Figures of Speech: Crowning Glory of English Language, Explained From Common Usage and From Poetry

1. Introduction:

A language is well recognised in Literature by virtue of its various special features of grammar. Figures of speech in any language create a niche for a language and in this respect English language occupies a special place in the world of Literature by virtue of beautiful applications of figures of speech. Several languages use figures of speech but English stands unique because of its most modern usage.

Figures of speech are mostly used by efficient writers, skilful orators, talented poets and gifted playwrights. We shall see, in this article how these talented genres use this technique to add lustre and glory to the language.

But one thing is to be insisted upon that, learning language lessons through exercises has a limited use and only an inborn quality can give this talent. However, by reading various articles and listening to lectures, one can improve, rather polish his inborn talents and present their writings in a more glittering way.

With these few words of introduction, let me analyse Figures of speech in various writings one after another.

2. What Is a Figure of Speech?

Any writer or a poet will put his soul in his writings and such writings, thus will be pure representation of his soul. His readers have to be in consonance with the same wavelength and realise the soul behind the creations. Mere words will not suffice to do this work because words will represent only the body and it needs a deeper technique to convey and understand the soul. Figures of speech will do this work; The words may not be the same which are required to convey the meaning but something beyond the meaning to convey the soul. English is very rich in this technique and there are several forms of figures of speech. In this article we shall see a very few among them. By no means is it an exhaustive list and it is left to the readers to read more prose and poetry to learn more and more figures of speech.

It will not be out of place to mention that the classical language Tamil is very rich in this technique and some examples from Tamil language are also given.

3. Similes and metaphors:

The most fundamental figures of speech are simile and metaphor. There will not be any writer or poet without using these two. A simile is comparison of two things using the words like ‘so or as’, which have some aspect in common.

Poets always compare woman to a moon (cool and beautiful) and man to a lion (Brave and handsome) Sometimes women are compared to creepers and man to trees especially a teak wood tree. In other words Man is always strong like teak wood, whereas the creeper embraces the tree out of love. Another simile often used is, Man out of cruelty in mind spoils the life of a woman like a garland is squeezed by a wild animal.

The imagination of poets has no bounds. They are not satisfied by describing the lover as moon, but she is a flawless moon. For moon there is only one day as full moon, but for you darling every day is a full moon day (because your beauty never vanishes) thus writes a poet.

Metaphor differs from simile in the sense that it is not comparing two things but freezing both into one.

“The Lion roared that he would achieve freedom” – describing a freedom fighter

The following are some examples of similes and metaphors.

“I wandered lonely as a cloud… ”

“Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle in the Milky Way”

-Both form the poem ‘Daffodils’ written by William Wordsworth.

If life is a journey, travel it,

If life is a game, play it,

If life is a challenge, face it,

If life is a fight, win it.

“A Himalayan blunders”, a phrase used by Gandhi.

4. Hyperbole and Litotes:

Hyperbole is the unique quality of Poets. In ordinary life, lying is an offence, but in poetry, lying is very much wanted to attract the attention and admiration of readers. It is also exaggeration to a great extent. Though it is a lie, it will describe the situation well and there lies the greatness of the poet.

Some examples of Hyperbole:

The author desires to add some humour to this article and the following paragraph describing use of hyperbole will serve the purpose.

In India, especially in Tamilnadu, people use hyperboles to please their bosses etc very freely. The following examples will explain this.

The moment a political leader gets some recognition, wall posters all over the city will be pasted praising him

” Long live our permanent leader,

Just show your little finger, we shall bring the Earth to your foot”

You are our breath, you are our food you are our life etc”

(In the next election, if the leader is defeated, the posters also will vanish, and fresh posters praising the winner will appear. After all ‘Nothing succeeds like success’..

Another field which receives more love and affection from public is filmdom. The fans will congratulate the matinee idols on their birth days as follows:

“You are the Sun, You give light to Him. When you wake up He rises, when you close your eyes, He will become dark”

The Earth revolves because of you. The Lion learnt to roar from your laugh, the flowers blossom because of your smile” so on and so forth.

Litotes are the just opposite of it, which is to degrade a thing by talking in a negative way.

E.g.: “Okay, The picture is not bad” means the picture was satisfactorily good.

The man is no fool means the man was clever. 5 Euphemisms, Dysphemism and Oxymoron.

5. Euphemism is telling a disagreeable thing in an agreeable way.

“Oh! My leader sleeps there!” meaning he is dead and buried there.

“I am going to Rest room” means I am going to toilet and so on

Dysphemism is opposite of Euphemism.

