FIGURES OF SPEECH BY G.F.LAMB
A student should not be tempted to regard figures of speech as ornaments with which to adorn his own writing. A good writer uses figures of speech unconsciously. He expresses himself in certain terms because those terms best convey what he is trying to say. If they happen to include certain figures of speech, as they often will, the inclusion is usually incidental and without premeditation.
It is often interesting, however, to examine figurative language when we are studying a piece of writing in detail and question on these matters sometimes occur in examinations. Various figures of speech and literary terms in common use are given here in alphabetical order, the more important figures being marked with an asterisk for special written forms by students.
Allegory*: a fictitious narrative, in which the persons and events have a symbolic meaning.(E.g., John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress and George Orwell’s Animal Farm).
Alliteration*: The repetition of the same consonant at the beginning of closely connected words. It was a characteristic of Old English poetry, and is still common in titles of articles and books, and in popular sayings and phrases. (e.g. “In a summer season when soft was the sun “[LANGLAND, Pier s Plowman]; The Pilgrim’s Progress; “dead as a doornail”; “pretty as a picture” ).
Anticlimax*: An arrangement of ideas in which an unimpressive item is put at the end, following some items which are more significant. It is often due to muddled thinking. When done deliberately, it usually has a satirical or humorous effect. (e.g., “Love your country; tell the truth; and don’t dawdle”- THE FIRST LORD CROMER, at the Leys School.)
Antithesis: A balancing of contrasted ideas, usually in the same sentence. (e.g. “Men who make money rarely saunter; men who save money rarely swagger”-BULWER LYTTON.)
Apostrophe: An exclamatory address made rhetorically to an absent person or to a personified object. (e.g.“Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour”-WORDSWORTH, “ O eloquent, just, and mighty death!”-RALEIGH.)
Assonance: The rhyming of vowels, but not of the following consonants. (E.g., load, moat; farther, harder.)
Blank verse: Poetry not restricted by rhyme, but regular in meter.
“Our revels are now ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve.
SHAKESPEARE, The Tempest
Climax*: An arrangement of ideas in which the most impressive is put last, and gradually led up to. Its effect is usually dramatic and intense. The last three lines in the example of blank verse are also an example of climax, expressing, in ascending order of intensity, the ideas: great buildings, royal palaces, religious temples, the whole earth, every living soul.”
Elegy: A song or poem of mourning, or one connected with the dead. (E.g. Gray’s Elegy in a Country Churchyard, Milton’s Lycidas, Arnold’s Thyrsis, Binyon’s For the Fallen.)
Epigram: A brief, witty saying often satirical, with an unexpected sting in it. (E.g. : “Speech was given to us to conceal our thoughts”.-OSCAR WILDE.)
Epitaph: An inscription on a tomb, or a short tribute to a deceased person. (E.g, “Nature and nature’s laws lay hid in night: God said, ‘Let Newton be!’and all was light.”-PORE.)
Euphemism*: A less offensive or less direct way of expressing something unpleasant or coarse. (E.g.,’gentlemen of the road’ for highwaymen; ‘liquidation’ for ‘wholesale slaughter’)
Euphony: A pleasing combination of sounds.
Free verse: Poetry unrestricted as to rhyme or meter.
Hyperbole*: Exaggeration for the sake of emphasis. (E.g. “a thousand thanks”)
Innuendo*: Indirect, unfavorable reference or insinuation, often ironical. (E.g. “Conscience… had told us that we ought to visit Napoleon’s house- now, very suitably, a natural history museum.”-ALDOUS HUXLEY.)
Irony*: A statement which means the opposite of what it says, usually with critical intention. (E.g., “For Brutus is an honorable man, so are they all, all honorable men.”-Anthony in Julius Caeser [SHAKESPEARE].)
Sarcasm*: Which may or may not be ironical, is a cutting, sneering statement intended to wound.
Dramatic irony: Relates to a situation (in a novel or play) which is very different from what one of the characters supposes it to be, the reader or audience being aware of the truth. (E.g. as in Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer, when Marlow gives Kate Hardcastle, thinking her to be a barmaid, a falsified account of an earlier meeting he has had with her in her own person.)
Litotes: Understatement; the opposite of hyperbole.(E.g.,“Falling down that flight of stairs hasn’t done me any good.”)
