the source meaning, i.e. the meaning from which the metaphor is derived, with the result that the target meaning, that is, the metaphor itself, takes the upper hand and may even oust the source meaning. In this case we speak of dead metaphors.

In such words as to melt (away), as in "these misgivings gradually melted away" we can still recognize remnants of the original meaning and in spite of the fact that the meaning 'to vanish', 'to disappear' is already fixed in dictionaries as one of the derivative meanings, the primary meaning still makes itself felt.

Trite metaphors are sometimes injected with new vigour, i.e. their primary meaning is re-established alongside the new (derivative) meaning. This is done by supplying the central image created by the metaphor with additional words bearing some reference to the main word. For example: "Mr. Pickwick bottled up his vengeance and corked it down." The verb to bottle up is explained in dictionaries as follows: 'to keep in check' ("Penguin Dictionary"); 'to conceal, to restrain, repress' ("Cassell's New English Dictionary"). The metaphor in the word can hardly be felt. But it is revived by the direct meaning of the verb to cork down. This context refreshes the almost dead metaphor and gives it a second life. Such metaphors are called sustained or prolonged. Here is another example of a sustained metaphor:

"Mr. Dombey's cup of satisfaction was so full at this moment, however, that he felt he could afford a drop or two of its contents, even to sprinkle on the dust in the by-path of his little daughter." (Dickens, "Dombey and Son")

We may call the principal metaphor the central image of the sustained metaphor and the other words which bear reference to the central image — contributory images. Thus in the example given the word cup (of satisfaction) being a trite metaphor is revived by the following contributory images: full, drop, contents, sprinkle. It is interesting to note that the words conveying both the central image (the cup) and the contributory images are used in two senses simultaneously: direct and indirect. The second plane of utterance is maintained by the key word—satisfaction. It is this word that helps us to decipher the idea behind the sustained metaphor.

Sometimes, however, the central image is not given, but the string of words all bearing upon some implied central point of reference are so associated with each other that the reader is bound to create the required image in his mind. Let us take the following sentence from Shakespeare:

"I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent." The words spur, to prick, the sides in their interrelation will inevitably create the image of a steed, with which the speaker's intent is identified.

The same is to be seen in the following lines from Shelley's "Cloud":

"In a cavern under is fettered the thunder, It struggles and howls at fits."

Here the central image—that of a captive beast—is suggested by the contributory images—fettered, struggles and howls.

The metaphor is often defined as a compressed simile. But this definition lacks precision. Moreover, it is misleading, inasmuch as the metaphor aims at identifying the objects, while the simile aims at finding some point of resemblance by keeping the objects apart. That is why these two stylistic devices are viewed as belonging to two different groups of SDs. They are different in their linguistic nature.

True, the degree of identification of objects or phenomena in a metaphor varies according to its syntactic function in the sentence and to the part of speech in which it is embodied.

Indeed, in the sentence 'Expression is the dress of thought' we can hardly see any process of identification between the concepts expression and dress, whereas in the lines

"Yet Time, who changes all, had altered him In soul and aspect as in age: years steal

Fire from the mind as vigour from the limb; And Life's enchanted cup but sparkles near the brim.

(Byron, "Childe Harold")

The metaphors steal, fire, cup, brim embodied in verbs and nouns not used predicatively can be regarded as fully identified with the concepts they aim at producing.

Genuine metaphors are mostly to be found in poetry and emotive prose. Trite metaphors are generally used as expressive means in newspaper articles, in oratorical style and even in scientific language. The use of trite metaphors should not be regarded as a drawback of style. They help the writer to enliven his work and even make the meaning more concrete.

There is constant interaction between genuine and trite metaphors. Genuine metaphors, if they are good and can stand the test of time, may, through frequent repetition, become trite and consequently easily predictable. Trite metaphors, as has been shown, may regain their freshness through the process of prolongation of the metaphor.

Metaphors may be sustained not only on the basis of a trite metaphor. The initial metaphor may be genuine and may also be developed through a number of contributory images so that the whole of the utterance becomes one sustained metaphor. A skillfully written example of such a metaphor is to be found in Shakespeare's Sonnet No. 24.

Mine eye hath play'd the painter and hath stell'd

Thy beauty's form in table of my heart;

My body is the frame wherein 'tis held,

And perspective it is best painter's art.

For through the painter must you see his skill,

To find where your true image pictured lies;

Which in my bosom's shop is hanging still,

That hath his windows glazed with thine eyes.

Now see what good turns eyes for eyes have done:

Mine eyes have drawn thy shape, and thine for me

Are windows to my breast, where-through the sun

Delights to peep, to gaze therein on thee;

Yet eyes this cunning want to grace their art, They draw but what they see, know not the heart.

