Figurative Language

  • We have spent much of this semester revisiting your ideas about writing and rhetorical situations, as well as concentrating on the demands and purposes of academic research (such as finding academically credible sources)

Ideas to think about

  • How do the concepts of purpose, audience, genre and rhetorical situation determine a writer's rhetorical choices.
  • why might a writer choose to speak “figuratively” instead of “literally” to express their message?

"It's Raining Cats and Dogs!"

  • We've all heard the saying "It's raining cats and dogs!" Have you ever actually thought it was? Why not? What did that statement mean to you? Why do you think someone might use this saying?

Figurative Language

  • One way to make your writing more lively, vivid and expressive is through the use of figurative language.
  • Today we'll explore some examples of figurative language, then practice picking out examples from familiar texts and contexts in class. (This will be your Final In-Class Group Quiz Grade).
  • Once you see how these elements can be employed in most writing and communication situations (Rhetorical situations) I hope it becomes easier for you to begin adding them to your own writing.
  • Although the NAMES of these elements may not be familiar to you, the elements themselves probably are. Using figurative langauge is where alot of the fun in writing (and reading) can be found. Some of the most commonly used are listed below:


"The Duke's moustache was rising and falling like seaweed on an ebb-tide." (P.G. Wodehouse, Uncle Fred in the Springtime, 1939)

Short lesson about similes


"Memory is a crazy woman that hoards colored rags and throws away food." (Austin O'Malley, Keystones of Thought)

Short lesson about metaphors


This figure of speech involves exaggeration. Typically, the exaggeration is so outlandish and/or ridiculous that it's obviously not true and is only used for emphasis.

"I was helpless. I did not know what in the world to do. I was quaking from head to foot, and could have hung my hat on my eyes, they stuck out so far." (Mark Twain, "Old Times on the Mississippi")


Onomatopoeia is a word which imitates the natural sounds of a thing. It creates a sound effect that mimics the thing described, making the description more expressive and interesting. Example "A "choo-choo" train"


"Last week I saw a woman flayed, and you will hardly believe how much it altered her person for the worse." (Jonathan Swift, A Tale of a Tub, 1704)


A figure of speech consisting of the use of the name of one thing for that of another of which it is an attribute or with which it is associated (as “crown” in “lands belonging to the crown”) -

  • The suits on Wall Street walked off with most of our savings.


An inverted relationship between the syntactic elements of parallel phrases -

  • "You forget what you want to remember, and you remember what you want to forget."

(Cormac McCarthy?, The Road, 2006)


Repetition of a word or expression at the beginning of successive phrases, clauses, sentences, or verses especially for rhetorical or poetic effect. -

Abraham Lincoln used this technique in his famous Gettysburg Address, delivered on November 19, 1863:

"But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate --we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract..." - %6$#