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Figures of speech. • Figures of speech or rhetorical devices are present in all cultures

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• Figures of speech or rhetorical devices are present in all cultures. It seems that it is in the very nature of linguistic discourse for speakers to act creatively. Indeed, it is that creativity in language use which ultimate­ly divides language use in humans and animals.

• A child begins to be creative by using various figures of speech at the very beginning of the acquisition process. Words such as 'bang', 'smack' 'moo', and 'baa' are all onomatopoeic figures of speech common to a child's early vocabulary.

• It is useful to contemplate a continuum of which the two opposites are literal and non-literal in terms of linguistic expression. We could envisage a statement of fact towards one extreme and a metaphor towards the other.

• The statement of fact might be This is a wooden door.

• An example of a metaphor might be The sunshine of your smile.

• These two utterances comprise five words each, yet the metaphor says much more than the factual statement. Not only does it say more but it speaks of vast and abstract elements such as love, the sun, gesture, happiness, human warmth, pleasure and possibly more.

• Figures of speech are often used to express abstract emotional or philo­sophical concepts. The figure of speech attaches the abstract concept to a material object and thus is instrumental in creating powerful and dy­namic communication.

• Original figures of speech are valued in both speech and in writing. We respect the ability to generate these. Politicians for instance often use figures of speech, and are variously successful with this practice.

• Churchill's image of 'the iron curtain' has stayed with us for over fifty years, although the phenomenon it described no longer exists.'The cold war' superseded it, during which it was the threat of someone 'pressing the button' which was on everyone's mind.

• The 'rhetorical question' is a figure of speech favoured by politician and lay person alike. It is a powerful device because, although it has the appearance of being a question, it often acts as a form of persua­sion or criticism.

• 'Is our country in danger of becoming a hot-bed of sleaze?' we might hear a politician ask.'Are we going to stand by and let these atrocities continue?' Listening to our car radio we might mentally frame an answer to this kind of question — or at least we might be drawn into contemplat­ing the issue.



• At a more domestic level we might be asked 'What time do you call this?' or 'How many times have I told you ...?' These are questions which actively discourage any answer. They are a form of rebuke which is an established ritual. As competent language users, we know them and participate in the ritual — by not answering, or responding to the 'real' (unstated) criticism.

• Another figure of speech which spans the social spectrum is the cliche. These are often derided, and the word itself has become a pejorative term. However, the cliche is very much 'alive and kicking', especially in

the context of football.'Over the moon' about a result and 'gutted' to hear the news, are just two such figures of speech heard almost daily over the popular media.

• The cliche proves its function by its prolific use. Perhaps it is its over­use, or its application in inappropriate contexts which may cause distaste.

• Figures of speech are also known as images. This indicates their func­tion well. The outcome of using them is that the listener or the reader receives a multi-dimensional communication. Lewis Carroll coined the term 'portmanteau' for words which are packed with layers of meaning. Although Carroll's usage is slightly different from that of figures of speech, it does illustrate that we have a strong drive as language users to convey meaning colourfully and economically.

The notion of image. Image is a certain picture of the objective world, a verbal subjective description of this or another person, event, occurrence, sight made by the speaker with the help of the whole set of expressive means and stylistic devices. Images are created to produce an immediate impression to human sight, hearing, sense of touch or taste.

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When you look in a mirror, you see an image. You see a likeness of yourself. When you use a camera and take a picture of your girlfriend Masha in a flowered hat, the photograph you develop is an image of Masha. If you look at this photograph twenty years later, you will see an image of what Masha used to be like. You might ask a renowned painter to paint your por­trait in oils. The picture he paints is an image of you. It may not be exactly like you. He may paint your nose bent round a bit the wrong way, or he may not capture the attractiveness and mystery of your green eyes. He may give you a figure of a kolobok, though you have always thought of yourself as slim and lithe. He has painted you as he sees you. He has put on to canvas his image of you. Perhaps he has tried to convey in his picture not only your physical likeness but also something of your inner character: how greedy or scandal­ous you are, for example. The same with words. Instead of painting you in oils, someone may prefer to paint you in words. If you really are greedy, untidy and have no table manners at all, you may one day find, at your table in the exclusive restaurant where you often dine, written on a small white card, the terse message: YOU'RE A PIG. It will be your image, created by a met­aphor. You are not a pig, of course, even though your table manners are dreadful. What the writer means is that you eat like a pig. You are like a pig in this one respect. And your verbal image created on the card will possibly help you to understand it.

Image is the matter of stylistic analysis.


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