According to Heywood (2002), figurative language is the use of words, phrases, and expressions that compel the audience to use its sense of imagination. Figurative language relies on the aspect of imagination to get the intended meaning.
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On the other hand, the literal language is the use of words, phrases, and expressions to present their exact meaning. Literal language relies on facts to get its meaning (Heywood, 2002). In this context, we will examine how figures of speech depend on figurative and literal language to derive their meaning.
Idioms are phrases and expressions that have a different and separate meaning from what they literally mean. The function of idioms is to express words in a manner that adds variation, exaggeration, and irony to their literal meaning (Heywood, 2002).
An example of an idiom is the expression “it is raining cats and dogs.” Idioms bring about confusion because in the literal sense “raining cats and dogs,” means that cats and dogs are pouring from the sky. However, the expression means that it is raining heavily.
An analogy is an expression that involves making comparison between two or more objects. The purpose of analogy is to highlight the object’s similarity. The function of analogies is to express similar relationships from two entirely different terms (Heywood, 2002). An analogy can be confused with comparison and contrast.
Comparison and contrast serve to achieve identification while analogies seek to identify similarities in relationships. An example is that students are similar to oysters than sausages. Teaching should not involve stuffing and sealing students with knowledge rather it should assist them in opening up to expose their riches. Every student has pearls that can only be cultivated through hard work and determination (Heywood, 2002).
This figure of speech makes comparison between two things by expressing the meaning of one thing in order to mean an entirely different thing. The function of a metaphor is to facilitate understanding by instilling a vivid picture in the mind of the reader.
In this case, metaphors are prone to exaggerations. A metaphor has the effect of misleading the reader if he interprets the literal meaning of the expression. An example of a metaphor is that Goliath was a mountain of a man (Katz, 1998).
A simile is a figure of speech that brings about new meanings to expressions by comparing two different things and uses words such as like and as (Katz, 1998). According to Heywood, (2002) the function of a simile includes making vivid and emphatic descriptions in their application.
Similes may bring about misunderstandings whereby the adjective used in the simile has an opposite meaning. For example, the teacher’s explanation was as clear as mud. Mud is not clear rather it is an opaque object.
A cliché is a figure of speech that has lost originality and freshness due to overuse. Its function includes the identification of the laziness of the user. A cliché may confuse and mislead the audience.
It is not clear whether it is an artistic expression when accompanied by irony or whether it is a depiction of the artist’s laziness. An example of a cliché is “the queen is as pretty as a picture” (Heywood, 2002).
This figure of speech occurs when a sentence structure allows it to have two distinct meanings. The function of amphiboly is to structure grammatical expressions to confuse and mislead an audience. Misunderstandings in the use of Amphiboly may come about when the fallacy in the sentence structure is intentional (Katz, 1998).
In this case, it will not be clear which meaning the user intends to convey. An example is the farmer shot the thief in his suit. It can mean that the farmer shot the thief whilst wearing his suit or that the farmer shot the thief that was inside his suit.
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A flame word is an expression used to either abuse someone through the internet or abuse someone for the sole purpose of restoring arguments in the internet. The function of flame words is to facilitate arguments concerning issues of politics, philosophy, sports, and religion. A flame word is not limited to one person as it can address a group. Incompetence is an example of a flame word (Heywood, 2002).
This figure of speech involves the exaggeration of a statement for purposes of making a certain point. A hyperbole can be confusing when interpreted literally. For example, when a person uses the hyperbole that one has a million things to do, it means that he/she has many activities that need the attention. However, when understood literally, it will mean that the speaker has a million activities that need one’s attention (Katz, 1998).
A euphemism is a polite word or expression that substitutes an inappropriate or offensive word. The function of euphemism is to render an offensive or inappropriate phrase harmless. It is a polite way of addressing sexual activities, functions of the body, and death. A euphemism may confuse someone, as it does not make sense when interpreted literally. For example, passing away means death (Heywood, 2002).
Colloquialism is the use of slang terms that are not used in formal written speech. However, it differs from slang as it involves use of positive words that are not rude (Katz, 1998). Colloquialism is mostly confused with slang. An example of colloquialism is “what’s up?”
In conclusion, figures of speech use figurative language as they depend on the use of imagination to achieve their intended meaning. On the other hand, the use of literal language in figures of speech brings about confusion and misunderstandings.
Heywood, D. (2002). Word Analysis, Fluency and Vocabulary Development: Literal and Figurative meaning of words. Great Britain: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Katz, N. (1998). Figurative Language and Thought. New York: Cambridge University Press.