Figurative language for teaching: the Metaphor

Click here for more information on this series I’m doing on figurative language for teaching.

Next, the metaphor.

Joseph Delvin writes:

A metaphor (from the Greek metapherein, to carry over or transfer), is a word used to imply a resemblance but insatead of likening one object to another as in the simile we directly substitute the action or operation of one for another. If, of a religious man we say, — “He is as a great pillar upholding the church,” the expression is a simile, but is we say, — “He is a great pillar upholding the church,” it is a metaphor. The metaphor is a bolder and more lively figure of speech than the simile. It is more like a picture and hence, the graphic use of metaphor is called “word-painting.” It enables us to give the most abstract ideas form, color and life.

Our language is full of metaphors, and we very often use them quite unconsciously. For instance, when we speak of the bed of  a river, the shoulder of a hill, the foot of a mountain, the hands of a clock, the key of a situation, we are using metaphors.

Don’t use mixed metaphors, that is, different metaphors in relation to the same subject: “Since it was launched our project has met with much opposition, but while its flight has not reached the heights ambitioned, we are yet sanguine we shall drive it to success.” Here our project begins as a ship, then becomes a bird and finally winds up as a horse.

* * * Application for the teacher* * *

Use metaphors. If you want some example of some great metaphor, read some Spurgeon. I’ll give you a teaser:

Beware of those extremely popular compilations of illustrations which are in every Sunday-school teacher’s hand, for nobody will thank you for repeated what everybody already knows by heart: if you tell anecdotes let them have some degree of freshness and originality; keep your eyes open, and gather flowers from the garden and the field with your hands; they will be far more acceptable than wither specimens borrowed from other men’s bouquets, however beautiful those may once have been. Illustrate richly and aptly, but not so much with parables imported from foreign sources as with apt similes growing out of the subject itself. Do not, however, think the illustration everything; it is the window, but of what use is the light which it admits if you have nothing for the light to reveal? Garnish your dishes, but remember that the joint is the main point to consider, not the garnishing. Real instruction must be given and solid doctrine taught, or you will find your imagery pall upon your hearers, and they will pine for spiritual meat.

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