Figurative language

The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018

Figurative language

Figurative language: Language that employs one or more figures of speech to supplement or modify the literal, denotative meanings of words with additional connotations. Figurative language adds color, immediacy, and richness to narratives.

EXAMPLES: The following passage from E. Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News (1993):

It began with his parents. First the father, diagnosed with liver cancer, a blush of wild cells diffusing. A month later a tumor fastened in the mother’s brain like a burr, crowding her thoughts to one side. The father blamed the power station. Two hundred yards from their house sizzling wires, thick as eels, came down from northern towers.

In his thriller Descent (2015), novelist Tim Johnston blends literal and figurative language to describe the terrifying sights and sounds made by a “jeep thing” that unexpectedly shoots out of a forest and strikes a young boy on a bike as his sister is jogging nearby:

In any case it came, monstering through the trees at an incredible speed, crushing deadfall, the whip and scream of branches dragged on sheet metal and then the suddenly unobstructed roar that made her wrap her head in her arms, the sound of tires, locking and skidding as the thing slammed into what sounded like the sad tin post of a stop sign and then the meaty whump and the woof of air which was in fact the boy’s airborne body coming to a stop against the trunk of a tree.