Lyric: The words of a song. Also a type of poem which is usually fairly short, and often expresses the poet’s feelings. It is a general term, and is not restricted to any specific form.
Metaphor*: A compressed simile (see below) with the word of comparison omitted. An image is made more vivid by an implied resemblance to something more familiar or more concrete. (E.g. “the grim jewellery of winter”-EDWARD THOMAS: “peep through the blanket of the dark”-SHAKESPEARE.). All speech and writing are full of metaphor, much of its unconscious. A metaphor may correctly be sustained (e.g. “The germ-centers of hatred and revenge should be constantly and vigilantly purged and treated in good time.”-CHURCHILL), but it must not be mixed (e.g. “the germ-centers of hatred and revenge must be cut to pieces before they flood the world”)
Metonymy: The representation of one thing by something closely associated with it. (E.g. “ since the First World War almost every beauty spot has been threatened by the bulder”-i.e, in danger of having houses erected on it, “ the builder” being used to represent the houses with which he is normally associated.)
Ode: A rather vague term, usually applied to a poem addressed to someone or something, or to celebrate some special occasion. (E.g. Keat’s Ode to Psyche and Ode to a Nightingale; Marvell’s Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland.)
Onomatopoeia (pron – peea): A word or group of words which suggests the sound it represents.(E.g. “ cuckoo”, “thud”, “the bare black cliff clang’d round him” [i.e., Sir Bedivere in his armor descending a great rock]-TENNYSON.)
Oxymoron: An apparent contradiction expressed in words placed close together, the surprise of the contradiction emphasizing a hidden truth in the thought behind it. (E.g. “ Kings too tame are despicably good”.-DRYDEN.)
Paradox*: a statement which appears contradictory, but which contains an element of truth which stands out by reason of the unexpected form of expression, it often takes the form of a contradiction of some well-known saying. (E.g. “ Any game that is worth playing is worth playing badly”-i.e, the man who is not too good at a game gets the most fun out of it, for he is delighted at the most modest success, whereas the expert is depressed when he falls below perfection.)
Parody: A deliberate burlesque of an author’s style. Often with critical intention.
Personification*: A reference to inanimate or abstract things as if they were persons. (E.g. Warm Charity, the general friend, With justice, to herself severe. And pity dropping soft the sadly pleasing tear,”-GRAY)
Pun: A humorous play on words having a similar form or sound but differing in meaning. (E.g. “Most plays are content with a run, but The Bat has scored a boundary hit.”)
Saga: Originally, stories dealing with ancient semi-legendary Scandinavian families; but now applied to any fictitious novel or series of novels dealing with family chronicles. (E.g. The Forsyte Saga, by John Galsworthy.)
Satire*: Verse or prose which holds up to ridicule either individual people or human failings.
Simile*: A vivid illustrative comparison of one thing with another. A simile is introduced with a word of comparison (usually like or as). And the two things compared must, if the simile is to be effective, be inherently unlike except in the one respect. (E.g. “Half wintry, half vernal, the mountain looked patchy, like a mangy dog. “-ALDOUS HUXLEY.). Note that “ the mountain looked patchy, like the hill we had seen earlier” would not be a simile, but merely a simple comparison, for the two things compared are inherently alike.
Sonnet: A poem of fourteen lines, usually containing a slight change of thought or break in continuity between the octave (first eight lines) and the sextet (last six lines). There is more than one rhyme scheme. (E.g. see sonnets by Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, Keats, Rupert Brooke, etc.)
Syllepsis: The use of one word in two different senses, usually literally and figuratively, in the same context. (“ that girl I met upon the beach so sunny, she stole away my heart- and then my money.”)
synecdoche(pron. Sin-ek-do kee): The representation of a whole thing by part of it, or of a part by the whole. (E.g. “a fleet of fifty sail “-i.e., ships; “Will Surrey win the country championship this year?”-i.e. The Surrey County Cricket team.)
zeugma: A grammatical construction where ,either by mistake or for the sake of brevity, a verb or adjective which is applicable only to one noun is applied to two. (E.g. “there were more weeds than (there was) grass on the tennis court”.) It is a construction which generally is best avoided.
By G.F. LAMB:English for General Certificate
TO BE CONTINUED