E.g.: Call a thrifty man as ‘stingy fellow’.

Call a freedom fighter as a ‘terrorist’

A firm boss is branded as a ‘pig headed fellow’.

Oxymoron is combining two contradictory things to define one common feature.

Father to son: “You are a wise fool. You have a clever way of inviting problems.”

“I am doing voluntary work out of compulsion”

The king was a merciful dictator.

“The fellow was obediently bold”

UN sends its ‘peace force’ to warring countries.

6. Personification:

Personification is imagining lifeless things as having life.

“Oh, Death, Why do you lay your cruel hands on all the great people!

Oh death, won’t you get death one day”, so that others will live- taken from a Tamil poem.

“Behold! His pride and Vanity are going to speak”

7. Apostrophe:

“Oh. Mahatma (Gandhi) Is it for this, you got us freedom?”

This is a direct conversation with the dead as if they are alive and stand before us.

Sometimes lifeless objects are assumed to have life and they are addressed.

Oh, India, Is there anybody to save you from this catastrophe?”

“Oh, Indian cinema, do you have any future”?

8. Antithesis:

Antithesis is telling two totally contradictory things in one sentence to emphasis a particular point.

The best example of an antithesis is ‘; Man proposes, God disposes’ which highlights that nothing is in our hands.

To err is human but to forgive is Divine.

Speech is silver but silence is golden.

“Not that I loved Caesar less, but I love Rome more”

9. Epigram:

Epigrams are almost proverbial sayings corresponding to antithesis, exciting surprise in the mind of hearers.

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

Child is the father of the man.

Poetry is nothing but a glorified lie.

Marriages are legalised prostitution.

10: Irony:

Irony is an essential ingredient of poetry and drama. Irony of circumstances enhances pathos in them and a reflection of the talents of the writer or poet. It is a topic for which thousands of examples from poetry, prose, plays and films could be given. In fact it requires a series of articles to cover this vast topic. However let me confine to highlight a few examples to highlight this figure of speech. (Examples given from own observations).

I).We have seen in several films, the child is separated from the father. The Irony is the father will help his child on several difficult circumstances without knowing that he is helping his own child.

ii) The lovers are separated by cruel fate. When the lover meets his sweetheart after say, five years, she is none other than his step mother, having married his father. The irony is added when he or she is shown as blind.

iii) A student picks up a quarrel with a lady. When he reaches his examination hall, he is shocked to note that she is none other than his new teacher.

Readers are requested to read more poetry and prose and identify this figure of speech and enjoy the richness of the language.

11. PUN:

PUN is quoting a word giving different meanings: Some people are great experts in this way of talk. It requires lot of wisdom to pun on a particular word.

A very famous example of this is “Mr… Conceived thrice and delivered nothing” commenting on a British M.P who told, “I conceive, I conceive, I conceive” but did not complete the statement.

A father, on a cloudy day, comments, “neither the Sun is bright, nor my son is bright” to comment on his son’s dismal performance.

“We ‘dye’ for you”, a sign board.

How long do we live, it depends on the ‘liver’.

12. Metonymy:

It implies a change of name, by virtue of duties done:

The bench (Judges) awarded death penalty.

The tribune (Three member committee) settled the offer.

The Crown (King) is pleased etc.

The faculty (Teachers) had a meeting

13. Climax and anti-climax:

Climax is a dramatic end of a sentence in a positive note,and that with a negative note is ‘anti-climax’.

He is clever, hardworking, brainy, studious and in fact he is ‘Intelligence personified”.

He is my Friend, Philosopher and Guide and in short, he is my God.

She is so beautiful. charming, gorgeous and none other than Venus who has come to Earth.

These are a few examples of Climax.

Examples of anti-climax are:

He is such a rich man like God of wealth, owns all the gold and money, and never gives even a single paisa to the poor.

He purchases kilos of food, drinks and fruit but cannot eat even a single piece on doctor’s advice (also an example of Irony)

He is a great football player, represented college team in dozens of games and never hit a goal.

Water everywhere, not a drop to drink.

14. Conclusion:

These are a few very simple examples of figure of speech mostly reproduced from personal observations and some, from known examples. This is only a tip of the ice berg (not a hyperbole) This indeed is a vast area of any language which needs deep study. But the habit with most of the students is to skip this chapter which normally comes in the fag end of grammar classes and appears to be vague to learn. This article may help in creating an orientation towards this aspect of learning. If the readers are motivated to learn more about figures of speech, the purpose of this article is satisfied.

I wish the readers ALL THE BEST.



Source by Bhimarao Sathyanarayanan

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