Metaphors: how to use them when writing

Legal Law

Everyone uses metaphors. Justly. They are a natural way to illustrate. However, if you use them wrong, they can really mess you up.

Don’t you want to get dirty? Next, learn about the 3 good rules about metaphors (and all other figures of speech, as they apply widely).

1. Do not mix them. Saying something like “knowing the ropes paves the way for a fruitful harvest”, for example, as I saw in a real memo once, is illogical. (Ropes, pavement, and agriculture have nothing to do with each other.) Why does logic matter? Because if you mix images like this, you will rightly be accused of not thinking carefully about what you are writing.

2. Don’t state your metaphor with “quotes” or the British “backquotes”. Is amateur. Your reader is smart enough to know when you are using a figure of speech. You would only use this punctuation if you were defining an unusual or made-up word. This is called “neologism.” Even with a neologism, you would only use quotation marks once, when defining your new term; forever, your reader wouldn’t need them. In any case, neologisms are not usually metaphors. So remember, there is no special punctuation for metaphors.

3. Make up your own metaphors. Don’t use the ones you’ve already heard about. This is important. First, wearing someone else’s makes you look lazy, which you are. Second, because he is lazy, sooner or later you will accidentally mix one up or use one that is not entirely suitable for the situation. And you will lose your credibility. So never talk about needles in a haystack, or taking bulls by the horns, or anything else you’ve heard before. Invent new ones.

Here’s some vocabulary to clarify. These are three terms that you will hear from time to time, whenever people talk about figures of speech. A metaphor, technically, is an implicit comparison, such as saying that the whole world is a stage and the people who form it are the protagonists. A ‘simile’ (pronounced SIM-uh-lee) is the same idea, only more obvious, and employees ‘like’ or ‘like’. Then her tears fell like rain; her lips were sweet as wine. That is a simile. And finally: ‘cliché’. This is what printers used to call the plate used for stereotype printing. Now it refers to any term, phrase or idea that is repeated so often that it loses its meaning. (You can also see why the ‘stereotype’ is used now the way it is used.) ‘Wallow in self-pity’ is an example of a cliche. The term is overused. When applied loosely to a situation, it is said to be “trivial.”

Ok? Now fan those fires, keep the powder dry, clean the covers, and write.

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