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What figure of speech is it when we say:

  • "The meat is swimming in gravy. I'll have fish instead."
  • "Her eyes were swimming with tears."
  • "They say he's swimming in money."
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    It's a plain old metaphor. – Mitch Sep 15 '14 at 13:32
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    Also, anthropomorphism. – SrJoven Sep 15 '14 at 13:44
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    Scrooge McDuck would disagree "swimming in money" is metaphor. – Dan Bron Sep 15 '14 at 14:14
  • The first one is not a figure of speech at all, I’d say. One of the basic meanings of swim is “be immersed in or covered with liquid” (ODO, sense 2), which is precisely what it means there—so I’d say the first example is as literal as, “The girl is swimming in the ocean”. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 15 '14 at 14:51
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Maybe, Janus, but meat doesn't swim. It floats, at the most. – Centaurus Sep 15 '14 at 14:58
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Nothing plain about metaphor in my opinion! Metaphor is a substitution based on a perceived similarity whilst allowing difference to remain clear. We know he is not really swimming in money, but we appreciate that he is surrounded by money, buoyed up by it, as a swimmer is in water.

A well-used example, which I find helpful, is the sentence 'fifty keels ploughed the deep.' in which 'ploughed'is the metaphor describing the movement of ships,but which is also used to distinguish metaphor from synecdoche and metonym.'Keels' is an example of synecdoche - using a part of a ship to describe the whole, and 'deep' of metonym, using a quality of the sea to describe the sea itself.

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