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personification

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personification

As personifications of their respective nations, England and the U.S., John Bull and Uncle Sam became popular during the 19th century.

Definition:

A trope or figure of speech (generally considered a type of metaphor) in which an inanimate object or abstraction is given human qualities or abilities.

The term in classical rhetoric for personification is prosopopoeia.

See also:

Examples of Personification in Essays and Novels:

Examples and Observations:

  • "Oreo: Milk’s favorite cookie."
    (slogan on a package of Oreo cookies)


  • The wind stood up and gave a shout.
    He whistled on his fingers and

    Kicked the withered leaves about
    And thumped the branches with his hand

    And said he'd kill and kill and kill,
    And so he will! And so he will!
    (James Stephens, "The Wind")


  • "Only the champion daisy trees were serene. After all, they were part of a rain forest already two thousand years old and scheduled for eternity, so they ignored the men and continued to rock the diamondbacks that slept in their arms. It took the river to persuade them that indeed the world was altered."
    (Toni Morrison, Tar Baby, 1981)


  • "The small waves were the same, chucking the rowboat under the chin as we fished at anchor."
    (E.B. White, "Once More to the Lake," 1941)


  • "The road isn't built that can make it breathe hard!"
    (slogan for Chevrolet automobiles)


  • "Unseen, in the background, Fate was quietly slipping the lead into the boxing gloves."
    (P.G. Wodehouse, Very Good, Jeeves, 1930)


  • "They crossed another yard, where hulks of obsolete machinery crouched, bleeding rust into their blankets of snow . . .."
    (David Lodge, Nice Work. Viking, 1988)


  • "Fear knocked on the door. Faith answered. There was no one there."
    (proverb quoted by Christopher Moltisanti, The Sopranos)


  • "Pimento eyes bulged in their olive sockets. Lying on a ring of onion, a tomato slice exposed its seedy smile . . .."
    (Toni Morrison, Love: A Novel. Alfred A. Knopf, 2003)


  • "Good morning, America, how are you?
    Don't you know me I'm your native son.
    I'm the train they call the City of New Orleans;
    I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done."
    (Steve Goodman, "The City of New Orleans," 1972)


  • "The only monster here is the gambling monster that has enslaved your mother! I call him Gamblor, and it's time to snatch your mother from his neon claws!"
    (Homer Simpson, The Simpsons)


  • "The operation is over. On the table, the knife lies spent, on its side, the bloody meal smear-dried upon its flanks. The knife rests.

    "And waits."
    (Richard Selzer, "The Knife." Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery. Simon & Schuster, 1976))


  • "Dirk turned on the car wipers, which grumbled because they didn't have quite enough rain to wipe away, so he turned them off again. Rain quickly speckled the windscreen.

    "He turned on the wipers again, but they still refused to feel that the exercise was worthwhile, and scraped and squeaked in protest."
    (Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. William Heinemann, 1988)


  • "Joy’s trick is to supply
    Dry lips with what can cool and slake,
    Leaving them dumbstruck also with an ache
    Nothing can satisfy."
    (Richard Wilbur, "Hamlen Brook")


  • "Outside, the sun springs down on the rough and tumbling town. It runs through the hedges of Goosegog Lane, cuffing the birds to sing. Spring whips green down Cockle Row, and the shells ring out. Llaregyb this snip of a morning is wildfruit and warm, the streets, fields, sands and waters springing in the young sun."
    (Dylan Thomas, Under Milk Wood, 1954)


  • Roger Angell's Personifications of Death
    "Death, meanwhile, was constantly onstage or changing costume for his next engagement--as Bergman’s thick-faced chess player; as the medieval night-rider in a hoodie; as Woody Allen’s awkward visitor half-falling into the room as he enters through the window; as W.C. Fields’s man in the bright nightgown--and in my mind had gone from spectre to a waiting second-level celebrity on the Letterman show. Or almost. Some people I knew seemed to have lost all fear when dying and awaited the end with a certain impatience. 'I’m tired of lying here,' said one. 'Why is this taking so long?' asked another. Death will get it on with me eventually, and stay much too long, and though I’m in no hurry about the meeting, I feel I know him almost too well by now."
    (Roger Angell, "This Old Man." The New Yorker, February 17, 2014)


