A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a direct comparison of unlike things is made for effect. Metaphors in Player Piano include the following:
Sound is compared to liquid. In Katherine’s office, her boyfriend Bud is paying her compliments (3). The narrator says that he is “filling Katherine’s ears with...sweet talk.”
Another metaphor compares a light to a jewel (4). Looking over the array of meters that indicate the status of machines throughout Ilium Works, Paul notices a red light on one meter is lit up; this indicates an irregularity. The bright light is called a “glowing red jewel.”
When Paul hears the machines throughout the building where he works, he labels them collectively “the music of Building 58” (11). Going on at length about individual sounds, he even imagines creating a symphony using them.
A phraseological unit is an element of a given language that follows formal grammar and syntax but has meaning unique to that language and cannot be literally translated. It is also referred to as an idiom.
One such phraseological unit is “his heart’s in the right place.” This phrase means that a person has good intentions. It does not refer to the anatomical location of the heart. When Paul runs into Rudy in the bar, a man with thick glasses approaches him about helping his teenage son find a job (30). The man is indicating that his son has positive motivations.
Another idiom is “snow job,” meaning an effort to convince someone that a false claim is true. It has no real connection to snow, and job does not mean employment. When Lasher, Paul, and Finnerty are discussing popular concepts about the importance of big business, Lasher claims that falsities created long ago by public relations people had come to be accepted as fact (91–92). He says, “Yesterday’s snow job becomes today’s sermon.”