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Figure of Speech

Figures of Speech may be described as that language which is prompted either by the imagination, or by the passions. They generally imply some departure from simplicity of expression; and exhibit ideas in a manner more vivid and impressive, than could be done by plain language. Figures have been commonly divided into two great classes; Figures of Words, and Figures of Thought.

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  Samuel Kirkham  —  Grammar Tips
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Figures of Words are called Tropes, and consist in a word's being employed to signify something that is different from its original meaning; so that by altering the word, we destroy the figure.

When we say of a person, that he has a fine taste in wines, the word taste is used in its common, literal sense; but when we say, he has a fine taste for painting, poetry, or music, we use the word figuratively. "A good man enjoys comfort in the midst of adversity," is simple language; but when it is said, "To the upright there ariseth light in darkness," the same sentiment is expressed in a figurative style, light is put in the place of comfort, and darkness is used to suggest the idea of adversity.

The following are the most important figures:

1. A METAPHOR is founded on the resemblance which one object bears to another; or, it is a comparison in an abridged form.

When I say of some great minister, "That he upholds the state like a pillar which supports the weight of a whole edifice," I fairly make a comparison; but when I say of such a minister, "That he is the pillar of the state," the word pillar becomes a metaphor. In the latter construction, the comparison between the minister and a pillar, is made in the mind; but it is expressed without any of the words that denote comparison.

Metaphors abound in all writings. In the scriptures they may be found in vast variety. Thus, our blessed Lord is called a vine, a lamb, a lion, &c.; and men, according to their different dispositions, are styled wolves, sheep, dogs, serpents, vipers, &c.

Washington Irving, in speaking of the degraded state of the American Aborigines who linger on the borders of the "white settlements," employs the following beautiful metaphor: "The proud pillar of their independence has been shaken down, and the whole moral fabric lies in ruins."

2. An ALLEGORY may be regarded as a metaphor continued; or it is several metaphors so connected together in sense, as frequently to form a kind of parable or fable. It differs from a single metaphor, in the same manner that a cluster on the vine differs from a single grape.

The following is a fine example of an allegory, taken from the 60th psalm; wherein the people of Israel are represented under the image of a vine. "Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: thou hast cast out the heathen and planted it. Thou preparedst room before it; and didst cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land. The hills were covered with the shadow of it, and the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedars. She sent out her boughs into the sea, and her branches into the river."

3. A SIMILE or COMPARISON is when the resemblance between two objects, whether real or imaginary, is expressed in form.

Thus, we use a simile, when we say, "The actions of princes are like those great rivers, the course of which every one beholds, but their springs have been seen by few." "As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his people." "The music of Caryl was like the memory of joys that are past, pleasant and mournful to the soul." "Our Indians are like those wild plants which thrive best in the shade, but which wither when exposed to the influence of the sun."

"The Assyrian came down, like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming with purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee."

4. A METONYMY is where the cause is put for the effect, or the effect for the cause; the container for the thing contained; or the sign for the thing signified.

When we say, "They read Milton," the cause is put for the effect, meaning "Milton's works." "Gray hairs should be respected;" here the effect is put for the cause; meaning by "gray hairs," old age, which produces gray hairs. In the phrase, "The kettle boils," the container is substituted for the thing contained. "He addressed the chair;" that is, the person in the chair.

5. A SYNECDOCHE or COMPREHENSION. When the whole is put for a part, or a part for the whole; a genus for a species, or a species for a genus; in general, when any thing less, or any thing more, is put for the precise object meant, the figure is called a Synecdoche.

Thus, "A fleet of twenty sail, instead of, ships." "The horse is a noble animal;" "The dog is a faithful creature:" here an individual is put for the species. We sometimes use the "head" for the person, and the "waves" for the sea. In like manner, an attribute may be pat for a subject; as "Youth" for the young, the "deep" for the sea.

6. PERSONIFICATION or PROSOPOPOEIA is that figure by which we attribute life and action to inanimate objects. When we say, "The ground thirsts for rain," or, "the earth smiles with plenty;" when we speak of "ambition's being restless," or, "a disease's being deceitful;" such expressions show the facility, with which the mind can accommodate the properties of living creatures to things that are inanimate.

The following are fine examples of this figure:

"Cheer'd with the grateful smell, old Ocean smiles;"
"The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and
the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose."

7. An APOSTROPHE is an address to some person, either absent or dead, as if he were present and listening to us. The address is frequently made to a personified object; as, "Death is swallowed up in victory. O death! where is thy sting? O grave! where is thy victory?"

"Weep on the rock of roaring winds, O maid of Inistore; bend thy fair head over the waves, thou fairer than the ghost of the hills, when it moves in a sun-beam at noon over the silence of Morveu."

8. ANTITHESIS. Comparison is founded on the resemblance, antithesis, on the contrast or opposition, of two objects.

Example. "If you wish to enrich a person, study not to increase his stores, but to diminish his desires."

9. HYPERBOLE or EXAGGERATION consists in magnifying an object beyond its natural bounds. "As swift as the wind; as white as the snow; as slow as a snail;" and the like, are extravagant hyperboles.

"I saw their chief, tall as a rock of ice; his spear, the blasted fir; his shield, the rising moon; he sat on the shore, like a cloud of mist on the bills."

10. VISION is produced, when, in relating something that is past, we use the present tense, and describe it as actually, passing before our eyes.

11. INTERROGATION. The literal use of an interrogation, is to ask a question; but when men are strongly moved, whatever they would affirm or deny with great earnestness, they naturally put in the form of a question.

Thus Balaam expressed himself to Balak: "The Lord is not man, that he should lie, nor the son of man, that he should repeat. Hath he said it? and shall he not do it? Hath he spoken it? and shall he not make it good?" "Hast thou an arm like God? or canst thou thunder with a voice like him?"

12. EXCLAMATIONS are the effect of strong emotions, such a surprise, admiration, joy, grief, and the like.

"O that I had in the wilderness a lodging place of way-faring men!" "O that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest!"

13. IRONY is expressing ourselves in a manner contrary to our thoughts; not with a view to deceive, but to add force to our remarks. We can reprove one for his negligence, by saying, "You have taken great care, indeed."

The prophet Elijah adopted this figure, when he challenged the priests of Baal to prove the truth of their deity. "He mocked them, and said. Cry aloud for he is a god: either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is on a journey, or, peradventure, he sleepeth, and must be waked."

14. AMPLIFICATION or CLIMAX consists in heightening all the circumstances of an object or action, which we desire to place in a strong light.

Cicero gives a lively instance of this figure, when he says, "It is a crime to put a Roman citizen in bonds: it is the height of guilt to scourge him; little less than parricide to put him to death: what name, then, shall I give to the act of crucifying him?"

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