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The simplest way to define figurative language is to say that figurative language is the opposite of literal or concrete language. Often times, with figurative language you are comparing to things. It is synonymous with metaphorical language. Let me give you a number of examples of figurative language.
- Simile - "You are strong as an ox, but you are gentle as a dove." Similes compare two things. Obviously it is not to be taken literally.
- Personification - "Money calls out to people and many hear its voice and follow. They become slaves to this cruel and merciless master." Money is given human like qualities, namely to call out to people.
- Hyperbole - "I am so hungry that I can eat a whole cow." The exaggeration is to show that a person is very hungry.
All of the above are examples of figurative language. There are many more, as you can imagine.
Given that many people are familiar with the most common types of figurative language (similes, metaphors,and personification), this answer will identify, define, and provide examples for less commonly used figurative devices.
1. Anagram: An anagram is where the writer takes a word and jumbles up the letters of the original word to create a new word. An example of this is seen in Stephen King's novel The Shining. In the novel, Danny (the son of the protagonist Jack Torrance) repeatedly states "redrum." The anagram for "redrum" is "murder." This has also been popularized by Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code.
2. Aposiopesis: An aposiopesis is when a thought is left uncompleted because of a sudden breaking off. What this means is that a piece of dialogue, or a speaker's private thought, is stopped given something unexpected, shocking, or thought provoking is happening. An example of an aposiopesis is found in L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz:
"Well, I lay if I get hold of you I'll - "
She did not finish, for by this time she was bending down and punching under the bed with the broom, and so she needed breath to punctuate the punches with.
3. Kenning: A kenning, popularized in Old English epics, is the use of metaphorical phrases to elevate and make the language more beautiful for the listener/reader. Kennings were not only used in Old English (for example in Beowulf: battle sweat= blood), they have become prominent in today's culture as well. For example, modern kennings are: tramp stamp (a lower back tattoo), gas guzzler (a car that does not have good gas consumption), and rug rat (a small child).
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