The Art Of Writing & Speaking The English Language : Chapter II – Figures of Speech

The Art Of Writing & Speaking The English Language : Chapter II - Figures of Speech

American writer and entrepreneur who developed a long-running home-study course in speaking and writing

The Art Of Writing & Speaking The English Language Word-Study, by Sherwin Cody is part of HackerNoon’s Book Blog Post series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here .


It is not an easy thing to pass from the logical precision of grammar to the vague suggestiveness of words that call up whole troops of ideas not contained in the simple idea for which a word stands. Specific idioms are themselves at variance with grammar and logic, and the grammarians are forever fighting them; but when we go into the vague realm of poetic style, the logical mind is lost at once. And yet it is more important to use words pregnant with meaning than to be strictly grammatical. We must reduce grammar to an instinct that will guard us against being contradictory or crude in our construction of sentences, and then we shall make that instinct harmonize with all the other instincts which a successful writer must have. When grammar is treated (as we have tried to treat it) as “logical instinct,” then there can be no conflict with other instincts.

The suggestiveness of words finds its specific embodiment in the so called “figures of speech.” We must examine them a little, because when we come to such an expression as “The kettle boils” after a few lessons in tracing logical connections, we are likely to say without hesitation that we have found an error, an absurdity. On its face it is an absurdity to say “The kettle boils” when we mean “The water in the kettle boils.” But reflection will show us that we have merely condensed our words a little. Many idioms are curious condensations, and many figures of speech may be explained as natural and easy condensations. We have already seen such a condensation in “more complete” for “more nearly complete.”

The following definitions and illustrations are for reference. We do not need to know the names of any of these figures in order to use them, and it is altogether probable that learning to name and analyse them will to some extent make us too self-conscious to use them at all. At the same time, they will help us to explain things that otherwise might puzzle us in our study.

1. Simile. The simplest figure of speech is the simile. It is nothing more or less than a direct comparison by the use of such words as like and as.

Examples: Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel. How often would I have gathered my children together, as a hen doth gather her broodunder her wings! The Kingdom of God is like a grain of mustard seed, is like leaven hidden in three measures of meal. Their lives glide on like rivers that water the woodland. Mercy droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath.

2. Metaphor. A metaphor is an implied or assumed comparison. […]

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