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In literary use, a metaphor (from the Greek: metapherin rhetorical trope) is defined as an indirect comparison between two or more seemingly unrelated subjects that typically uses "is a" to join the first subjects for example: "The moon is a ghostly galleon". A metaphor is commonly confused with a simile, which compares two subjects using "like" or "as". An example of a simile: "Her hair looked like a dish mop." In the simplest case, a metaphor takes the form: "The [first subject] is a [second subject]." More generally, a metaphor casts a first subject as being or equal to a second subject in some way. Thus, the first subject can be economically described because implicit and explicit attributes from the second subject are used to enhance the description of the first. This device is known for usage in literature, especially in poetry, where with few words, emotions and associations from one context are associated with objects and entities in a different context.

Within rhetorical theory, metaphor is generally considered to be a direct equation of terms that is more forceful and assertive than an analogy, although the two types of tropes are highly similar and often confused. One distinguishing characteristic is that the assertiveness of a metaphor calls into question the underlying category structure, whereas in a rhetorical analogy the comparative differences between the categories remain salient and acknowledged. Similarly, metaphors can be distinguished from other closely related rhetorical concepts such as metonymy, synecdoche, simile, allegory and parable.

The metaphor is sometimes further analyzed in terms of the ground and the tension. The ground consists of the similarities between the tenor and the vehicle. The tension of the metaphor consists of the dissimilarities between the tenor and the vehicle. In the above example, the ground begins to be elucidated from the third line: "They have their exits and their entrances." In the play, Shakespeare continues this metaphor for another twenty lines beyond what is shown here — making it a good example of an extended metaphor.

The corresponding terms to 'tenor' and 'vehicle' in the nomenclature of George Lakoff (and collaborators such as Mark Johnson and Mark Turner) are target and source. However, Lakoff and collaborators view metaphor as a concept that is pervasive in our thoughts, not just in language (Metaphors We Live By, 1980, p. 1; More Than Cool Reason, 1989, p. 2). Because metaphors are systematic thought structures in conceptual metaphor theory, they say that metaphor is the interaction between a target domain and a source domain — an interaction of schemas or concepts, rather than an interaction of two words. In this nomenclature, conceptual metaphors are named using the convention "target domain IS source domain"; in this notation, the metaphor discussed above would state that "LIFE IS A PLAY". As well as being the conceptual metaphor behind the example above, we also use this conceptual metaphor in sayings like, "It's curtains for him," "She's my leading lady," and "She always wants to be in the spotlight" (Lakoff and Turner, 1989, p. 20). This article primarily views metaphor in terms of its literary usage, rather than its cognitive linguistic usage. [1] [May 2007]

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