Figure of Speech Dictionary
A figure of speech or a trope (the latter word has a more specific use) is a non-ordinary use of language employed to create an emphasis, amplify a meaning, draw a comparison or contrast, or to make a rhetorical point. The figure may be achieved by employing repetition of words or sounds in a specific pattern, making an interjection, stating or implying a comparison, using synonyms, or using a specific pattern of argument. This searchable dictionary collects some of the common forms (about half of all figures). Use the Contact Page to advise of corrections, additional examples or forms we have missed.
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The use of a word of one class as though it were a member of another, typically the use of a noun as a verb.
e.g. The knight was unhorsed.
A seeming contradiction of ideas, words, clauses, or sentences creating a parallelism that serves to emphasize opposition of ideas.
e.g. The king proposes, parliament disposes.
Antonomasia or Name Change
Change of proper name for a common or other name or vice versa.
Secondary Category: names
e.g. Have you seen old sideburns lately?
Notes: This is often a descriptive nickname. The description takes place of the literal name.
Magnifying the importance of something by giving it another name. It can be the opposite of Meiosis.
e.g. Two dollars for that piece of junk? That's highway robbery!
Catachresis or Incongruity
Two items compared or one standing for the other when the ideas they represent are radically different or perhaps contradictory, paradoxical or contradictory logic, or an illogical mixed metaphor.
e.g. To take arms against a sea of troubles. – William Shakespeare
Notes: The user may simply be employing one word incorrectly thinking it is another of perhaps similar spelling.
Pointing out that two words that normally mean the opposite can mean the same thing or be part of the same meaning, when used in the right context.
e.g. "Drink it up" and "Drink it down" illustrate that "up" and "down" can in a sense mean the same thing, or manner.
Eironeia or Irony
The expression of thought in a form that emphasizes or conveys the opposite meaning to the words used. A tone of voice may be necessary to convey irony if the words are not intended to be taken at face value.
e.g. 1. ...you are the people and wisdom will die with you (Job 12:1). 2. For Brutus is an honourable man; So are they all, honorable men. --Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
Notes: The surface meaning and the underlying meaning are not the same. Irony may be biting or sarcastic, and often has negative or pejorative overtones."
One part of speech is used for another, or one grammatical form is substituted for another, such as present for past or singular for plural.
e.g. Think different.
A word or phrase commonly used in place of terms which are disagreeable or offensive.
e.g. My uncle passed away last fall.
Notes: These are often used in politics, where they may sometimes be termed "doublespeak". e.g. I misspoke myself. Or the John Diefenbaker favourite "[That statement was] a terminological inexactetude."
Hendiadys or Two for One
Two words with similar or identical meanings are used where one would be sufficient.
e.g. The Latin expression "cum amicitia atque pace", literally "with peace and friendship" might be rendered in English as "with friendly peace", changing one of the redundant nouns into an adjective.
Notes: The combination of concepts that more often are described with a different word combining the two ideas.
Hendiatris or Three for One
Three words used but one thing meant.
e.g. ...how can we know the way? Jesus said to him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes to the Father, but by me. (John 14: 5-6)
Notes: In this example, the question concerned the way, but it is answered threefold."
Heterosis or Exchange
Exchange of one accidence or part of speech for another.
e.g. 1. In many languages. Collectives such as mankind which are both male and female are deemed for grammatical purposes to be male. 2. She run all the way to the store.
Notes: Frequently used with the gender of nouns or with verb tenses.
Words that are identical in spelling but different in origin and meaning
e.g. invalid, row, sewer, wound
Words that are identical with each other in pronunciation and spelling, but differing in origin and meaning.
e.g. age, reflect, arithmetic, high, report, rest
Words that are identical with each other in pronunciation, but differing in origin, spelling, and meaning.
e.g. 1. ant, aunt 2. leased, least 3. oh, owe
Hypallage or Interchange
The normal usage of two words is swapped to make a connection in meaning.
e.g. Open the day, and see if it be the window.--The Garden of Eloquence by Willard Espy
An intentional and often considerable exaggeration or extravagant statement to make a much lesser point. The statement is not meant to be taken literally.
e.g. 1. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away... (Matt. 5:29). 2. I could eat an ox. 3. If I've told you once I've told you a thousand times. Don't exaggerate.
Notes: The opposite is understatement.
A use of words and phrases peculiar to a particular language, culture, or time period.
Secondary Category: unusual usage
e.g. 1. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. 2. I've got a frog in my throat. (In French it would be a cat.)
Notes: Because an idiom is particular to language or culture it may make no sense at all if translated literally.
Innuendo or Double entendre
An indirect and subtle implication in an expression in speech or writing, whereby a sentence has a double meaning.
e.g. When offered $40 per day strike pay to go out on an illegal strike, I said "You can keep your forty pieces of silver".
Notes: Innuendo is often sexually suggestive or has negative overtones. It may require intonation or context to trigger the association in the hearer. In the example, the innuendo is intended to suggest an association with Judas, that is, that the strike was a betrayal of students, and in a bad cause."
Merismos or Distribution
An enumeration or elaboration of the parts of some whole that has previously been mentioned.
e.g. morning and evening" means the whole day
Metalepsis or Double Metonymy
Two metonymies contained in one another but with only one explicitly expressed.
e.g. I've got a black thumb.
Notes: There are at least two steps to discover the meaning. In the example, the idea of a green thumb is associated with having the ability to make things grow, but black is associated with death, so in two stages we arrive at a would-be gardener whose efforts are usually fatal to the plants."
Metonymy or Denominatio
The the use of a single characteristic to identify a more complex entity.
Secondary Category: rhetoric
e.g. 1. "In an early morning press conference, Number 10 Downing Street today said…" 2. "The pen is mightier than the sword.
A word or group of words has a sound similar to the thing being described.
e.g. buzz, quack, miaow, squeak, bang
A statement that seems to lead to an illogical contradiction, or to a situation that contradicts common intuition. The statement contains the seeds of its own negation or contradiction, though this may not be apparent on the surface.
Secondary Category: logic
e.g. 1. The barber shaves all the men who don't shave themselves, and no-one else. 2. Let A be the set of all sets that do not contain themselves.
The use of more words than necessary.
e.g. 1. I know that he is here. 2. We hired him to head up the program.
Notes: The examples illustrate that these may be based on syntax (redundant words) or on semantics (overlapping meanings).
A transposition of the beginning and endings of words in a sentence that has strange or humorous effects. After Reverend Spooner (1844 - 1930)
e.g. Spooner allegedly once praised Her Majesty with a toast to our queer old dean. Was this extremely mad banners on his part?
One word modifies two or more other words simultaneously but must be understood differently with respect to each modified word. This creates a possibly humorous semantic incongruity.
e.g. He emptied the whiskey bottle and his mind.
Synathroesmus or Enumeration
An enumeration or elaboration of the parts or qualities of a whole that has not necessarily been mentioned, but is at least implied.
e.g. He's a proud, haughty, consequential, turned-up-nosed peacock. - Charles Dickens in Nicholas Nickleby
A type of metonymy in which a part is exchanged for the whole, an individual for an entire class or people, OR vice-versa (whole for part).
Secondary Category: exchange
e.g. 1. And we were in all 276 souls. (Acts 27:37) 2. Joe ranched nearly five hundred head. 3. All hands on deck
Refers to words that are usually different in sound and origin but are similar in meaning
e.g. Big, large, grand, tall, enormous, extended, humungous are all synonyms
The use of a word in other than its literal or normal form.
e.g. The four kinds of trope are: metonymy, irony, metaphor, and synecdoche.
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