Quotes on metaphor

What writers and others say

Quotes on metaphor

Image by Brigitta Schneiter

“The greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor. It is the one thing that cannot be learnt from others; and it is also a sign of genius.”
— Aristotle in the Poetics

“For centuries, metaphor was just the place where poets went to show off.”
— Michael Chorost, author of Rebuilt: How Becoming Part Computer Made Me More Human

“In the business world, 800-pound gorillas run with the big dogs, swim with the sharks and occasionally find themselves up to their asses in alligators. And if they are not crazy like a fox, they can get caught like a deer in the headlights.”
— Richard Conniff, author, The Ape in the Corner Office

“An idea is a feat of association, and the height of it is a good metaphor.”
— Robert Frost, American poet

“Unless you are educated in metaphor, you are not safe to be let loose in the world.”
 — Robert Frost, American poet

“Metaphor as a figure of speech has intrigued and stimulated scholars for thousands of years. Aristotle considered metaphor a sign of genius, believing that the individual who could make unusual connections was a person of special gifts.
“From that ancient tradition has emerged a working definition of metaphor: the capacity to perceive a resemblance between elements from two separate domains or areas of experience and to link them together in linguistic form.”
— Howard Gardner, author, Art, Mind, and Brain: A Cognitive Approach to Creativity

“The metaphor is perhaps one of man’s most fruitful potentialities. Its efficacy verges on magic, and it seems a tool for creation which God forgot inside one of His creatures when He made him.”
— Jose Ortega y Gasset, Spanish philosopher and statesman

“Metaphor lives a secret life all around us. We utter about six metaphors a minute. Metaphorical thinking is essential to how we understand ourselves and others, how we communicate, learn, discover and invent. But metaphor is a way of thought before it is a way with words.”
— James Geary, author, I Is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World

“Metaphor shakes things up, giving us everything from Shakespeare to scientific discovery in the process. The mind is a plastic snow dome, the most beautiful, most interesting, and most itself, when, as Elvis put it, it’s all shook up. And metaphor keeps the mind shaking, rattling and rolling, long after Elvis has left the building.”
— James Geary, author, I Is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World

“A metaphor is a kind of magical changing room — where, one thing, for a moment, becomes another, and in that moment is seen in a whole new way. As soon as something old is seen in a new way, it stimulates a torrent of new thoughts and associations, almost as if a mental floodgate has been lifted.”
— Mardy Grothe, author of I Never Metaphor I Didn’t Like

“Cram three similes into a single paragraph and you become a parody. Write page after page of featureless prose and you become a drudge. So work your way through a rough draft eliminating and adding color. A figure of speech every third of fourth paragraph is usually about right.”
— Jack Hart, editor at large, The Oregonian, in A Writer’s Coach

“In A Moveable Feast Hemingway recalls the days when he and Fitzgerald careered through the Spanish countryside in an open car, playing the metaphor game. One would point to an object as it came into view. The other would generate a figure of speech involving it. If he succeeded immediately, the other took his turn. If he failed, he took a drink from a jug of wine and tried again.”
— Jack Hart, editor at large, The Oregonian, in A Writer’s Coach

“Metaphor was the clay the great physicists used to mold new theories of the universe. Einstein first talked of trains and clocks, then expanded the images to weave time and space into a single fabric.”
— Jack Hart, editor at large, The Oregonian, in A Writer’s Coach

“Explanations require lots of attention, but attention is scarce. So don’t explain. Instead, anchor in what people already know.”
— Chip Heath and Dan Heath, authors of Made to Stick

“Anchoring is easier than explaining from scratch. Wikipedia says an alpaca is ‘a domesticated species of the South American camelid.’ That’s the explanation. Or, you could say an alpaca is like a small llama. Which one is easier to understand?”
— Chip Heath and Dan Heath, authors of Made to Stick

“My all time favorite similes, by the way, come from the hardboiled-detective fiction of the forties and fifties, and the literary descendants of the dime-dreadful writers. These favorites include ‘It was darker than a carload of assholes’ (George V. Higgins) and ‘I lit a cigarette [that] tasted like a plumber’s handkerchief’ (Raymond Chandler).”
— Stephen King, prolific novelist, in On Writing

“Whether long or short, the careful analogy is a gift to the reader because it brings depth and clarity to our writing.”
— Paula LaRocque, author of Championship Writing

“Too much of any of these devices makes for ridiculous reading — and the line is thin between too much and just enough. Here’s one good guideline: If readers start noticing cause more than consequence, it’s probably too much.”
— Paula LaRocque, newspaper writing coach, in Championship Writing

“I never met-a-phor I didn’t like.”
— Richard Lederer, best-selling author of The Word Circus

“I love metaphor. It provides two loaves where there seems to be one.”
— Bernard Malamud, American author of The Natural and other novels

“Metaphors are necessary and not just nice.”
— Andrew Ortony, Professor Emeritus, Northwestern University

“A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically dead has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word.”
— George Orwell, novelist and political thinker, in “Politics and the English Language”

“Worn-out metaphors … have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves.”
— George Orwell, novelist and political thinker, in “Politics and the English Language”

“If a picture is worth a thousand words, a metaphor is worth a thousand pictures.”
 — Daniel Pink, author, A Whole New Mind

“As with a sense of elegance and grace, developing a good ear — or eye — for metaphor takes practice. And perhaps Aristotle was right, too: Perhaps it cannot be learned at all. But the rewards of learning how to handle metaphor go beyond a style that is merely a bit more mannered than usual. Metaphor is a way of exploring a subject, a way of seeing a subject through a prism of new perspectives.”
— Joseph M. Williams, author of Style: Toward Clarity and Grace

“Thunderous dunks and lightning-quick running backs offend the serious reader in two ways: 1) They are clichés; and 2) They are questionable, even as hyperbole. Unless we can create a fresh image or make a strong case for hyperbole, we should equate forces of nature with acts of humanity.”
— Steve Wilson, sports writer, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

“All things are metaphors.”
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German writer and statesman
  • Make Magic With Metaphor

    Charm readers with analogies and comparisons

    It’s tempting to call metaphor the magic spell in a writer’s repertoire, the Penn and Teller of the page.

    Make Magic with Metaphor: Charm readers with analogies and comparisons

    Metaphor has the power to persuade far better than literal language. It lets you say in five words what would otherwise take five paragraphs to explain.

    It makes readers’ brains light up, helps them think more broadly about your message — even (ahem!) makes you look more attractive.

    At Master the Art of the Storyteller — our two-day hands-on creative-writing master class on July 25-26 in Portland — you’ll want to master a few tricks before you step onto the stage. In this session, you’ll learn how to charm readers with the magic of metaphor:

    • Get the zombies out of your message: Don’t let Dead and Dead2 metaphors eat your readers’ brains.
    • Craft a compelling metaphor with our fill-in-the-blanks formula.
    • Polish your metaphor: Learn which kinds of metaphors to choose, which to avoid and where in your message to place them from 41 academic studies covering 50 years of research.

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