Monday, March 17, 2014

Final and 5th Part - Usual & Extraordinary Figurative Language. PerfettoWritingRoom(c)! With Definitions and Clarifications!

- Yea, the spring shall come, and seed shall harken upon the world new life.

And NOW for your edification. . . More figurative Language. But first a note on the bizarre "Discrepancies in the Number of Figurative Language Terms" Out There. Can I Get An Amen?

       As a student of language and terms and one who hoards books, I have come across numerous discrepancies in the number of terms that are considered figurative language. Some sites say there are three, others say seven. Others include ten. Is it me or is that a tad confusing? Perhaps a real definition is in order here.

The Definition of Figurative Language -
Figurative language is language that departs from literal meaning in order to impart an artistic, secondary, deeper or special meaning, or, in order to create an effect.

Some Fascinating Tropes and Forms that ARE NOT Figurative Language 

The main problem seems to be that the internet is filled with inaccuracies. Even I may be guilty of making a mistake. This being said, the main issue is figurative language versus figures of speech, and writing forms that heavily feature figurative language.  See the items below. All have wonderful and useful applications. They are not figurative language.

Allegory - is a form of narrative, NOT figurative language. If treated meanly and in its strictest sense, I suppose one could call it a "hyper-extended metaphor," but no, it is NOT really a hyper-extended metaphor, it is deeply respected fiction form. As such it should rightly stay in the realm of narrative. In Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queen, several of the knights literally stand for virtues. What occurs to them is meant to be a lesson for the readers. Other examples are John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress - the title really does says it all. While it reads like a story and adventure through many trials and lands, the goal of the soul is to get to heaven, and each character quite plainly stands for characteristics one must have (or not have) and rules as to how to ascend to heaven. Lastly, The Crucible and Animal Farm are considered allegories.
           The allegory must be respected as a NARRATIVE FORM that heavily relies on figurative language.

Parable - used by Jesus, pastors and rabbis the world over, and in literature as well, parable is very much in the same category with allegory when it comes to its reliance on figurative language. Like allegory above, a parable is a narrative, and deserves the respect afforded it. It is its own FORM, one that uses figurative language. It tells for example, the story of the mustard seed, in order to instruct people on ways to live their lives better. It might be called, a "super-extended metaphor" but a parable is a tool for teaching people and instructing them. It is a story with a moral, and as such, a  parable is a form in and of itself. It is useful to know what a parable can do and understand that it is a NARRATIVE FORM that relies heavily on figurative language.

Alliteration -  Some sites, and yes, teachers, have included alliteration, which I know to be a sound device used for musical effect in poetry and as such is NOT figurative language. It really is best served in a poetry unit, alongside assonance, consonance, meter and scansion. THAT would be a fantastic unit. Give your students some poems to analyze, label appropriately, and then discuss! But no, alliteration isn't really using language in a figurative way. It is using words literally, but choosing words that have a certain musicality to effect one's response or pleasure when it is read aloud. Not quite the same thing. Alliteration is the use of similar consonant sounds at the beginning of words that are near each other, in case you were wondering.

Analogy - often confused with simile, an analogy is two sets of pairs. "Rooster is to hen as bull is to cow," is an example of an analogy. It uses the construction "is to" and " to" and does not use "like" or "as" nor is it as simple as similes, which are figurative language sentences which are artistic in nature. Rather, an analogy is a logical statement and form of argument.

Oxymoron - Not figurative language. Ah jumbo shrimp, how I mourn your loss of status! But still, you are delicious. Other examples are: deafening silence, the song title "Sounds of Silence," bittersweet chocolate, depression that puts the sufferer into a "living death." The reason I argue this is because terms like these have simply developed over time. Jumbo shrimp is now the name for that food, as is bittersweet chocolate, or in another situation, an explanation for how one feels at a loss; it feels bittersweet when one's child graduates and goes on to school. While artistic and fascinating, I don't feel it quite qualifies. You may disagree, and if this is case, please write in, and we can have a vote. I am putting this down as a figure of speech.

A Trope I'm on the Fence About
Paradox - different than oxymoron because it is a self-contradictory statement, not merely a word (or song title or phrase) that seems both true and false. This MAY BE figurative language as there are TWO meanings housed in the statement and depending on how it is taken, the point can be argued. Paradoxes are great fun for parlor games, riddles, and logic. Examples are: I'm nobody; I'm a liar. How do you know if I'm telling the truth?; You can save money by spending it; and there are of course other paradoxes you can play with.

