Metaphor List: 20 Metaphors and What They Mean
Everyone has used metaphors in some form or other, whether they realized it or not. You might have described someone as having a heart of stone or ice, or you might have claimed to have a broken heart after a bad breakup or losing a loved one. You might have even said you had cabin fever after staying inside all winter doing nothing much but staying warm. However, there are some metaphors that are used that aren’t as well known, or you might have heard a metaphor used in a way that didn’t seem to make sense to you. Here’s a list of twenty metaphors and the meanings behind them. If you’re interested in learning more about using metaphors, try an online course in metaphors.
1. 800 pound gorilla
The idea behind the 800 pound gorilla metaphor is that a person or organization has enough power and strength behind it to crush any competition in its path. Two very good examples of 800 pound gorillas are Google and Apple. With that in mind, Steve Jobs could have also been considered an 800 pound gorilla because he had a lot of power. If the recent movie Jobs is any indication, he used that power and strength to remove people who had wronged him in the past.
2. A stitch in time saves nine
Everyone has put things off at one time or another, and most people believe they’re saving time by putting those things off. However, as this metaphor explains, if you do things on time then you won’t have so much work to do later on. Of course, this saying doesn’t work for all situations as there are times when you actually can save time by putting something off for a later date.
3. Chicken or the egg
Which came first – the chicken, or the egg? There is still no answer as to which came first, and this question is now used as a way of asking questions about how the universe may have begun. This is more of a philosophical metaphor. Learn how to use metaphors like these in writing by taking a class on quality paragraph writing.
4. Flogging a dead horse
Everyone has argued something to the point of exhaustion before. This is the idea behind the statement “flogging a dead horse.” Someone has argued a point or statement, but they still continue to batter away at the argument even if no one is arguing back.
5. Don’t judge a book by its cover
This is a well-known metaphor used by many people. The idea behind this phrase is to avoid judging something to be of value just by looking at the covering of it. This can refer to people – looking at their outer beauty (or lack of) before knowing their personality – or things. Take a blog writing workshop, and use metaphors in your posts.
6. Elephant in the room
This phrase is used to address truths that are being ignored or left unspoken. Usually, these truths are being left unspoken because they would bring tension, embarrassment, or anxiety to the situation already at hand. However, there are times when the truths being ignored should still be addressed because leaving them unspoken is what is bringing tension, embarrassment, or anxiety.
7. Fear is a beast that feeds on attention
As a child, you likely had fears that could be unexplained. It happens to everyone: the four-year-old afraid of the toilet, the six-year-old that can’t sleep without a night light or blanket, or even the sixteen-year-old afraid of spiders. Many of these fears pass on as they grow older, but some don’t. This phrase explains that fear only grows if you give into it.
8. Left high and dry
Nearly everyone has experienced this situation at least once in their life. You feel hopeless with no one to help you. When you find yourself with no solution or answers to your situation, you are feeling as if you are left high and dry. This is what the metaphor is expressing.
9. It’s raining cats and dogs
This particular metaphor has two different meanings. It is commonly used to describe a very heavy rain. However, it has also been used to describe when someone is going through many difficult trials in life all at the same time.
10. Jumping for joy
Most people who are “jumping for joy” aren’t actually jumping even as they say this statement. In fact, most people use this statement by saying, “I could jump for joy!” This phrase basically means that you’re very happy and that everything is going your way. Some people will actually jump when they’re filled with joy.
11. Kicked the bucket
This is a slang way to say that someone has died. You usually don’t use this phrase in serious conversation as you’re likely to get dirty looks or even a slap in the face. However, if it’s a good friend that would understand, you can use a phrase like this. It’s also a good phrase to use to show a person’s character when writing a novel. Get more help writing your novel with the novel writing workshop.
12. Late bloomer
People usually use this phrase to describe a person who is physically developing slowly. However, there are times when it is used to describe someone who is mentally or emotionally developing slowly as well. It is usually more accepted to use as someone physically developing slowly, however.
13. Point of no return
You have likely done something where you passed a certain point and decided there’s no point in turning back. All you can do is move forward. That is the premise behind this metaphor. In any situation, there is a point in which you can’t return to the beginning because it would just be easier to move on.
14. In a nutshell
This phrase is usually used to replace the phrase “in essence.” People using this phrase are usually summarizing something. For example, in a nutshell this particular blog post is about metaphors. As another example – in a nutshell, The Lord of the Rings is about nine companions traveling through all of Middle-Earth to take the One Ring to Mount Doom. Each of these sentences describes the essence of what the subject – the blog post or The Lord of the Rings – is about.
15. Rolling in dough
This is usually seen as a slang way of saying that someone is insanely rich.
16. Smoking gun
Usually, this phrase is used to describe someone that is guilty by association because they have some kind of evidence of someone else’s crime, or even their own crime, out in view of the public eye.
17. Slippery slope
The slippery slope usually involves a number of events taking place causing one event to be an undesirable result of those events. This particular metaphor is also used to describe a logical fallacy. While a slippery slope in writing usually involves a sequence of events taking place in chronological order causing the undesirable event to result, the fallacy describes that if event A were allowed to happen then event Z would eventually happen, therefore event A should not be permitted. There is no way to prove that without first doing event A that event Z would definitely occur.
18. Shooting the messenger
Usually, this metaphor involves arguing or shouting at someone who was simply delivering a message they were given. Usually, the arguing or shouting that the messenger receives is meant for the original sender, but the messenger ends up receiving it instead.
19. Straw man
This metaphor is a logical fallacy that involves misrepresenting an opponent’s argument to make it easier to attack. It can involve a person exaggerating or fabricating a person’s argument. By doing so, they make their own position seem more reasonable. This is a dishonest tactic usually used in politics. However, it can also be used in personal arguments.
20. Survival of the fittest
This particular metaphor is derived from a scientific idea coined by Darwin. Darwin’s idea of natural selection involved the stronger creature surviving compared to the weaker creature. This stronger creature would then live on to create more stronger creatures like it. Survival of the fittest is the phrase that was used to describe natural selection in simpler terms.
Some Final Notes on Using Metaphors
Remember that you should only use metaphors in a situation that they would be accepted. It is highly unlikely that saying “She kicked the bucket” is going to go over well if you’re attending a funeral. The same can be said if you use the phrase “survival of the fittest” while at a funeral or in a situation in which someone was injured. Metaphors are a great tool to use both for speaking or for creating stories, but you should always consider the situation before saying a metaphor. Metaphors are only as powerful as the situations surrounding them, and they do have the power to harm when used in the wrong situation.
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