Our English language is rich with literal and figurative language. But what is a figure of speech?
It is a rhetorical device that a writer or speaker deliberately uses to create an implied comparison with a word or phrase.
A common figure of speech often uses an inanimate object. It uses words to convey a figurative instead of a literal meaning.
I am sure you know the expression, all the world’s a stage by William Shakespeare.
The world is not literally a stage where men and women perform plays.
Shakespeare uses the word stage to give an abstract meaning to how we all live and behave in our world.
We use many types of figures of speech every day
Very often, we also use similes and metaphors to express an idea or concept.
Idioms are another type of figurative speech.
We use thousands of figurative expressions in our everyday language.
Figures of speech examples
We often use an inanimate object as an implied comparison in a figure of speech.
It helps to create emphasis. For example, it’s raining cats and dogs and I’ll give you a hand.
No animals are falling from the sky. And you would not chop off your hand with an axe to give it to someone.
Both of these expressions are a play on words.
These two figurative language phrases literally mean that it is raining very heavily, and I’ll gladly assist you.
If you are a writer or an author, you are using words and expressions, both literally and figuratively, all the time.
You might be trying to create verbal irony, express human qualities, or add color to your text.
The most common literary devices are metaphors and similes. These are both well-known figurative expressions.
Another type of figurative form uses word order repetition or similar successive clauses, such as in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Other rhetorical devices can use a chiasmus, where the second part of the expression is balanced against the first. For example, you should work to live, not live to work.
Exaggeration, or hyperbole in literary terms, can quickly turn a word or phrase from literal language into figurative. It deliberately makes a situation significant.
I have a million things to do at the office today, or, it cost me an arm and a leg.
The opposite, of course, is an understatement that makes a situation seem less important.
It’s only a scratch when referring to a deep or nasty wound. Or, it’s a little fresh today when the temperature is well below zero. Or, Tiger Woods was a half-decent golf player in his prime.
Other figures of speech examples include euphemisms.
They are very common forms of saying something in a way that is more polite or not as blunt or direct.
He passed away instead of he died. I’m going to let you go to replace you’re fired. Or, it fell off the back of a truck, when in fact, it was stolen.
Some expressions use alliteration. This is where a consonant sound is repeated. Examples include, I’m as busy as a bee and it’s as dead as a doornail or dodo.
One of my pet sources of idioms and expressions is from my favorite sport – cricket.
To be hit for six, to be caught on a sticky wicket, to be stumped, I did it off my own bat, to be caught out, and to bowl a maiden over. I love the last one.
I am sure you know all this. I don’t need to remind you about idiomatic speech. It is when we use a phrase with an object to create an implied or abstract meaning.
I know you know, but before you disappear off into the ether …
How good is your knowledge of figures of speech?
Here is a fun challenge for you to test your knowledge of idiomatic and figurative speech.
Ella has illustrated twenty-seven figurative language terms. They are a mixture of metaphors and similes. I wonder if you can identify all of them.
At first glance, it looks like an easy puzzle to solve.
But once you get past identifying the first ten to fifteen idioms, it gets a little more difficult. She has been very cunning, indeed. Perhaps, as cunning as a fox.
27 Figures of speech cartoon by Ella Baron
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an answer list for each of the 27 figures of speech examples represented in the cartoon.
Perhaps Ella prefers to play her cards close to her chest, and leave a little mystery by keeping an ace up her sleeve.
I got as far as identifying twenty or so from the picture but then ran into trouble. Maybe you can do better than me and find all twenty-seven figures of speech.
I don’t want to give you a red herring or spill the beans. So I will leave you to it. I’m sure it will be a piece of cake.
Did you find all 27 figures of speech?
If you manage to find the five or so that I have missed, please let me know by adding your comment to put me out of my misery.
Don’t get cold feet!
Do it quickly, though, before I kick the bucket. You know how quickly time flies.
Yes, I know it is a tough assignment. But well, you can’t make an omelet without breaking an egg, can you?
Anyway, I have given you more than enough clues to get you halfway to solving the puzzle. Now it’s up to you.
Are you up to the challenge of finding all 27 examples in the image?
An update to this article
A big thank you to Kim, who posted a comment on this article. She added this link to Ella Barron’s answer on Twitter. In her post, Ella lists all 27 figure of speech answers.
However, Ella adds an interesting aside.
There could be up to 49 figure of speech expressions captured within in her cartoon. Now, that really is a tease.
But let’s put you out of your misery.
27 Figures of speech answers
Official answers from Ella Barron
1. In a nutshell
2. Piece of cake
3. Cherry on the cake
4. Bald as a coot
5. A screw loose
6. Stiff upper lip
7. Born with a silver spoon in your mouth
8. Ear worm
9. Keep your cards close to your chest
10. Joker in the pack
11. An ace up your sleeve
12. Heart on your sleeve
13. On a silver platter
14. Spill the beans
15. Big cheese
16. Red herring
17. Tie the knot
18. Put all your eggs in one basket
19. Walking on eggshells
20. Shadow of your former self
21. No room to swing a cat
22. The cat’s got your tongue
23. Kick the bucket
24. Pull your socks up
25. Cold feet
26. From rags to riches
27. Time flies
Other possible answers
1. Got the cat by the tail
2. Hit the nail on the head
3. A screw loose
4. A fish out of water
5. Tie the knot
6. Bird brain
7. Cherry on top
8. Chalk and cheese
9. Knock your socks off
10. Put your best foot forward
11. A hard nut to crack
12. A fish out of water
13. A can of worms
14. Big cheese
15. Best foot forward
16. Follow your nose
17. Pale as a ghost
18. Stick your neck out
19. Raise an eyebrow
20. More holes than Swiss cheese
21. Bird’s eye view
22. Left in tatters
23. Best foot forward
Here’s another word puzzle for you: 18 Weird Words For Common Objects
Get your figure of speech expressions right
If you are a writer, you are using set expressions all the time.
However, you should be careful that you always check your usage and accuracy. There is nothing worse than getting a fixed expression wrong.
We all use some form of online grammar and spell checking nowadays. These apps are extremely useful. They really are essential tools for writing accuracy, especially for new writers.
But these tools will rarely find an error in use in set phrases. For example, as hard as a brick, as brave as a tiger and laughs like a monkey.
Only your knowledge can tell you what they should be. The correct expressions are, as hard as a rock, as brave as a lion, and laughs like a hyena.
The same applies to acronyms and abbreviations. A grammar checker is unlikely to help you differentiate between am and a.m. or SCABA when you mean SCUBA.
It doesn’t matter if you are writing a blog post or a book. Always pay close attention when you are editing and proofreading your text.
Yes, you must always check your grammar, spelling, and correct your typos. But be sure to double-check your fixed figurative expressions as well to make sure they are correct.
A figure of speech is a word or phrase that you absolutely must get 100% right, 100% of the time. Then you will be as right as rain.