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Lecture 3. Lexical Expressive Means and Stylistic Devices

We should bear in mind that the border lines between lexical SDs and those belonging to other layers of language-as-a-system are very vague. For instance, epithets and metaphors can be more than one word long, and take idioms or whole sentences. It is not an easy matter to classify lexical SDs either. In our lectures we will consider that the majority of lexical stylistic devices are based on the principles of similarity of objects, their contrast or proximity:

1. SDs based on similarity of objects

2. SDs based on contrast

3. SDs based on proximity.



SDs based on similarity of objects

A. Simile

B. Metaphor

C. Metonymy

D. Antonomasia

E. Epithet

A. One of the most popular SD based on similarity is simile.

A simile is a figure of speech in which the subject is compared to another subject.

In simile two objects or concepts belonging to different classes are compared with the idea of establishing some common feature possessed by both. The things compared can be completely alien to each other and the resemblance in some quality very remote.

E.g. She was like a celebrated chewing-gum. The taste lingered. (Wodehouse)

Simile creates a striking image by its unexpectedness and novelty of perception. It may have formal elements of comparison – connective words and adverbial phrases, such as: like, as, as if, with the air of, with the grace of, with the caution of.

Simile is the simplest and the most effective way of creating an image. A whole picturesque scene can be reconstructed by the suggestion of similarity.

Here is Alfred Lord Tennyson’s ‘The Eagle’ (a fragment):

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;

He watches from his mountain walls,

And like a thunderbolt he falls. Poems, (1851)

We should bear in mind that the simile can be easily confused with comparison. Comparison means weighing two objects belonging to one class of things with the purpose of establishing the degree of their sameness or difference.

E.g. The boy seems to be as clever as his mother. – Boy and mother belong to the same class of objects (human beings/family).

To use a simile is to characterize one object by bringing it into contact with another object belonging to an entirely different class of things.

E.g. Maidens, like moths, are ever caught by glare (Byron) – Maidens and moths belong to heterogeneous classes of objects. One concept is characterized (maidens), the other characterizes (moths). The object characterized is seen in quite a new and unexpected light, meaning that young women are easily lured.

«The snow was like a blanket». However, «The snow blanketed the earth» is also a simile and not a metaphor because the verb blanketed is a shortened form of the phrase covered like a blanket. A few other examples are «The deer ran like the wind», «In terms of beauty, she was every bit Cleopatra's match», and «the lullaby was like the hush of the winter».

Similes are composed of two parts: comparandum, the thing to be compared, and the comparatum, the thing to which the comparison is made. For example in the simile "The snow was like a blanket", "the snow" is the comparandum while "a blanket" is the comparatum.

The phrase «The snow was a blanket over the earth» is a metaphor. Metaphors differ from similes in that the two objects are not compared, but treated as identical, «We are but a moment's sunlight, fading in the grass». Note: Some would argue that a simile is actually a specific type of metaphor. See Joseph Kelly's The Seagull Reader (2005), pages 377-379.

B. Metaphor is also based on the similarity of two objects or concepts mostly unassociated, but there is no suggestion or comparison either expressed or implied. The name is transferred from one object to another with which it is completely identified. One concept ousts the other which remains in the background lending its qualities to the image created.

Metaphor (from French via Latin from Greek metaphora «transference») is transference of some quality from one object to another. In a metaphor a word or phrase is transferred from one context to another creating a vivid association, e.g he fell through a trapdoor of depression (Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories).

I.R. Galperin states that ‘metaphor is the power of realizing two lexical meanings simultaneously’. Due to the power this SD is the most potent means of creating images.


Metaphors (according to their degree of novelty)


genuine trite (dead)

The aspect of novelty characterizes genuine metaphors. They are absolutely unexpected, e.g. Dear Nature is the kindest Mother still (Byron). Genuine metaphors are mostly to be found in poetry and emotive prose.

Through frequent use they lose this quality and become trite metaphors, thus enriching the vocabulary with new metaphorical meanings of words. They are commonly used in speech, and their predictability is apparent, e.g. a ray of hope, floods of tears. Trite metaphors are generally used as expressive means in newspaper articles, in oratorical style and even in scientific language.


Metaphors (according to their structure)


simple sustained (prolonged)

The simple metaphor is limited to one central image.

Sustained metaphor has additional images supporting the central one or imbuing it with new life, e.g. Mr. Dombey’s cup of satisfaction was so full at the moment… (Dickens). Sometimes the central image is not given, and a sustained metaphor helps to create the required image in a reader’s mind, e.g. ‘In a cavern under is fettered the thunder, it struggles and howls at fits’ (Shelley).

