On Rhetorical Devices
01 March, 2019 - 6 min read
A is B, A is like B, A is as B or comparing A with B. Head hurts. I know! The objective of this writing is to decipher the complexity of these rhetorical devices.
This comparison game we play with analogy, simile and metaphor to enliven our ordinary communication. The rhetorical devices are paired up with logic to make sense of complex issues of the world.
Logic alone, though, cannot persuade an audience to believe what we are saying. Logic must work together with another discipline called rhetoric, or style, to communicate our ideas in a convincing way. Logic and rhetoric, moreover, are usually at odds with each other because the one appeals to our reason and the other to our emotions. How to orchestrate the creative forces of communication is the job before us.
Let's explore some of the rhetorical devices — metaphor, simile and analogy which we use in our day-to-day communication. The meaning of three things are inconsistent from place to place. Using the first principles, we will compare the three rhetorical devices and then end with the importance of metaphors.
A is B.
Metaphor, a literary technique, which originated from the Greek word metapherein meaning to transfer.
A metaphor is a figure of speech which states that one thing is another thing (A is B) but the two things are not strictly comparable. A metaphor equates two things as one. It can shed light on unfamiliar concepts and also provide humor.
Take metaphor literally and we will find them very strange. For example, the branches of a family tree are not literal branches, but they have the same relationship to each other that real branches have to each other. The defining thing about a metaphor is that it is not literal.
A is like B, or A is as B.
Simile, a literary technique, which originated form the Latin word similis meaning similar or like. The comparison will typically contain, like or as.
A simile compares two different things in order to create a new meaning. Simile is a type of metaphor just like sarcasm is a type of irony. A simile highlights a quality by comparing it to something else to make the thing stand out more vividly.
For example, the world sucks my soul like a vampire drinks the blood of his victims or he is brave as a lion.
Comparing A with B.
Analogy, an argumentative technique, which originated from classical Latin analogia, meaning ratio or proportion. Analogies are great to internalize difficult concepts. They help you relate things to what you already know and that helps build the base.
Analogy is comparable to metaphor and simile that it shows how two different things are similar. Analogy most often involves reference to something familiar or readily understood, in order to illustrate and explain something more complex and less readily understood. Rather than a figure of speech, analogy is a logical argument. One will use analogy to demonstrate how two things are alike by pointing out shared characteristics, with the goal of showing that if two things are similar in some ways, they are similar in other ways as well. The introduction of the analogy invites the brain to reuse existing knowledge about the second thing in order to better understand the first thing.
For example, if you live in the US and you've never heard of canton before, a helpful analogy to explain canton — “Cantons in Switzerland are like states in the USA.” Here, cantons are analogous to states, and the comparison can help us understand an unfamiliar term.
Relationship between the three
Both simile and metaphor are figures of speech, and both operate by comparing the thing with something else in a figurative way (not literal). This is why simile and metaphor can be confusing. Whereas, an analogy is a logical device for an argumentative purpose. An analogy is a comparison between two similar things. Metaphors and similes are just one way to express that comparison.
A metaphor is almost always more forceful than an analogy, but we have to rely on the reader or listener's intuition to infer what we really mean. An analogy is clear and straightforward about what we mean, but it doesn't always have the same force as a metaphor, nor is it so easy to visualize.
Metaphors are powerful weapons in our writing arsenal
The greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor; it is the one thing that cannot be learnt from others; and it is also a sign of genius, since a good metaphor implies an intuitive perception of the similarity in the dissimilar. — Aristotle
Aristotle got it right! Metaphors can make words come to life and ignite our understanding about the world. Metaphors are so powerful because of a simple fact of human psychology — we react more willingly to the emotional than the rational. Truth is at the heart of metaphor. Metaphors make our writing more concise because we don't have to spend time explaining something. They can help us enhance our writing with vivid images. Metaphors create a shortcut to instant and memorable understanding.
Readers and listeners are naturally delighted when we use metaphors because something new is discovered. Metaphors can surprise the brain because we can interrupt our reader's expected train of thought and make them sit up and pay attention. They deepen the reading experience. It has the potential to engage the imagination so intensely that readers experience a story, rather than consuming it passively. Metaphors can invoke sensory detail and amplify reader's attention.
Metaphors challenges our creativity and let our imagination loose. They are the fundamental language of poetry. We should read more poetry. Poetry is rich in imagery and metaphorical language. By reading it, we can train our brain into thinking metaphorically. The more we read, the better we'll be able to conjure up elegant metaphors. A metaphor is a concise, memorable, and often colorful way to express emotions.
A favorite metaphor that I enjoy a lot, “Books are the mirrors of soul.” — Virginia Wolf
- People I find interesting who use colorful analogies and metaphors — Mike Moritz, Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger.