Figurative Language versus Literal Language

An idiom is a word, an expression, or a phrase that has a meaning that is different from what the real meaning of the words used. One of the common examples of idioms is: “playing with fire.” This idiom is often used in a warning or notifying someone of the danger that is associated with the action that is taken by the person. However, some people may use this idiom as a way of expressing disappointment and dissatisfaction with the actions taken by other people (Finkbeiner, Meibauer & Schumacher, 2012).

An analogy can be defined as the likening of two similar features of different objects (Wormelli, 2009). An example is: “she is like a rock.” According to literature, this means that the person is strong and steadfast. Analogies have been subjected to diverse philosophical criticisms.

The criticisms emanate from the question of the true identity of relation in different objects as paired in analogies. Understanding a given analogy depends on the subject where it is applied; for example, literature, science, humanities, or philosophy whereby analogies are explored based on descriptive views, as well as constructive views.

A metaphor is a figure of speech that entails a direct comparison of two objects that are not related. An example is: “time is a thief.” This does not imply that time steals, but it means that time passes in a quick manner that results in a limitation of life chores. One thing that ought to be understood is that metaphors only become conventional after a long period of usage. Metaphors that have not become conventional may be easily misinterpreted (Wormelli, 2009).

A simile is a figurative speech that makes a comparison between two things. Similes make an indirect comparison of the features of two things. Two words are used to compare objects. These words are ‘like and as”; for example, “as cute as a kitten.” In this simile, the looks of a person are compared to the way a kitten looks. The ideological meaning of a simile is a critical factor in determining the level of comparison that is attained because there are different similes that are used to bring out same levels of comparison (Moon, 2011).

A cliché is an expression that has been used for a long period to the extent that it loses its power in language. An example is: “she worked like a dog.” This refers to working tirelessly. The qualification of a given phrase or expression as a cliché depends on the nature of writing in question. In creative writing, common phrases like this one may come out as clichés because they have been commonly heard (Reissenweber, 2011).

An amphiboly is an ambiguous speech that is derived from grammatical construction and not the meaning of the words used in speech. The most renowned example of amphibole is: “the duke yet lives that Henry shall depose.” Two meanings can be derived from this: the duke will be disposed of by Henry or Henry will be disposed of by the duke. The meaning that is derived from an amphibole is dependent on the nature of reflection. This is based on a logical reason that digs dip into the concept (Gardner, 2012).

A flame or a flame word is a word that is used with the intention of insulting a person. These words are used to denote and evoke emotions and are often used in the cyberspace. An example of a flame is: “incompetent.” The impact of a flame word depends on the interpretation of the person on whom the word has been directed to. Calling a person incompetent for something that the person takes casually may not evoke emotions in the person (Willard, 2006).

Hyperboles are excessive exaggerations as a form of figurative language. Hyperboles are deployed deliberately to emphasize something. An example is: “he kissed her a thousand times.” The term can be used to emphasize the magnitude of affection between two people (Moliken & Grudzina, 2008). However, there are other instances whereby the words can be used to denote irony or humor. For instance, a person may use the hyperbole to evoke a reaction when a person breaks up with a lover.

Euphemism is a polite term that is often used as a replacement of a term that is harsh when used in a given context. An example of a euphemism is: “termination of pregnancy,” which is used to refer to performing an abortion. Bowers and Pleydell-Pearce (2011) observed that euphemisms play the role of neutralizing the harshness and impacts that can be derived from the use of open or direct terms. In legal terms, euphemism is used to evoke neutrality or correctness of the case in question, thereby eliciting rationalization of what might otherwise be considered to be a vice.

Colloquialism is a saying that has a hidden meaning. The words that are used are different from the real or intended meaning of the saying. An example of colloquialism is: “I was not born yesterday.”

The literal meaning of this term is that a person is older, while the real meaning is that somebody is aware or experienced about something and cannot be taken for granted. This term is best suited in situations where people are trying to hide from the truth that is known. However, the term may still be used to justify a given course of action by the level of experience of the doer (West, 2011).


Bowers, J. S. & Pleydell-Pearce, C. W. (2011). Swearing, euphemisms, and linguistic relativity. Plos ONE, 6(7), 1-8.

Finkbeiner, R., Meibauer, J., & Schumacher, P. B. (2012). What is a context? Linguistic approaches and challenges. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Pub. Co.

Gardner, S. (2012). Routledge philosophy guidebook to Kant and the critique of pure reason. New York, NY: Routledge.

Moliken, P. & Grudzina, B. (2008). Rhetorical devices: A handbook and activities for student writers. Clayton, DE: Prestwick House, Inc.

Moon, R. (2011). Simile and dissimilarity. Journal of Literary Semantics, 40(2), 133-157.

Reissenweber, B. (2011). How do I know if something is a cliché? Writer, 124(10), 7-7.

West, M. L. (2011). Hellenica: Selected papers on Greek literature and thought. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Willard, N. (2006). Flame retardant. School Library Journal, 52(4), 54-56.

Wormelli, R. (2009). Metaphors & analogies: Power tools for teaching any subject. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.