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38
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9answers
5k views

“Childlessness is hereditary in our family” What do you call a statement containing a contradiction such as the example?

This kind of sentence is usually absurd and may or may not be recognized as such by the person who utters it. She will regret it till the day she dies, if she lives that long! "Aren't you going to ...
20
votes
5answers
2k views

“A whole nother” way of looking at things

People say this so much (instead of "another whole" way, etc.) that I wonder how it got started. How did "another whole..." get changed to "a whole nother..."?
19
votes
5answers
5k views

Of the difference between zeugma and syllepsis

I am confused about what is the relative meaning of zeugma compared to syllepsis, both in its current meaning and possibly in former understandings of these words. The New Oxford American Dictionary ...
16
votes
3answers
530 views

What is the origin of “in a jiffy”?

What is the origin of "in a jiffy"? Etymology online Dictionary says origin unknown but speculates that it was slang (cant) for lightning and dates it as 1785. Wikipedia agrees but adds that the ...
14
votes
3answers
806 views

“Carved from the living rock” — since when was rock ever alive?

According to Etymonline, living dates to the 14th century, and refers to "the fact of dwelling in some place," from O.E. lifiende, prp. of lifan But we hear the phrase "the living rock" used all ...
14
votes
2answers
7k views

Where does the phrase “Scare the Dickens out of…” originate from?

Where does the phrase "Scare the Dickens out of..." originate from? And does it refer to Charles Dickens?
14
votes
1answer
6k views

Similes and Metaphors - are similes a subset of metaphors?

I've always been taught that metaphors and similes both draw a parallel between two disparate ideas/thoughts/objects, but that a simile is a more explicit comparison using the word "like" or "is", ...
12
votes
1answer
858 views

What is this an example of: “I couldn't fail not to disagree with you less”?

Eisenhower used it constantly to fend off reporters. Is there a term to describe this type of phrase?
11
votes
2answers
2k views

What kind of rhetorical strategy is it when someone points out a potential sticking point in his proposition before anyone can criticize it?

e.g. "I know some of you might consider this question general reference, but think of all those people who will be reading it all over the world and how it will enrich our data bank." "Of course we ...
11
votes
3answers
25k views

What is the difference between metonymy and synecdoche?

What is the difference between metonymy and synecdoche?
9
votes
2answers
282 views

Name for phrase of words in increasing significance

I'm looking at the phrase "THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY". The thing I'm trying to think of is the joke format where you list a bunch of things and then change the last word for humorous effect. I ...
9
votes
3answers
29k views

What is the difference between “metaphorical”, “allegorical”, and “figurative”?

What is the difference between metaphorical, allegorical, and figurative?
8
votes
2answers
202 views

Why PBS is called Big Bird as its byname?

I found “Big Bird” being used as the byname of public broad services in the article titled,“The Red and Blue Fantasies behind the Big Bird War” appearing in Time magazine’s October 9 issue which ...
8
votes
4answers
3k views

Is “Mecca” capitalized when used figuratively?

Waleed made his pilgrimage to Mecca. This is a given. But I would write: Bombay is India’s entertainment mecca Is this correct, or is Mecca capitalized in its figurative use, as well?
6
votes
2answers
2k views

What is funny in this paraprosdokian?

I was reading the wiki page about paraprosdokians when I come across this sentence. One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas, how he got in my pajamas, I don't know. What is funny about it?
6
votes
5answers
102k views

Origin and meaning of “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar”

I'm having trouble understanding the rationale behind the meaning of an American English phrase of which I just became aware. That phrase is: You catch more flies with honey than you do with ...
6
votes
3answers
22k views

“Money for rope” … meaning and derivation?

I was listening to John Lennon's song "Gimme Some Truth" just now, and in it there's a recurring line: ". . . money for rope." I never thought about it much before, but it strikes me this has ...
6
votes
3answers
8k views

“At the drop of a hat”?

Where does the figure of speech "at the drop of a hat" come from? I understand the phrase means "Immediately; instantly; on the slightest signal or urging. (Alludes to the dropping of a hat as a ...
6
votes
4answers
2k views

Idiom for opportunistically exploiting a situation to one's advantage

I was wondering what various figures of speech could be used to describe a situation where somebody exploits a situation in order to push their own agenda. For example in Persian we have 'Catching a ...
5
votes
5answers
14k views

What is a synonym for “jack of all trades, master of none”?

What is a synonym of jack of all trades, master of none? I want to differentiate it from a generalist (might have deep knowledge about everything)? On the same note, is there a better way to say ...
5
votes
3answers
2k views

Meaning of a quote in movie Casino Royale (2006)

Vesper Lynd: There are dinner jackets and dinner jackets; this is the latter. And I need you looking like a man who belongs at that table. Here what does the line "There are dinner jackets ...
5
votes
2answers
1k views

Is this an example of litotes?

In Macbeth's Tomorrow speech To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, To the last syllable of recorded time; And all our yesterdays have lighted ...
5
votes
2answers
387 views

Talking about not talking about the topic—name of figure of speech [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: Is there a name for “I don't mean to…, but” phrases? Term for mentioning X by saying “I will not say X” I am looking for a name of a ...
5
votes
1answer
306 views

What rhetorical device is “she wears mink all day and fox all night” using?

What rhetorical device is the following statement using? She wears mink all day and fox all night. It's not a pun, it's not a syllepsis. Is there a word for false-puns of this sort?
4
votes
4answers
383 views

Can snow be dry?

Disclaimer: There are a lot of questions packed in but their answers are interdependent. Different textures of snow can be described as "wet" and "dry". Considering that water is the quintessence of ...
4
votes
4answers
2k views

Can you really “See that thing in person”?