Here the central image – that of a captive beast – is suggested by the contributory images – fettered, struggles and howls.

Personification is a kind of metaphor in which human qualities are ascribed to different (inanimate) objects. E.g. He was a small intense man like a kettle that has just come to the boil. His upturned nose was raised angrily, & little hot steam like bursts was coming from him. He sat down abruptly, his shoulders still rising & falling. But it was obvious that the steam pressure inside him had subsided, he had boiled himself dry in fact.

C. Metonymyis a SDbased on a different type of relation between the dictionary and contextual meanings, where a part of a notion substitutes the notion itself, e.g. the word crown may stand for king or queen.

Metonymy, another lexical SD, – like metaphor – on losing its originality also becomes instrumental in enriching the vocabulary of the language, though metonymy is created by a different semantic process and is based on contiguity (nearness) of objects or phenomena. Transference of names in metonymy does not involve a necessity for two different words to have a common component in their semantic structures, as is the case of metaphor, but proceeds from the fact that two objects (phenomena) have common grounds of existence in reality. Such words as «cup» and «tea» have no linguistic semantic nearness, but the first one may serve the container of the second, hence – the conversational cliche «Will you have another cup?», which is a case of metonymy, once original, but due to long use, no more accepted as a fresh SD.

«My brass will call your brass», says one of the characters of A. Hailey's Airport to another, meaning «My boss will call your boss». The transference of names is caused by both bosses being officers, wearing uniform caps with brass cockades.

The scope of transference in metonymy is much more limited than that of metaphor, which is quite understandable: the scope of human imagination identifying two objects (phenomena, actions) on the grounds of commonness of one of their innumerable characteristics is boundless while actual relations between objects are more limited. This is why metonymy, on the whole, – is a less frequently observed SD, than metaphor.

Similar to singling out one particular type of metaphor into the self-contained SD of personification, one type of metonymy – namely, the one, which is based on the relations between a part and the whole – is often viewed independently as synecdoche.

As a rule, metonymy is expressed by nouns (less frequently – by substantivized numerals) and is used in syntactical functions characteristic of nouns (subject, object, predicative).

Metonymy is sometimes used humorously to suggest that a detail of appearance is more important than a person himself, e.g. …then they came in. two of them, a man with long fair moustache and a silent dark man…Definitely, the moustache and I had nothing in common (Doris Lessing).

Here the moustache stands for the man himself. The function of the metonymy here is to indicate that the speaker knows nothing of the man in question.

The metonymy is a kind of association connecting the two concepts which these meanings represent. It is regarded to be a kind of the metaphor, though it has some differences:

1) a broader context is required for the metonymy to decipher the true meaning of the SD;

2) in the metaphor one meaning excludes the other (the sky lamp of the night – meaning the moon) – we perceive one object; metonymy does not exclude the other object (the moustache and the man himself ) – are both perceived by the mind.

The types of relation in a metonymy are based on:

-A concrete thing used instead of an abstract notion (where the thing becomes the symbol of notion), e.g. the roses are blooming in her heart.

- the container instead of a thing contained, e.g. the hall applauded.

- the relation of proximity, e.g. the round game table was boisterous and happy.

-the material instead of a thing made of it, e.g. the marble spoke.

-the instrument which the doer uses instead of an action or the doer, e.g. the sword is the worst argument that can be used.

D. Antonomasiais the substitution of any epithet or phrase with a proper name. It is the interplay between the logical and nominal meanings of a word; the reverse process is also sometimes called antonomasia. The word derives from the Greek word antonomazein meaning «to name differently».

Scrooge, Mr.Zero can be called talking names. They give information to the perceiver of a bearer of a name. Antonomasia can be linked to the epithet in essence if not in form. It categorizes the person and thus simultaneously indicates both the general and the particular.

A frequent instance of antonomasia in the Late Middle Ages and early Renaissance was the use of the term, «the Philosopher» to refer to Aristotle. A contemporary frequently encountered example is the phrase «I'm no Croesus», meaning «I'm not a very rich person».

More examples: «The Bard» for William Shakespeare; «Old Blue Eyes» for Frank Sinatra; «The Scottish play» for Macbeth; «a Cicero» for an orator.