The central image—'The eye—the painter' is developed through a number of contributory images: to draw, to stell, table, frame, hanging (picture) and the like.

In conclusion it would be of interest to show the results of the interaction between the dictionary and contextual meanings.

The constant use of a metaphor gradually leads to the breaking up of the primary meaning. The metaphoric use of the word begins to affect the dictionary meaning, adding to it fresh connotations or shades of meaning. But this influence, however strong- it may be, will never reach the degree where the dictionary meaning entirely disappears. If it did, we should have no stylistic device. It is a law of stylistics that in a stylistic device the stability of the dictionary meaning is always retained, no matter how great the influence of the contextual meaning may be.


Metonymy is based on a different type of relation between the dictionary and contextual meanings, a relation based not on identification, but on some kind of association connecting the two concepts which these meanings represent.

Thus, the word crown may stand for 'king or queen', cup or glass for 'the drink in contains', woolsack for 'the Chancellor of the Exchequer who sits on it, or the position and dignity of the Lord Chancellor', e.g., "Here the noble lord inclined his knee to the Woolsack." (from Hansard).

Here also the interrelation between the dictionary and contextual meanings should stand out clearly and conspicuously. Only then can we state that a stylistic device is used. Otherwise we must turn our mind to lexicological problems, i.e. to the ways and means by which new words and meanings are coined. The examples of metonymy given above are traditional. In fact they are derivative logical meanings and therefore fixed in dictionaries. However, when such meanings are included in dictionaries, there is usually a label- fig ('figurative use')-. This shows that the new meaning has not replaced the primary one, but, as it were, co-exists with. it.

Still the new meaning has become so common, that it is easily predictable and therefore does not bear any additional information, which is an indispensable condition for an SD.

Here are some more widely used metonymical meanings, some of which are already fixed in dictionaries without the label fig: the. press for '(the personnel connected with) a printing or publishing establishment', or for 'the newspaper and periodical literature which is printed by the printing press'. The bench is used as a generic term for 'magistrates and justices'. A hand is used for a worker; the cradle stands for infancy, earliest stages, place of origin, and the grave stands for death.

Metonymy used in language-in-action, i.e. contextual metonymy, is genuine metonymy and reveals a quite unexpected substitution of one word for another, or one concept for another, on the ground of some strong impression produced by a chance feature of the thing, for example:

"Miss Tox's hand trembled as she slipped it through Mr. Dombey's arm, and felt herself escorted up the steps, preceded by a cocked hat and a Babylonian collar." (Dickens)

'A cocked hat and a Babylonian collar' stand for the wearer of the articles in question. One can hardly admit that there is a special characterizing function in such a substitution. The function of these examples of genuine metonymy is more likely to point out the insignificance of the wearer rather than his importance, for his personality is reduced to his externally conspicuous features, the hat and red collar. Here is another example of genuine metonymy:

"Then they came in. Two of them, a man with long fair moustaches and a silent dark man... Definitely, the moustache and I had nothing in common." (Doris Lessing, "Retreat to Innocence")

Again we have a feature of a man which catches the eye, in this case his facial appearance: the moustache stands for the man himself. The function of the metonymy here is to indicate that the speaker knows nothing of the man in question, moreover, there is a definite implication that this is the first time the speaker has seen him. Here is another example of the same kind:

"There was something so very agreeable in being so intimate with such a waistcoat; in being on such off-hand terms so soon with such a pair of whiskers that Tom was uncommonly pleased with himself." (Dickens, "Hard Times")

In these two cases of genuine metonymy a broader context than that required by a metaphor is necessary in order to decipher the true meaning of the stylistic device. In both cases it is necessary to understand the words in their proper meanings first. Only then is it possible to grasp the metonymy.

In the following example the metonymy 'grape' also requires a broad context:

"And this is stronger than the strongest grape Couldeer express in its expanded shape." (Byron)

Metonymy and metaphor differ also in the way they are deciphered. In the process of disclosing the meaning implied in a metaphor, one image excludes the other, that is, the metaphor 'lamp' in the 'The sky lamp of the night', when deciphered, means the moon, and though there is a definite interplay of meanings, we perceive only one object, the moon. This is not the case with metonymy. Metonymy, while presenting one object to our mind, does not exclude the other. In the example given above the moustache and the man himself are both perceived by the mind.