Consider the following scenario: A woman at a store is shown a dress by a clerk. After a few moments, she tells the clerk that she would like "to see it in red". The clerk would then go and ...
4
votes
2answers
15k views

What does “Don't call him late for dinner” mean?

What does the phrase "Don't call him late for dinner" mean? As I am very thin, I believe this is a figure of speech used to sarcastically describe someone of near fragile size. I am not sure. I am ...
4
votes
4answers
38k views

Where does the phrase “No skin off my teeth/nose” come from?

The phrase "it's no skin off my nose/teeth" is generally used to mean that something isn't much of a risk/concern. But where does it come from? Specifically with respect to teeth. What is tooth skin?
4
votes
2answers
2k views

Change is the only constant – antithesis or oxymoron?

Change is the only constant – Isaac Asimov Can the above quote be called an example of antithesis or that of oxymoron, or neither of these? I am confused because both antithesis and oxymoron have ...
4
votes
5answers
160 views

“Not as heavy as an elephant.” Which literary device is this?

I was having a conversation with a friend today. He jokingly asked me to help him pick up a desktop printer later (he's obviously strong enough to carry one on his own - a typical desktop printer is ...
4
votes
2answers
107 views

Is 'to gain an advantage' a pleonasm?

The definition of "advantage" is roughly "something positive". Definitions for "to gain" are rather varied, but usually mean "to win something" with a positive connotation. With this in mind, is "to ...
4
votes
3answers
4k views

What's the origin of the figure of speech “call the shots”?

I'm well aware that when someone says "he's the one who calls the shots" it means that that person is the one in charge, the one who takes all the relevant decisions. But what's the origin of this ...
4
votes
2answers
2k views

Figure of Speech vs. Figure of Thought

Is there any meaningful difference between a "figure of speech" and a "figure of thought". Searching for a definition of "figure of thought" leads to many esoteric discussions relating to ancient ...
4
votes
2answers
278 views

Can a single metaphor be 'mixed'?

M-W has the following definition for mixed metaphor: a figure of speech combining inconsistent or incongruous metaphors Hence a requirement is that a 'mixed metaphor' contains more than one ...
3
votes
7answers
4k views

Is “New and Improved” an oxymoron?

It irritates me that advertisers often claim a product is "New and Improved". Surely, if something is new (ie, has not existed previously), it can't be improved! And vice versa!
3
votes
1answer
1k views

Difference between female and male usage [closed]

What explains the difference of a de facto larger frequency of vowels of one writer compared to another? In the statistics data I examined, a vowel had higher probability in the text from the female ...
3
votes
2answers
785 views

Where can we find anacoluthon nowadays?

An anacoluthon <...> is a rhetorical device that can be loosely defined as a change of syntax within a sentence <...>. Grammatically, anacoluthon is an error; however, in rhetoric it is a ...
3
votes
2answers
3k views

Meaning of “non-normative”?

What's the meaning of "a non-normative document"? Does "non-normative" mean "casual"? What's the significant difference between a normative document and a non-normative one?
3
votes
2answers
304 views

Are “I scream” and “Ice cream” homophones, or do we have another term here?

When two phrases are pronounced alike but have different spelling and meaning, can they be called homophones? e.g. "ice-cream" and "I scream", "nitrate" and "night rate", "that's tough" and "that ...
3
votes
2answers
1k views

Meaning of a mixed metaphor from “The Gift of The Magi”?

This is from The Gift of The Magi by O Henry (William Sydney Porter). Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. (part 4, paragraph 5 in the reference ...
3
votes
2answers
3k views

Why is “desperacy” not an English word?

I know one says an act of desperation, but I've heard desperacy much more than I've ever heard desperation, it's like I've almost never heard desperation. Why exactly was desperation preferred over ...
3
votes
3answers
714 views

Can you be literal about non-literal things?

I know many hackles have been raised over the misuse of the word literal. Let's say there are a couple of mobsters talking about a third guy who has made a minor mistake, and jokingly one says, "I'm ...
3
votes
1answer
326 views

Does a road that “snakes” always imply a “winding” road?

If one says that a road snakes, does it necessarily imply that the road is winding? Or can it also express that the road is long and stretched out?
3
votes
10answers
765 views

Is “The Walking Dead” a personification?

Personification (or anthropomorphism) is attributing human features to non-humans. Technically, a dead human is not a human and we give the attribute of walking to the dead. So, Is "the walking dead" ...
3
votes
2answers
6k views

“What to do when you live in a shoe”

Where does the phrase "what to do when you live in a shoe" come from? I was asked today why I use slow internet and responded, "What to do when you live in a shoe" as though my internet limitation(s) ...
3
votes
1answer
164 views

Literal echelons?

Merriam-Webster and the OED list only figurative senses of the word echelon (i.e. military formations and organizational ranks). Would it be incorrect to use it in the literal sense of the French word ...
3
votes
5answers
438 views

What is the term for a common expression that is inaccurate or misleading?

What is the term for a common expression or colloquialism that is inaccurate or misleading, such as the use of "mental math" to mean "mental calculation" or "mental arithmetic"?
3
votes
2answers
1k views

Difference between a synecdoche and metonym?

From the definitions of these two types of figures of speech (tropes, if you will), I have always understand them to mean the same thing. Essentially, that is the usage of either a specific attribute ...
3
votes
2answers
33 views

What figure(s) of speech or expression are in play here?

I recently heard a somewhat poetic song lyric that I couldn't pin down. The writer says of a failed relationship: We broke a diamond with our bitter words. I get diamond as a metonym for ...
2
votes
4answers
5k views

Some, others and again others?

If I want to add a third option to the construct "Some..., others", what is the best way to put it? Some, others and again others? So: Some people like apples, others like oranges and again others ...