Metaphor

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This article is part of the Figures of Speech course. You may choose to follow it in a structured way, or read each item separately.

Metaphors are like similes - except that metaphors are hidden or covert comparisons, where similes are open and overt. (See also Metaphor and simile.)

Metaphors say that one thing is (or behaves like) another without using words of comparison. We might suggest that a husband is subordinate to his wife by describing him as 'a doormat'. Obviously this is not literally true: he is a human being, not a collection of fibres on which one might wipe one's shoes. We are saying that he is like the mat in one respect: that he 'lies flat under', or submits to, the treatment his wife gives him, only our words do not admit that this is a comparison. We say 'he is a doormat', not 'he is like one'. We can develop the metaphor by saying 'She wipes her feet on him'. Again, this is unlikely to be the literal truth, though again the speaker does not state that it is a comparison. However, you should note that it is a telling one: the speaker is suggesting that the wife has no respect for her husband, and indeed hardly recognises him as human; she can 'treat him like dirt'. (Is this a simile or a metaphor?)