Although I can recognize and construct phrases that include usage of poetic devices, I certainly cannot define all of them accurately.

For example, I read in a book that metaphor is defined as transfer of qualities between two certain physical objects. And I found the definition to be so accurate that anyone reading it the first time would understand the meaning of metaphor without having to go through tons of examples.

Likewise, simile would mean the similarities between two objects.

So I wanted to ask if there could be a similar accurate definition for other existing devices like irony, alliteration, and analogy.

I mean I know what irony means and can distinguish between an irony and other given devices but I'm somehow not able to accurately define it without the help of examples.

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    I'd look up 'irony' here and tackle the various types authorities say there are. Wikipedia lists 5 types of metaphor it claims exist over and above the 'John's a tiger' sort. In 'success is a bastard as it has many fathers, and failure is an orphan, with no takers', I'd say your definition of 'metaphor' is inadequate anyway: success is hardly an 'object'. Look up 'rhetorical tropes and schemes' and then research ones that catch your fancy. – Edwin Ashworth May 14 '14 at 16:12
  • Sure it may be inadequate, but what I like about it is that it's concise and as such can prove it's meaning without usage of examples.. – Invoker May 14 '14 at 16:15
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    If the definition is inadequate, it does not convey the meaning accurately / adequately (I assume that's what you mean by 'prove it's [sic] meaning). – Edwin Ashworth May 14 '14 at 16:20
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    You shouldn't be able to define Metaphor accurately without the use of examples. There are a lot of terms that people use -- many of them metaphoric themselves -- for phenomena like metaphor, and it turns out that everybody uses them in different ways. Data -- examples -- always comes first, and stays, however the "definitions" are phrased. (If you want to read a book about metaphor, by the way, Lakoff and Johnson is a good place to start.) – John Lawler May 14 '14 at 16:44
  • @John Lawler It's a beast. – Edwin Ashworth May 14 '14 at 16:48

The OP cites "a book" in which metaphor is defined as

transfer of qualities between two certain physical objects.

This description definitely works for lots of metaphors (though "certain" is a little confusing).

The usual semantic definition is that a metaphor is

  • a partial mapping of a concept from one semantic frame to another

The difference is that not all metaphors refer to physical objects.
For instance, the TIME is MONEY metaphor theme, which licenses such constructions as

  • spend three hours, lose a whole week, have time left for, contribute one's time

is clearly not about two physical objects, let alone "certain" ones.
The TIM theme is about using something we have objective experience in --
commercial transactions -- to talk about something we experience only internally --
perceived duration in time. A few minutes is not a physical object.

In fact, one of the biggest and most important uses of metaphors is to provide ways to talk about concepts like "time" that don't really have many words about them in English. Most abstractions are metaphoric words, if you examine them carefully; this is especially true with new phenomena -- everything about computers is metaphoric, because there were no computing terms before they were invented.

As for the other questions, most semanticists use the term metaphor to cover simile, analogy, and metonomy as well. The Greeks cared enough to give them different names because they were tied to Greek words and constructions; but if you're talking about English, the distinctions are just more pedantry. There's really no difference worth mentioning; they all have the same semantic effect.

Irony is, like humor or surprise, a perceived emotional phenomenon rather than an explicit referential phenomenon, and is not grammatical as such. So your definition is as good as any other one, because the belief of the speaker that they are being ironic and the perception of the listener that the speaker is being ironic rarely match up well.

Finally, there is a straightforward definition of alliteration. Two language chunks (normally words, especially words linked together in a phrase or name) are said to alliterate (or to be alliterative) if they start with the same consonant (or especially consonant cluster). For instance,
all the words in this group, and all the words in this group, are alliterative with one another.

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    I can't think of a non-patronising way to say how good the treatment of 'metaphor' here is. – Edwin Ashworth May 14 '14 at 19:25
  • Yes you did. Thank you. Metaphor is one of my specialities, after all (I think "speciality" sounds more impressive than "specialty", don't you?). – John Lawler May 14 '14 at 20:19
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    I'm biased, living over here. But you have better canyons. – Edwin Ashworth May 14 '14 at 21:27

Irony: word(s) that convey(s) the opposite its meaning

Alliteration: series of words that begin with the same consonant.

Analogy: a comparison

Using a Mnemonic Dictionary of Poetic Devices and Literary Terms may be the trick to combating lapsus linguae

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