Is there a term for using a word but not meaning its actual definition?

For example:

I need to run to my room quickly.

In that example, I do not literally mean "run"; instead, I am sort of using run as a metaphor.


You may use a word metaphorically:

The news stunned me; an elephant sat on my chest.

Not really an elephant. The news was dire and made it hard to breathe.

You may use a word figuratively:

With a soaring heart, I flew to meet my beloved.

My heart didn't lift from my chest. It just beat faster in anticipation, and I didn't actually flap my arms and fly through the air. I took the qualities of flight -- speed and ease -- and applied them to the trip.

You may use a word ironically, with scare quotes:

Katy Perry's music expresses a "deep" philosophy.

No it doesn't. She's actually shallow and her music is brainless.

You may use a word idiomatically:

You have to look after my brother.

Your chore isn't to peer beyond your brother. The phrasal verb "look after" means attend to, regardless of what "look" and "after" mean separately.

You may speak euphemistically:

My uncle passed away last year.

Everyone understands that passing had nothing to do with it, and that everyone is more comfortable with a conventional substitute for the word "died."

You may use double entendre. From a talk show years ago:

"Professor" Irwin Corey (to Zsa Zsa Gabor): That's quite a ring you're wearing. Did you get it on the lay away plan?
Zsa Zsa: You're a horrible little man.
Irwin Corey: Oh, no! You've merely misconscrewed my meaning.

Corey did not mean to ask whether Gabor reserved the ring by making installment payments.


You might mean you are using it hyperbolically. This is usually understood automatically to be a blatant and exaggeration.

Hyperbole - exaggeration, overstatement, magnification, embroidery, embellishment, excess, overkill, rhetoric, puffery

From: oxford dictionaries

Example: "I am so hungry I could eat a horse."

  • Yes! I think that would apply the best. Thank you so much! – Corey P Aug 7 '15 at 21:10
  • @Corey P Yeshe may be puzzled that you comment 'Yes! I think that would apply the best. Thank you so much!' but accept a different answer. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 7 '15 at 22:32
  • And I didn't even get an upvote :( – Yeshe Aug 7 '15 at 22:37

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