Dead metaphor - Fossilized 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 in principle are a way of making language more vivid. (They are among the most important figures of speech.) Sometimes they are used so often that their effect is lost. Then they are called dead metaphors. (Dead is of course a metaphor itself. If you are an English teacher of a certain age, you may think it is a dead metaphor; but if you are a student coming across it for the first time, you may find it a lively and exciting one.)

When a dead metaphor becomes worse than dead, it may be a cliché.

In the final stage, much of our everyday language consists of fossilised metaphors - words that people once invented to be vivid and describe new things, but are now the standard word for something. When someone drives a car, for example, it is rarely realised that 'driving' here is akin to 'driving' on a golf course or tennis court. Originally one 'drove' animals, such as horses in carriages, by striking them.