Metaphor – Rhetorical Styles

What is a metaphor? (Definition)

Image result for metaphorThe stylistic metaphor belongs to the tropics: the actual word is replaced by a pictorial expression from another world of concepts. A metaphor is therefore not always clear. It has to be interpreted. Although metaphors can be explained by paraphrasing, some of their impact and / or meaning may be lost.

What are tropics?

Tropics is the generic term for a number of stylistic devices . In a trope (also: Tropus) is always an improper and pictorial expression. The meaning is not directly formulated, but replaced by another linguistic phrase. This comes either from the immediate vicinity or from another area of ​​imagination. It is used to make what is said more vivid and lively or to decorate a speech.

The term derives from the Greek tropos = turn . Even in Greek antiquity, tropics were popular as a means of rhetoric or stylistics. They were separated from each other and individually defined. The tropics include allegory , antonomatism, emphasis, euphemism , hyperbole , irony , catachesis (dead metaphor), Litotes , Metalepse, metaphor, metonymy , periphrase, personification , riddles, sarcasm, and synekdoche .

The famous ancient Greek philosopher and naturalist Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) founded the term metaphorá in his works »Rhetoric« and »Poetics«. Translated, it means transmission (from Greek metà phérein = carry elsewhere).


  • “Life Clock”
    Here, the clock is transmitted as a device for measuring time on the course of human life .
  • “broken heart”
    We talk about a “broken heart” when someone has a big heartache. Here a damaged part of the body is used as a symbol of painful emotions ; both conceptual worlds flow together in this way.

How are metaphors formed?

Metaphors are created by

  • an analogy in the outer form (for example, “Glimmerstängel” – a cigarette reminiscent of the stem of a plant);
  • a similar function (eg »chair leg« – the piece of furniture stands on wooden sticks like humans and animals on their legs);
  • the merging of ideas (eg “song of the waves” – the sound of the water is reminiscent of music).

Unconscious and conscious metaphors

Many metaphors have become an integral part of our everyday language over time. We use it unconsciously . The use of some such symbols is even necessary , as there are no other names for the subject. They fill in gaps in the language. Such a word is also called a dead metaphor or catachrese (from Greek katachresis = abuse), because a transmission of meaning does not take place.

Dead metaphors

  • “Bottleneck”
  • “Spine”
  • “Letterhead”
  • “Fluency”
  • “Table leg”
  • “Bonnet”

The unconscious metaphors include those images that have faded through frequent use. Although other names could be found for them, but the use of the symbols has become a habit. The metaphor is thus a synonym for the other term .

Faded metaphors

  • »Kaderschmiede« (= elite university)
  • “Broken heart” (= heartache)
  • »Glittering party« (= exuberant party)
  • »Eagle eyes« (= very good eyesight)
  • »Hangover breakfast« (= meal that is supposed to drive off the effects of drinking alcohol)
  • “War weariness” (= lack of will to continue to wage war)

On the other hand, there is the conscious, real metaphor . It is used specifically to achieve a specific effect. Such a transfer is absolutely new. The audience is surprised by the pictorial expression.

Conscious metaphors

  • »The European House« (from architecture)
  • »Foundation of society« (from construction / architecture)
  • “Flame of the Spirit” (from the everyday world)
  • »Meltdown in the banking system« (from nuclear physics)
  • »Stream of Life« (from geography / topography)

The metaphor in epic, lyric and drama

In all three forms of literature, metaphorics plays a key role as a rhetorical figure. In addition to metaphors familiar to everyday readers, translated terms are often created by the author. These terms are therefore initially unknown. The context of meaning is easy or difficult to grasp depending on prior knowledge. If the interpretation succeeds, metaphors contribute to the understanding of the text. The clear description creates the opportunity to better understand what is meant without elaborate explanations. In particular, the emotional meaning can be detected more easily.

A well-understood metaphor makes a text easy to read, entertaining and memorable. If their purpose is to decrypt only with difficulty, the text becomes difficult to understand.


  • “Knights of the napkins”
    Thomas Mann: “Mario and the Wizard”
  • “Last Homestead of Feeling”
    Rainer Maria Rilke: “Exposed on the mountains of the heart”
  • “Dear Torch”
    Friedrich Schiller: “Maria Stuart”

The metaphor in poetry and modernity

Image result for writingMetaphors increase the poetics of texts by drawing pictures with words. An example would be the »clean sky«. In a poetry analysis, the interpretation of metaphors plays an important role.


  • “The angel who conceals himself in you” (Angel stands metaphorically for the beloved)
    Eduard Möricke: “To the Beloved”
  • “A rose-colored spring weather
    Laid on the lovely face « (happiness and love, being in love are reflected on her face)
    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Welcome and farewell”

Modern authors often use metaphors in ways that are difficult or impossible to decode. The incomprehensible picture forces one to pause while reading. Then the textual environment in which the metaphor stands is more important than the meaning of the transmitted expression.

The metaphor in politics and advertising

Metaphors are also popular in political rhetoric . They make speeches memorable and interesting and make pictures in the minds of the audience. In the face of the financial crisis, for example, politicians speak of the “tide change”. As the listeners visualize, a complicated process is easier for them to grasp.

Examples from politics

  • “The climate in the coalition negotiations was good.” (From meteorology)
  • “Scholz wants to continue the course of his predecessor.” (From the sea)
  • »The course is set for a change.« (Out of circulation)

In advertising , metaphors are indispensable because they convey feelings very well. This is helpful to encourage consumers to buy. In addition, the viewer and potential customer remember memorable images and allegorical phrases better than a linguistic statement.

Examples from advertising

  • »Red Bull lends wings .« (Energy Drink)
  • »The yellow angel .« (ADAC)
  • ” You can build on these stones . « (Schwäbisch Hall)

Differentiation to other stylistic devices

Metaphor and comparison

A metaphor can be recognized by the fact that it is used without further explanation or reference words. It speaks for itself, and the reader or listener must open up the relationship between the two conceptual worlds themselves. In a comparison, on the other hand, this connection is represented by words, often by “how.”

Examples of a comparison

  • “The young woman is swift as a deer.”
  • “He rides like the wind.”
  • “The air is as soft as silk.”

Metaphor and metonymy

A metaphor transfers the actual concept into a foreign realm of meaning. There is originally no connection between the two conceptual worlds: metaphor for love = float on clouds . In metonymy, on the other hand, one word stands for a neighboring one: the leather hit the post; Leather = the football. (Here is the material for the object.)

Further examples of a metonymy

  • »Berlin abolishes the property tax.« (Berlin = the Federal Government)
  • “Goethe is on the top left corner of the shelf.” (Goethe = the works or the books of the poet)

Metaphors from different areas

  • “Tops the sea”
  • “creative head”
  • “Wall of Silence”
  • “Fist on the neck” (inevitable threat)
  • “Power of Darkness” (Forces of Evil)
  • “Desert Ship” (picture for a camel)
  • “Ugly duckling” (expression for a little attractive person)
  • »See something through the pink glasses« (to judge something too positively)