Many attempts have been made to pin-point the types of relations which metonymy is based on. Among them the following are most common:

1. A concrete thing used instead of an abstract notion. In this the thing becomes a symbol of the notion, as in

"The camp, the pulpit and the law For rich men's sons are free." (Shelley)

2. The container instead of the thing contained: The hall applauded.

3. The relation of proximity, as in:

"The round game table was boisterous and happy." (Dickens)

4. The material instead of the thing made of it, as in: "The marble spoke."

5. The instrument which the doer uses in performing the action instead of the action or the doer himself, as in:

"Well, Mr. Weller, says the gentleman, you're a very good whip, and can do what you like with your horses, we know." (Dickens) ,a . "As the sword is the worst argument that can be used, so should it be the last." (Byron)

The list is in no way complete. There are many other types of relations which may serve as a basis for metonymy.

It must also be noted that metonymy, being a means of building up imagery, generally concerns concrete objects, which are generalized. The process of generalization is easily carried out with the help of the definite article. Therefore instances of metonymy are very often used with the definite article, or with no article at all, as in "There was perfect sympathy between Pulpit and Pew", where 'Pulpit' stands for the clergyman and 'Pew' for the congregation.

This is probably due to the fact that any definition of a word may be taken for metonymy, inasmuch as it shows a property or an essential quality of the concept, thus disclosing a kind of relation between the thing as a whole and a feature of it which may be regarded as part of it.


Irony is a stylistic device also based on the simultaneous realization of two logical meanings—dictionary and contextual, but the two meanings stand in opposition to each other. For example:

"It must be delightful to find oneself in a foreign country without a penny in one's pocket."

The italicized word acquires a meaning quite the opposite to its primary dictionary meaning, that is, 'unpleasant', 'not delightful'. The word containing the irony is strongly marked by intonation. It has an emphatic stress and is generally supplied with a special melody design, unless the context itself renders this intonation pattern unnecessary, as in the following excerpt from Dickens's "Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club":

"Never mind," said the stranger, cutting the address very short, "said enough—no more; smart chap that cabman—handled his fives well; but if I'd been your friend in the green jemmy—damn me— punch his head—, Cod I would—pig's whisper—pieman too,—no gammon."

"This coherent speech was interrupted by the entrance of the Rochester coachman, to announce that..."

The word 'coherent', which describes Mr. Jingle's speech, is inconsistent with the actual utterance, and therefore becomes self-contradictory. In no other device where we can observe the interplay of the dictionary and contextual meanings, is the latter so fluctuating, suggestive, and dependent on the environment as is irony. That is why there are practically no cases of irony in language-as-a-system.

Irony must not be confused with humour, although they have very much in common. Humour always causes laughter. What is funny must come as a sudden clash of the positive and the negative. In this respect irony can be likened to humour. But the function of irony is not confined to producing a humorous effect. In a sentence like "How clever of you!" where, due to the intonation pattern, the word 'clever' conveys a sense opposite to its literal signification, the irony does not cause a ludicrous effect. It rather expresses a feeling of irritation, displeasure, pity or regret. A word used ironically may sometimes express very subtle, almost imperceptible nuances of meaning, as the word 'like' in the following lines from "Beppo" by Byron.

I like a parliamentary debate, Particularly when 'tis not too late.

I like the taxes, when they're not too many;

I like a seacoal fire, when not too dear; I like a beef-steak, too, as well as any;

Have no objection to a pot of beer; I like the weather, when it is not rainy,

That is I like two months of every year.

And so God save the Regent, Church and King! Which means that I like all and everything.

In the first line the word 'like' gives only a slight hint of irony. Parliamentary debates are usually long. The word 'debate' itself suggests a lengthy discussion, therefore the word 'like' here should be taken with some reservation. In other words, a hint of the interplay between positive and negative begins with the first 'like'.

The second use of the word 'like' is definitely ironical. No one would be expected to like taxes. It is so obvious that no context is necessary to decode the true meaning of 'like'. The attributive phrase 'when they're not too many' strengthens the irony.

Then Byron uses the word 'like' in its literal meaning. 'Like' in combinations with 'seacoal fire' and 'a beef-steak' and with 'two months of every year' maintains its literal meaning, although in the phrase "I like the weather" the notion is very general. But the last line again shows that the word 'like' is used with an ironic touch, meaning 'to like' and 'to put up with simultaneously.

Richard Altick says, "The effect of irony lies in the striking disparity between what is said and what is meant."1 This "striking disparity" is achieved through the intentional interplay of two meanings, which are in opposition to each other.

Another important observation must be borne in mind when analysing the linguistic nature of irony. Irony is generally used to convey a negative meaning. Therefore only positive concepts may be used in their logical dictionary meaning. In the examples quoted above, irony is embodied in such words as 'delightful', 'clever', 'coherent', 'like'. The contextual meaning always conveys the negation of the positive concepts embodied in the dictionary meaning.


Date: 2014-12-29; view: 8163

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