Antonomasia can be metaphorical when based on similarity, e.g. Her mother is perfectly unbearable, never met such a Gorgon. I don’t really know what a Gorgon is like, but I’m quite sure that lady Brecknell is one. In any case, she is a monster without being a myth.

Antonomasia can be metonymical when based on some association between a name & a referent, the reverse process when the common noun is used as a proper name can be illustrated by the example: Mister Know all; «I wish to speak to you, John», - said the family Curse. – «I’m greatly upset».

E. The Epithet is a stylistic device based on the interplay of emotive and logical meaning in an attributive word, phrase or even a sentence used to characterize an object and pointing out to the reader and frequently imposing on him, some of the properties or features of the object with the aim of giving the author’s individual perception and evaluation.

The epithet is subtle and delicate in character. It can create an atmosphere of objective evaluation, whereas it actually conveys the subjective attitude of the writer, showing he is partial. It is marked by subjective and evaluative.

Blue skies – logical attribute

Wild wind – epithet

Epithets are used:

· Singly: I’ve a ridiculous habit of flushing when I’m taken aback.

· In pairs: He was repulsive & ridiculous. She was charming & unbearable.

· In a chain: He ate greedily, noisily, awfully.

Structurally epithets are divided into simple, compound, & phrase epithets.

E.g. an angry sunset (simple); a devil of a dog (compound); He looked at me with «I-do-not-know-you» expression in his eyes (phrase epithet).

Another structural variety of an epithet is «reversed epithet», in which two nouns are linked in an of-phrase & the emotional and evaluative quality is not in the attributive of-phrase, but in the noun characterized by it.

E.g. The memory of a voice.

There’s also transferred epithets logically describing feelings, mood, or the state of a human being, it is placed in the sentence before an animated object:

E.g. He shrugged a polite & amused shoulder and for the first time I noticed that the spectacles had a hostile gleam.


SDs based on contrast

A. Zeugma

B. The Pun

C. Oxymoron

D. Irony

A.Zeugmais the use of a word in the same grammatical but different semantic relations to two adjacent words in the context, literal and transferred.

It is the realization of two meanings with the help of a verb which is made to refer to different subjects or objects, e.g. Dora, plunging at once into privileged intimacy and into the middle of the room (B.Shaw). The derivative meaning realizes itself in the first case in the given example.

This SD is particularly favoured in English emotive prose and poetry. Zeugma is a strong and effective device to maintain the purity of the primary meaning when the two meanings clash. By making the two meanings conspicuous in this particular way, each of them stands out clearly, e.g. «Now I give you a warning», – shouted the Queen, – «Ether you or your head must be off. Take your choice».

B. The Pun (Play on words)A Pun (from the Latin punctus, past participle of pungere, «to prick.») is also a SD based on contrast as well as on the interaction of two well-known meanings of a word or phrase. It consists of a deliberate confusion of similar words or phrases for rhetorical effect, whether humorous or serious. A pun can rely on the assumed equivalency of multiple similar words (homonymy), of different shades of meaning of one word (polysemy), or of a literal meaning with a metaphor.

The pun is more independent than zeugma – there is no reference to a verb. It only depends on the context. But the context may be of more expanded character, sometimes even as large as a whole work of emotive prose.

e.g. The importance of Being Earnest (O. Wilde). Meanings: seriously-minded and a male’s name.

Most English jokes and riddles are based on pun, e.g. What is the difference between an engine driver and a teacher? – One minds the train and the other trains the mind./ between a soldier and a young girl? – One faces the powder and the other powders the face.

Walter Redfern (in Puns, Blackwell, London, 1984) succinctly said: «To pun is to treat homonyms as synonyms».

Puns can be subdivided into several varieties:

· Homographic puns exploit the difference in meanings of words which look alike, for example: «Being in politics is just like playing golf: you are trapped in one bad lie after another». (Pun on the two meanings of lie – «a deliberate untruth»/«the position in which something rests»).

· Heteronymicpuns which look alike but have different pronunciations, though this distinction is disused. For example: «Q: What instrument do fish like to play? A: A bass guitar». (Pun on the identical spelling of /beɪs/ (low frequency), and /bæs/ (a kind of fish)).

· Homophonic are puns that sound the same, but the spelling is different: «I am the son, and the heir».(pun on son/sun and heir/air)

The compound pun is one in which multiple puns are collocated for additional and amplified effect,: Cornell linguist Charles Hockett told a story of a man who bought a cattle ranch for his sons and named it the "Focus Ranch" because it was where the sons raise meat (sun's rays meet).