  • Harriet Beecher Stowe's Old Oak
    "Right opposite our house, on our Mount Clear, is an old oak, the apostle of the primeval forest. . . . His limbs have been here and there shattered; his back begins to look mossy and dilapidated; but after all, there is a piquant, decided air about him, that speaks the old age of a tree of distinction, a kingly oak. Today I see him standing, dimly revealed through the mist of falling snows; tomorrow's sun will show the outline of his gnarled limbs--all rose color with their soft snow burden; and again a few months, and spring will breathe on him, and he will draw a long breath, and break out once more, for the three hundredth time, perhaps, into a vernal crown of leaves."
    (Harriet Beecher Stowe, "The Old Oak of Andover," 1855)


  • Shakespeare's Use of Personification
    "Do villany, do, since you protest to do't,
    Like workmen. I'll example you with thievery.
    The sun's a thief, and with his great attraction
    Robs the vast sea; the moon's an arrant thief,
    And her pale fire she snatches from the sun;
    The sea's a thief, whose liquid surge resolves
    The moon into salt tears; the earth's a thief,
    That feeds and breeds by a composture stolen
    From general excrement: each thing's a thief."
    (Timon in Timon of Athens by William Shakespeare)


  • Fraud's Tears
    Next came Fraud, and he had on,
    Like Eldon, an ermined gown;
    His big tears, for he wept well,
    Turned to mill-stones as they fell.

    And the little children, who
    Round his feet played to and fro,
    Thinking every tear a gem,
    Had their brains knocked out by them.
    (Percy Bysshe Shelley, "The Mask of Anarchy")


  • Two Types of Personification
    "[I]t is necessary to distinguish two meanings of the term 'personification.' One refers to the practice of giving an actual personality to an abstraction. This practice has its origins in animism and ancient religion, and it is called 'personification' by modern theorists of religion and anthropology.

    "The other meaning of 'personification' . . . is the historical sense of prosopopoeia. This refers to the practice of giving a consciously fictional personality to an abstraction, 'impersonating' it. This rhetorical practice requires a separation between the literary pretense of a personality, and the actual state of affairs."
    (Jon Whitman, Allegory: The Dynamics of an Ancient and Medieval Technique. Harvard Univ. Press, 1987)


  • Personification Today
    "Personification, with allegory, was the literary rage in the 18th century, but it goes against the modern grain and today is the feeblest of metaphorical devices."
    (Rene Cappon, Associated Press Guide to News Writing, 2000)

    "In present-day English, [personification] has taken on a new lease of life in the media, especially film and advertising, although literary critics like Northrop Frye (cited in Paxson 1994: 172) might well think it is 'devalued.' . . .

    "Linguistically, personification is marked by one or more of the following devices:
    1. potentiality for the referent to be addressed by you (or thou);
    2. the assignment of the faculty of speech (and hence the potential occurrence of I);
    3. the assignment of a personal name;
    4. co-occurrence of personified NP with he/she;
    5. reference to human/animal attributes: what TG would thus term the violation of 'selection restrictions' (e.g. 'the sun slept')."
    (Katie Wales, Personal Pronouns in Present-Day English. Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996)


  • The Lighter Side of Personification
    [inside SpongeBob's mind]
    SpongeBob boss: Hurry up! What do you think I'm paying you for?
    SpongeBob worker: You don't pay me. You don't even exist. We're just a clever visual metaphor used to personify the abstract concept of thought.
    SpongBob boss: One more crack like that and you're outta here!
    SpongeBob worker: No, please! I have three kids!
    ("No Weenies Allowed," SpongeBob SquarePants, 2002)
Pronunciation: per-SON-if-i-KAY-shun
Also Known As: prosopopoeia
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