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figures of speech


figures of speech

Tom Robbins, "What Is the Function of Metaphor?" (Wild Ducks Flying Backward. Bantam, 2005). See Examples and Observations, below.


The various rhetorical uses of language (such as metaphor, metonymy, hyperbole, and chiasmus) that depart from customary construction, order, or significance.

For examples of the most common figures, follow the links at The Top 20 Figures of Speech. Also, see Examples and Observations, below.

For definitions of well over 100 figures, visit The Tool Kit for Rhetorical Analysis.

Quizzes on Figures of Speech:


See also:


Examples and Observations:

  • The Figures as Ways of Seeing
    "The vast pool of terms for verbal ornamentation has acted like a gene pool for the rhetorical imagination, stimulating us to look at language in another way. . . . The figures have worked historically to teach a way of seeing."
    (Richard Lanham, A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms, 2nd ed. Univ. of California Press, 1991)

  • "The most excellent ornaments, exornations, lightes, flowers, and formes of speech, commonly called the figures of rhetorike. By which the singular partes of mans mind, are most aptly expressed, and the sundrie affections of his heart most effectuallie uttered."
    (Henry Peacham, The Garden of Eloquence, 1593)
  • "Language Is Not the Frosting, It's the Cake"
    "If, as Terence McKenna contended, the world is actually made of language, then metaphors and similes (puns, too, I might add) extend the dimensions and expand the possibilities of the world. When both innovative and relevant, they can wake up a reader, make him or her aware, through elasticity of verbiage, that reality--in our daily lives as well as in our stories--is less prescribed than tradition has led us to believe. . . .

    "Ultimately, I use figures of speech to deepen the reader's subliminal understanding of the person, place, or thing that's being described. That, above everything else, validates their role as a highly effective literary device. If nothing else, they remind reader and writer alike that language is not the frosting, it's the cake."
    (Tom Robbins, "What Is the Function of Metaphor?" Wild Ducks Flying Backward. Bantam, 2005)

  • "The figurings of speech reveal to us the apparently limitless plasticity of language itself. We are confronted, inescapably, with the intoxicating possibility that we can make language do for us almost anything we want. Or at least a Shakespeare can."
    (Arthur Quinn, Figures of Speech: 60 Ways To Turn A Phrase. Routledge, 1995)

  • Schemes
    "The Greeks called them 'schemes,' a better word than 'figures,' because they serve as persuasive tricks and rules of thumb. While Shakespeare had to memorize more than 200 of them in grammar school, the basic ones aren't hard to learn. . . .

    "Figures of speech change ordinary language through repetition, substitution, sound, and wordplay. They mess around with words--skipping them, swapping them, and making them sound different."
    (Jay Heinrichs, Thank You for Arguing. Three Rivers Press, 2007)

  • Figures of Argument and Figures of Style
    "We consider a figure to be argumentative if it brings about a change of perspective, and its use seems normal in relation to this new situation. If, on the other hand, the speech does not bring about the adherence of the hearer to this argumentative form, the figure will be considered an embellishment, a figure of style. It can excite admiration, but this will be on the aesthetic plane, or in recognition of the speaker's originality."
    (Chaim Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca, The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation. Translated by J. Wilkinson and P. Weaver. Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1969)

  • Figures of Speech and Thought
    "The real nature of the relation of figures to thought is very generally misunderstood. The majority of rhetoricians treat of them as mere ornaments, which render a discourse more pleasing, and which may be used or rejected at pleasure. Some writers--as, for example, Locke--condemn their employment in works intended to convey knowledge and truth; they are pronounced inventions, which serve only to insinuate wrong ideas, move the passions, and mislead the judgment.

    "But instead of being inventions of art, they are the natural, and therefore necessary and universal forms, in which excited imagination and passion manifest themselves. The young and the old, the barbarous and the civilized, all employ them unconsciously. Languages in their earlier state are highly figurative; as they grow older they lose their natural picturesqueness and become collections of lifeless symbols. These abstract forms are regarded by rhetoricians and grammarians as the natural and ordinary forms of speech, and so they describe figures as departures from the usual forms of expression."
    (Andrew D. Hepburn, Manual of English Rhetoric, 1875)


Pronunciation: FIG-yurz uv SPEECH

Also Known As: figurative language, figures of rhetoric, figures, figures of style, rhetorical figures, schemes

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