The English is a figurative language, that is, it is a language in which an idea is expressed by the use of words which may suggest something else than the literal meaning. Unconsciously we use these figures and often are unable to define them if asked to do so.
They are the special tools of our language, and as such, should be handled with care; If used skilfully they add strength and beauty, but if awkwardly used they make the user appear affected and makes him a subject of ridicule.
The more common figures of speech are the following:
Simile is the comparison of one object to another, and is generally denoted by like, as, or so; as, " He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water."-"Thy smile is as the dawn of the vernal day."
Metaphor indicates the resemblance of two objects by applying the name, attribute, or act of one directly to the other ; as, " He shall be a tree planted by the rivers of water."Metaphor is the commonest of all the figures.
Allegory is the narration, of fictitious events, whereby it is sought to convey or illustrate important truths. Thus in Psalm lxxx., the Jewish nation is represented under the symbol of a vine. Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress" is an allegory.
Metonymy is the exchange of names between things related. It is founded, not on resemblance, but on the relation of one expression used, to the idea ; as " Hear O Israel", i. e., descendants of Israel - "Our ships next opened a fire," i. e., our sailors. - "His steel gleamed on high", i. e., his sword.
Synecdoche is using the name of a part for that of the whole, the name of the whole for that of a part, or a definite number for an indefinite : as, "The sea is covered with sails ", i. e., ships ; "Our hero was gray, but not from age", i.e., his hair was gray; Ten thousand were on his right hand" , i. e., a great number.
Hyperbole is the exaggeration of attributes, or the assigning to a subject of a wonderful and impossible act as the result of ardent emotion; as, "They [Saul and Jonathan] were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions."
Hyperbolical expressions are of frequent occurrence in common conversation ; we often say, as cold as ice, as hot as fire, as white as snow, etc., in all of which phrases the quality is exaggerated beyond the bounds of truth. Their frequency is to be attributed to the imagination, which always takes great pleasure in magnifying the objects before it.
Imagery is the representation of past events, or imaginary objects and scenes, as actually present to the senses ; as " Caesar leaves Gaul, crosses the Rubicon, and enters Italy", i. e., Caesar left Gaul, crossed the Rubicon, etc.
Personification, or Prosopopaeia, is the attributing of sex, life, or action to an inanimate object; or the ascribing of intelligence and personality to an inferior creature ; as, " The Sea saw it and fled." - " The Worm aware of his intent, harangued him thus."
Interrogation is the asking of questions, not for the purpose of expressing doubt or obtaining information, but in order to assert strongly the reverse of what is asked ; as, "Doth God pervert judgment? or doth the Almighty pervert justice?" This figure imparts animation to style. It is constantly employed in the book of Job.
Antithesis is placing of opposites in juxta-position, for the purpose of heightening their effect by contrast, as," A good man obtaineth favor of the Lord; but a man of wicked devices will He condemn." This figure is used with great effect in the Book of Proverbs, x-xv. It is one of the most effective ornaments that can be employed in composition.
Climax is the arrangement of a succession of words, clauses, members, or sentences, in such a way that the weakest may stand first, and that each in turn, to the end of the sentence, may rise in importance, and make a deeper impression on the mind than that which preceded it; as, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, 01 nakedness, ox peril, or sword ?"
Irony is a figure by which is expressed directly the opposite of what it is intended shall be understood ; as when Elijah said to the priests of Baal, who were trying to induce their false god to manifest himself miraculously, " Cry aloud, for he is a god," etc. This figure is often considered under the head of ridicule.
Onomatopoeia is the use of a word or phrase formed to imitate the sound of the thing signified ; as when we say, rat tat tat, to denote a knocking at the door; bow wow, to express the barking of a dog ; or, buzz, buzz, to indicate the noise made by bees.