Trope (figure of thought): One of the two major divisions of figures of speech (the other being rhetorical figures). Trope comes from a word that literally means “turning”; to trope (with figures of speech) is, figuratively speaking, to turn or twist some word or phrase to make it mean something else. Metaphor, metonymy, personification, simile, and synecdoche are sometimes referred to as the principal tropes. Other tropes include hyperbole, litotes, and meiosis.

EXAMPLE: The following passage from Annie Dillard’s “Seeing” (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek [1974]), in which she comes across a cedar tree along Tinker Creek, makes use of numerous tropes, including metaphor, simile, and personification:

It was the same backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost, only charged and transfigured, each cell burning with flame. I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed. It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance.

Gradually the lights went out in the cedar, the colors died, the cells unflamed and disappeared. I was still ringing. I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck.