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Parts of a metaphor

 

Techniques > Use of language > Metaphor > Parts of a metaphor

Description | Example | Discussion | See also

 

Description

The metaphor comes in two main parts, classically known as the tenor and the vehicle, which are connected by a verb.

Tenor

The tenor in a metaphor is the original subject. If I say 'you are a dog', then you are the tenor. If I say 'It's a dog day', then the tenor is the day.

Vehicle

The vehicle in a metaphor is both the words and concepts that are invoked by the words.

Connecting verb

The tenor and the vehicle are generally connected by a verb that somehow equates them. The verb 'to be' is by far the most common verb used, as it effectively says 'the tenor is the vehicle'.

Dimension

The vehicle has a number of dimensions, attributes or variables which may be mapped or transferred back onto the tenor and hence create new meaning.

Example

 

Tenor Vehicle Dimensions
Love Island Separated, idyllic
Time Money Trade, interchange
House Home Safety, familiarity
To persuade To plant to put in, to nuture
Opportunity A thing Can be examined, grasped
Anger Storm Energy, danger
New Raw Unchanged, original
Superiority Above Position of power

 

Discussion

In analysis of discourse and the understanding of metaphor, the separation of tenor and vehicle is a basic first step. This is followed by understanding the dimensions of the vehicle and how these are mapped back onto the tenor and how meaning is changed or extended as a result.

A good metaphor has many dimensions that map well into the tenor. A bad metaphor has dimensions that either do not map back to the tenor or, worse, create a distorted understanding.

The vehicle and meaning created are akin to Saussure's idea of signifier and signified in the field of Semiotics.

Note that in the rest of this section on metaphor, the tenor is generally called the 'subject', simply because this wording is easier to understand.

See also

Signifier and Signified

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