Figurative Language I Advise Against Using

Technically This begins our list from our previous post. 

 Cliches? - (briefly covered in post one). Cliches do not have to be, but absolutely CAN BE FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE, especially those cliches that are metaphors, similes, or use personification.
          But here is the bummer about cliches, and I'm sure you all know what I'm going to say about it. Cliches are ANY form of writing that is now so ubiquitous that it should be avoided. Technically it is a "Figure of Speech" and I am sure of the thousands or even millions of cliches out there, many are metaphors or similes that are now commonplace and overused. I'm sure you've heard the term "as proud as a peacock"? This is an example of a cliche that is ALSO a SIMILE, and one that maybe you should consider retiring in your writing, if not in speech.

13. Idioms - Idioms are in fact figures of speech and fine examples of figurative language. They are considered figurative language because they are non-literal language for other words. HOWEVER, while we often use these idioms in real life, they truly DRAG DOWN our writing because, like cliches, they interfere with originality. Too many of us use cliches and idioms. The goal is to find an original voice and words of our own. While these qualify as figurative language, I'm putting these on a warning list.
           Some examples include: over the hill (for being old); under the weather (being ill); let sleeping dogs lie (don't get involved); don't beat a dead horse (stop being repetitive); tie the knot (get married); it's apples and oranges (it's difficult to compare these items); A watched pot never boils (stop hovering! or, leave it alone); a lot on my plate (I'm very busy and have a lot to do); at death's door (about to pass away); fender bender (car accident).

14. - Onomatopoeia - when a word's pronunciation imitates the sound of the item it is meant to convey. For example a frog croaks, a horse may whinny, a dog barks, and all of these words have specifically been made to sound like the noises the animals make. Water does not only rush, for example. You can say that the water gurgles, and this is more figurative. Even the shoes, flip-flops, were named for the sound they make when they hit the pavement.
         Let's not forget your comic book favorites: splat, bubble, babble, plunk, oops, whoosh, pow. At some point, you can make up some, as long as you go out and renew your poetic license. Don't go crazy of course, or the ranger will come out and revoke it. (Now I'm getting metaphorical. I just can't help myself). Notice that some of these onomatopoeia are interjections.

15. Puns - A play on words in which one element of the pun has a double meaning. Examples run rampant in little kid jokes: "Mama tomato and baby tomato were running up the street. Mama tomato turned around and stepped on baby tomato and said 'Ketchup.'" Another example is in that horribly annoying joke, the "Knock Knock Joke:
"Who's there?"
"Who's There?"
"Who's There?"
"Orange you glad I didn't say Banana?" Oh, ha ha.

A final example is: "I didn't know why I wasn't getting better at dodge-ball. Then it hit me. Again and again!"

And before we go. . .

A Warning to Writers on the Uses of Figurative Language - a Meta-Example, and Advice
As a writer, there are myriad writing exercises for figurative language. The key is not to overwrite. As a youngster, it can be exhilarating to don new techniques, layering one on top of the other. Take a twirl in front of of the mirror to see how they fit. For those of us who really love to overdress or to be the belle of the ball, we can end up weighed down and simply too ostentatious for the occasion.

The paragraph above is of course an extended metaphor - which we have talked about already - but it also makes an invaluable point. Sometimes, we just love our techniques. In our zeal to use and master them, we just don't want to give up the tools we have. The real artist may of course fall victim to overusing some of the lovely figurative language devices or tropes, but soon learns that to be effective, it is better to use the correct one, on the proper occasion, than it is to overdo it. The key is learning when and how to do this. And this is a lesson earned through practice.

I will leave you with this . . .

A thought is hatching in my brain.

How to use figurative language in an entire unit. 

As I am closing up my long list, I am thinking long and hard about how writers and teachers of writing and English can incorporate this information into a unit. I am thinking that within the month, I will have available a published:

  • Definition of all terms
  • Alternately, a Power Point version with definitions and examples
  • Worksheets on those terms that are most common/useful/interesting: onomatopoeia; personification with mention of anthropomorphism and pathetic fallacy; simile; metaphor; metaphor with tenor and vehicle; metonymy and synecdoche; hyperbole.
  • Quiz on all terms with KEYS
  • Perhaps a GAME? Who doesn't love a good GAME? 
Please stay tuned for ideas on how to implement these effectively in your writing and teaching practice.


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