Definitions of Metaphor

The broadest of the tropes, a metaphor is a substitution of any dissimilar terms. It corresponds to the topos of Similarity / Dissimilarity. It is often used in place of "trope".


For our purposes, a simile is a metaphor with the comparison spelled out—the function otherwise is parallel.

"An implied comparison between two things of unlike nature that yet have something in common." [1].

Metaphor Analysis in Rhetorical Criticism

Metaphor has been treated as a way of organizing the world since Vico first applied it to a theory of history. It is one of Kenneth Burke's "Four Master Tropes." [2] Northrop Frye (396) [3] followed Vico [4] in his discussion of the metaphorical world view, which he distinguished from the Metonymic and Descriptive world views.

Stephen Pepper [5] introduced the concept of a "root metaphor" in his work World Hypotheses, which also follows Vico in proposing a limited number of ways of organizing the world, each around a basic functional assumption about the nature of structure in the form of a root metaphor.

Some key essays in the mid to late 20th century employ metaphor analysis as a "method" of rhetorical criticism. These include essays by Michael Osborn on Martin Luther King, and Tom Farrell and Tom Goodnight [7] contributed a "root metaphor" analysis of the rhetoric surrounding the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island.

Examples of Metaphor and Simile

Please contribute current, striking, and enlightening examples of metaphor in public discourse here.

"My love is like a red red rose" from Robert Burns.

"I assume unhesitatingly the leadership of this great army of our people dedicated to a disciplined attack upon our common problems." -Franklin D. Roosevelt, First Inaugural Address [((roosevelt))]

"You walk in and you can kind of envision your life there. It's like a first date. You know in the first 30 seconds." -Katie Couric on house hunting [6].

“America has tossed its cap over the wall of space!”- John F. Kennedy‘s Remarks at the Dedication of the Aerospace Medical Health Center (San Antonio, TX, November 21, 1963)


Metaphor Bibliography

1. Edward P. J. Corbett and Robert J. Connors. Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student. 4th ed. New York: Oxford UP, 1999.
2. Kenneth Burke. "Appendix D: Four Master Tropes." A Grammar of Motives. Berkeley: U of California P, 1969. 503-517.
3. Northrop Frye. Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957.
4. Giambattista Vico. The New Science. Translated from the fourth edition (1744) by Thomas Goddard Bergin and Max Harold Fisch. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1948. Ebook.
5. Stephen C. Pepper. World Hypotheses: A Study in Evidence. Berkeley: U of California P, 1948.
6. Joanne Kaufman. "Katie Couric on Why House Hunting Is Like Dating." The New York Times, 27 Aug. 2016. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.
7. Thomas B. Farrell and G. Thomas Goodnight. "Accidental Rhetoric: The Root Metaphors of Three Mile Island." Communication Monographs 48 (1981): 271-300.
8. Franklin D. Roosevelt. Inaugural Address | The American Presidency Project.
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