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My partner and I were discussing rearranging our bedroom. He said that moving the bed would be "a big lift".

The conversation continued and he referred to "a big lift" as an idiom. I replied that the phrase is a metaphor for weightlifting.

Much like this "rain check" question already posed, can a phrase be both a metaphor and an idiom? Specifically, is the phrase "a big lift" a metaphor? Is it an idiom?

  • How far did a dictionary get you? – WS2 Mar 26 '19 at 19:07
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    If, after the bed has been moved, your spirits are raised and the room acquires an exuberant atmosphere, then 'big lift' is a metaphor. If the big lift is a mighty effort then it's plain speech, as Lordology says. – Hugh Mar 26 '19 at 19:31
  • If meant in more than a literal sense, I would simply describe the phrase as a pun . . . (And if referencing weightlifting, it would be more a simile than a metaphor.) – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Mar 27 '19 at 2:34
  • You forgot to mention "simile" -- a simile is like a metaphor. – Hot Licks Mar 27 '19 at 12:07
  • It’s a metaphor if you consider the bed to be some kind of elevator (of the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory sort, perhaps). – Lawrence Mar 27 '19 at 14:05
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It's neither.

'a big lift' is just standard speech.

A metaphor is defined as:

A figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.

a big lift does not fit here because it is literally applicable -- moving the bed will presumably be a big lift.

An idiom is defined as:

A group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words

Definitely not this - the meaning is indeed deducible from the context.

I say it's standard speech. Highlighting the aforementioned phrase- Moving the bed will be a big lift, you can just see that it's a statement where the adjective big just describes the action of the lift.

If you were talking about weightlifting as a sport, it would be an idiom, as John Lawler has pointed out. But out of that context, it's just plain English.

Hope this helps!

Both [1] [2] definitions from Oxford Dictionaries.

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  • Probably splitting hairs, but a more literal phrasing would be "moving the bed requires/involves a big lift (and then a little haul)." Since the task of moving the bed involves steps besides lifting (at least carrying and putting down), "moving the bed is a big lift" could be considered a synecdoche, which is a subspecies of metaphor. – Juhasz Mar 26 '19 at 19:54
  • @Juhasz I understand synecdoche to mean a part of something representing the whole. I can't really see how this could be synecdoche, but maybe I'm just missing something. – Lordology Mar 26 '19 at 20:22
  • In saying "moving the bed is a big a lift," you're reducing the task to one of its parts. This is similar to the phrase, "Einstein was a brilliant mind." Einstein was more than a mind, so describing him as a mind is a type of synecdoche. Maybe. Synecdoche describes a range of figurative speech. I think this qualifies, but I could be convinced otherwise. – Juhasz Mar 26 '19 at 20:44
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    In the sports talk of weight-lifting, it is an idiom, a fixed phrase with a specific meaning. Outside that context it's just ordinary English referring to an event of lifting something heavy. The big can mean 'heavy' because that's the way the BIG predicate works in modifying the noun lift. Big things are heavier, after all. – John Lawler Mar 26 '19 at 20:48
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A "metaphor" is a word or phrase (not necessarily common -- could be an ad-hoc invention) which somehow parallels the concept being described, like "nerves of steel".

An "idiom" is a (relatively) common phrase with a generally accepted meaning. It is not necessarily metaphorical.

Something can be both a metaphor and an idiom, one and not the other, or neither.

"A big lift", in the above example, is not distinctly either one (since it's not terribly common in the context given, and it's not particularly figurative). But it does have a slight flavor of both, especially if the reference is understood to be weightlifting.

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