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I understand that when being metaphorical you're saying that something IS something, for example: "The moon is a ball of cheese". Because I'm saying that the moon IS a ball of cheese it is of course metaphorical.

Would this count as metaphorical language?:

"He fell down the bottomless pit to his death".

(Of course, a pit can't be bottomless, that's impossible). So, although this isn't necessarily saying that the pit is bottomless as opposed to appearing bottomless, could it still be classed as metaphorical explanation of the pit? Could this bottomless pit be classed as metaphorical? Could one interpret the sentence into saying that the pit is bottomless?

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Names. There as many names as there are literary devices. Metaphor is just one of them and I'm afraid 'bottomless pit' is not a metaphor. There should be another name suitable for it, maybe 'exaggeration'. –  Kris May 18 '12 at 11:13
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Hyperbole perhaps. –  Andrew Leach May 18 '12 at 12:58
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I think you are looking for the word 'figurative' which means 'not literal'. A metaphor is one (probably the most common) kind of non-literal wording. 'Figurative' includes metaphor, hyperbole, metonymy (using an associated word, like 'White House' for the American presidency), sarcasm, etc.) –  Mitch May 18 '12 at 13:15

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

No, your bottomless pit is not metaphorical.

To be metaphorical, X has to spoken of as Y. For example, in "Juliet is the sun", Juliet is spoken of as the sun. In Ovid's "Time is the devourer of all things", time is spoken of as a devouring beast eating all things. In your "The moon is a ball of cheese", the moon is being spoken of as a ball of cheese.

In "He fell down the bottomless pit to his death", the pit is spoken of only as a pit.

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why would it not be a metaphor? X is spoken of as Y - a pit that is not, in fact, bottomless (inferred as the poor person has fallen to their death, implying a bottom, altho perhaps starvation could be argued too) is, however, spoken of as bottomless. –  bharal Sep 17 at 23:31
    
for example, consider "the pit was as dark as a bottomless pit", where we have a simile. Now consider "the 12 foot pit was a bottomless pit of despair", which is now a metaphor. Now jump to "the 12 foot pit was a bottomless pit", which is roughly the same metaphor. Finally we can leap over to the question OP has asked, which i think in rough and ready terms is actually a metaphor. –  bharal Sep 17 at 23:37
    
It is not a metaphor because the pit, regardless of the accuracy of the descriptions, is being spoken of as a pit. To be a metaphor it must be spoken of as something else. 'The pit is a ray of sunshine' is a metaphor. 'The pit was a different pit' isn't. –  Roaring Fish Sep 18 at 12:57

It's an interesting case, because the phrase "bottomless pit" could here be a metaphor or an hyperbole in the mind of the speaker and the audience depending upon whether they got the reference or not.

If they think of the bottomless pit mentioned in several verses in the Book of Revelations then it's a metaphor, as the pit is not that pit. (Like many phrases, it's idiomatic in English due to it being used in the King James Bible).

If they just think of it as being very deep and that being exagerated as "bottomless" then it's a hyperbole.

And there's no reason why these shouldn't both be working at the same time. So it can be a metaphor and a hyperbole at the same time.

Of course, if there's no literal pit, then it's definitely a metaphor ("He fell into a bottomless pit, and the anti-depressants his doctor prescribed failed to help").

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