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Is the sentence :

“I have a little pin that says I didn't miss school for nine years.”

to be taken as being metaphorical, that I unnderstand the sentence to say something like “I am quite sure of the fact that I haven't missed school for nine years ...”, or am I supposed to take this sentence literally, that this person actually received a little pin, maybe to put on his clothing, on which is printed (in small font) that he didn’t miss school for nine years?

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    Hello, sara. While the literal reading seems far more likely, the metaphorical sense is not impossible. But it would be a novel metaphor, which it is unfair to spring on the unaware. From an etic point of view (a total outsider), it could even be a lie. It's not a question we can answer here. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 27 '19 at 16:34
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    It can't possibly be literal because pins can't speak. Therefore it's metaphorical. Deeply. – John Lawler Dec 27 '19 at 16:41
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    Perhaps the pin is possessed, or has a button that speaks a preprogrammed message. Without context, we really have no way of knowing. – TaliesinMerlin Dec 27 '19 at 17:50
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    We often say that written or printed words 'say' something; the last bus ticket I bought said "valid on day of issue only". Merriam-Webster gives a meaning for 'say' of '3a: INDICATE, SHOW the clock says five minutes after twelve'. A bully might say 'I have a fist that says you're going to shut up'. – Michael Harvey Dec 27 '19 at 18:54
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    @JohnLawler: Some dictionaries have an entry for say similar to this one: "to indicate or show: What does your watch say?" That is pretty much what the OP's "little pin" is doing. Whether that usage is literal or metaphorical is at least arguable, perhaps not as absolute as you insist. – Robusto Dec 27 '19 at 20:30
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It is called a "perfect attendance" pin. If this was spoken in English it could, indeed, be literally true. These were more common 50 years go than they are today.

Google will show you many pictures of these pins.

pin

  • Google may show me many pictures of those pins, but absent any accompanying argumentation none will answer the OP's question, which is whether such a usage is literal or metaphorical. – Robusto Dec 27 '19 at 20:32
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    @Robusto - Literal and metaphorical are both possible, no way to know based on the statement alone, so the best we can do here is advise which is the more likely meaning. Given that such pins do exist and given the specific phrasing "I have a little pin" I think it's likely it was meant literally in this case. – nnnnnn Dec 28 '19 at 3:51
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    This is a good reminder that literalness is relative . . . it's a literal pin, but the pin doesn't literally say something about the speaker. So the claim is literally true by comparison it to a situation where the pin is figurative, but not by comparison to a situation where the pin actually reads "<name> had perfect attendance for nine years". – ruakh Dec 28 '19 at 7:47
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    @ruakh Or indeed one where the pin has a built-in speaker that speaks the words, “I didn’t miss school for nine years”. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 28 '19 at 11:15
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    @ruakh One of the definitions of "say" is "(of a text or a symbolic representation) convey specified information". The pin is a symbolic representation that conveys the information that the recipient had perfect attendance, just as a Purple Heart medal says you were injured in battle. – Barmar Dec 29 '19 at 0:44

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