Extended puns occur when multiple puns referring to one general idea are used throughout a longer utterance. An example of this is the following story about a fight, with extended puns about cookery:

A fight broke out in a kitchen. Egged on by the waiters, two cooks peppered each other with punches. One man, a greasy foie gras specialist, ducked the first blows, but his goose was cooked when the other cold-cocked him.

Current English puns can be looked at www.punoftheday.com.

C. Oxymoron is a Greek term derived from oxy («sharp») and moros («dull»). Oxymoronis a combination of two words (mostly an adjective and a noun or an adverb) in which the meanings of the two clash, being opposite in sense.

There is no true word-combination, but only the juxtaposition of two non-combinative words.

e.g. sweet sorrow, horribly beautiful, a deafening silence.

In some cases the primary meaning of the qualifying word weakens or changes, and the stylistic effect of oxymoron is lost, e.g.: awfully nice, terribly sorry.

Oxymorons are a proper subset of the expressions called contradictions in terms. What distinguishes oxymora from other paradoxes and contradictions is that they are used intentionally, for rhetorical effect, and the contradiction is only apparent, as the combination of terms provides a novel expression of some concept, such as «cruel to be kind».

The most common form of oxymoron involves an adjective–noun combination. For example, the following line from Tennyson's Idylls of the King contains two oxymora: «And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true».

D. Irony, from the Greek (dissimulator), is a stylistic device which is also based on the opposition of dictionary and contextual meanings.

In ironythere is a gap or incongruity between what a speaker or a writer says, and what is generally understood (either at the time, or in the later context of history). Irony may also arise from discordance between acts and results, especially if it is striking, and known to a later audience. A certain kind of irony may result from the act of pursuing a desired outcome, resulting in the opposite effect, but again, only if this is known to a third party.

Usually a word with positive connotation acquires a negative meaning in the context.

e.g. It must be delightful to find oneself in a foreign country without a penny in one’s pocket.

The word delightful acquires a meaning quite the opposite to its primary meaning (i.e. unpleasant, not delightful). The word containing the irony is strongly marked by intonation. It has an emphatic stress and is generally supplied with a special melody design.

Though, sometimes, a word with negative connotation acquires a positive meaning, as, for instance, in «A Hanging», the men who are in charge of the execution engage in laughter and lighthearted conversation after the event. There is irony in the situation and in their speech because we sense that they are actually very tense – almost unnerved – by the hanging; their laughter is the opposite of what their true emotional state actually is. Many situations and conditions lend themselves to ironic treatment.

Both lexical and a phraseological units can contain irony. It sometimes may express very subtle, nuances of meaning, as in a poem by Byron:

e.g. I like a parliamentary debate,

Particularly when ‘tis not too late.

The word like gives a hint of irony. Parliamentary debates are usually long. The word debate itself suggests a lengthy discussion.

Richard Altick says, «The effect of irony lies in the striking disparity between what is said and what is meant». This disparity is achieved through the intentional interplay between the two meanings in opposition to each other. Irony is generally used to convey a negative meaning. The contextual meaning always contains the negation of the positive concepts embodied in the dictionary meaning.

There are different kinds of irony. For example:

· Tragic (or dramatic) irony occurs when a character onstage is ignorant, but the audience watching knows his or her eventual fate, as in Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet.

· Socratic irony takes place when someone (classically a teacher) pretends to be foolish or ignorant, but is not (and the teaching-audience, but not the student-victim, realizes the teacher's ploy).

· Situational irony occurs when the results of a situation are far different from what was expected. This results in a feeling of surprise and unfairness due to the odd situation, e.g: a situation immortalized in O. Henry's story The Gift of the Magi, in which a young couple is too poor to buy each other Christmas gifts. The man finally pawns his heirloom pocket watch to buy his wife a set of combs for her long, prized, beautiful hair. She, meantime, cuts her hair to sell to a wigmaker for money to buy her husband a watch-chain. The irony is two-fold: the couple, having parted with their tangible valuables, is caused by the act to discover the richness of the intangible.

· Comic irony is a sharp incongruity between our expectation of an outcome and what actually occurs. Layers of comic irony pervade (as an example) Jane Austen’s novels. The first sentence of Pride and Prejudice famously opens with a nearly mathematical postulate. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” The scene that follows immediately betrays the proposal. «No, a rich young man moving into the neighborhood did not come to seek a wife». In fact, it soon becomes clear that Austen means the opposite: women (or their mothers) are always in search of, and desperately on the lookout for, a rich single man to make a husband. The irony deepens as the story promotes his romance and ends in a double wedding.


SDs based on proximity.

A. Periphrasis (Circumlocution)

B. Euphemism

C. Hyperbole

D. Understatement (Litotes)

A. Periphrasis(circumlocution) is a figure of speech where the meaning of a word or phrase is indirectly expressed through several or many words. (Periphrasis is of Greek origin [«about, around» + phrasis (φράσις) «speech, expression»], while circumlocution is Latin – both meaning «a roundabout manner of speaking».)

Circumlocution and periphrasis mean describing a word with other words, for example: «scissors» = «a thing you use to cut other things». Circumlocution is often helpful while learning a new language, when one does not know the word for a particular thing. In the constructed language Basic English this is used to decrease the size of the necessary vocabulary.

Circumlocution also means replacing a word with another (or others), often in order to sound more polite, to avoid repetitions or a controversial, to be ironic.

B. Euphemism.A euphemism is an expression intended by the speaker to be less offensive, disturbing, or troubling the listener than the word or phrase it replaces, or in the case of doublespeak to make it less troublesome for the speaker.

The word euphemism comes from the Greek word euphemos, meaning «auspicious/good/fortunate speech/kind» which in turn is derived from the Greek root-words eu (ευ), «good/well» + pheme «speech/speaking». The eupheme was originally a word or phrase used in place of a religious word or phrase that should not be spoken aloud.

When a phrase is used as a euphemism, it often becomes a metaphor whose literal meaning is dropped. Euphemisms may be used to hide unpleasant or disturbing ideas, even when the literal term for them is not necessarily offensive. This type of euphemism is used in public relations and politics, where it is sometimes disparagingly called doublespeak. Sometimes, utilising euphemisms is equated to politeness. There are also superstitious euphemisms, based (consciously or subconsciously) on the idea that words have the power to bring bad fortune and religious euphemisms, based on the idea that some words are sacred, or that some words are spiritually imperiling.

In some versions of English, toilet room, itself a euphemism, was replaced with bathroom and water closet, which were replaced (respectively) with restroom and W.C.

It can apply to naming of racial or ethnic groups as well, when proposed euphemisms become successively «corrupted». For example:

negro → colored → black → African-American → People of Color

Many euphemisms fall into one or more of these categories:

· Terms of foreign and/or technical origin ( perspire, urinate, security breach, mierda de toro, prophylactic, feces occur)

· Abbreviations (SOB for «son of a bitch», BS for «bullshit»)

· Abstractions (it, the situation, go, left the company, do it)

· Indirections (behind, unmentionables, privates, live together, go to the bathroom, sleep together)

· Mispronunciation (freakin, shoot)

· Litotes (not exactly thin for «fat», not completely truthful for «lied», not unlike cheating for «cheating»)

· Changing nouns to modifiers (makes her look slutty for «is a slut», right-wing element for «right-wing», of Jewish persuasion for «Jew»)

Euphemisms may be formed in a number of ways. Periphrasis or circumlocution is one of the most common – to «speak around» a given word, implying it without saying it. Over time, circumlocutions become recognized as established euphemisms for particular words or ideas.

C.Hyperbole (exaggeration, overstatement) is a figure of speech in which statements are exaggerated or extravagant. Derived from the Greek (literally 'overshooting' or 'excess'). It may be used due to strong feelings or is used to create a strong impression and is not meant to be taken literally. It has the function of intensifying one certain property of the object described. It is often used in poetry and is a literary device.

· «I could eat a horse».

· «She is one hundred feet tall».

A.A. Potyebnya differentiates exaggeration from hyperbole: «Hyperbole is the result of intoxication by emotion, which prevents a person from seeing things in their true dimensions…If the reader (listener) is not carried away by the emotion of the writer (speaker), hyperbole becomes a mere lie».

Likemany SDs, hyperbole may loose its quality as a figure of speech through frequent repetition and become a unit of the language-as-a-system, reproduced in speech in its unaltered form, e.g.: a thousand pardons, immensely obliged, I’ve told you fifty times.

D. Understatement (Litotes) is the reverse of exaggeration. Actually, antonyms to hyperbole include meiosis, litotes, and understatement. The relations, or feelings, or qualities of the object are intentionally underrated, diminishing the importance of event, e.g.:"She has a brain the size of a pinhead." She looked at me with not much joy. I wasn’t what you can call in a fever of impatience.





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