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On my daughter’s homework she was supposed to write a sentence with a metaphor in. She wrote:

“After engaging in a 30-second battle with the chimney, a man dressed in red....”

It was marked wrong because the teacher said it wasn’t a metaphor but didn’t explain why it was wrong.

Doesn’t the fact it says he “engaged in a battle” make it a metaphor? He wasn’t literally engaging in a battle.

Can someone please explain why it’s wrong?

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  • How do you have a battle with a chimney? Jan 11, 2020 at 14:32
  • On ELU, contributors have stated that a more scholarly use of the word 'metaphor' includes all situations where features, actions etc that are not strictly applicable are used to illustrate a reality. 'He's a tiger'. 'He's like a tiger' (yes, including similes). 'He battled the elements' (the primary sense of 'battle' refers to a fight against sentient corporeal foes). But 'He battled the dragon' may or may not be a metaphor. Is the dragon pure fantasy, or is it meant to represent say a drug habit? 'He battled the recalcitrant old car' uses metaphor, but 'He battled a chimney' seems strained. Jan 11, 2020 at 17:14
  • It would be a metaphor if the chimney wasn’t really a chimney.
    – Lawrence
    Jan 11, 2020 at 18:02
  • Are we getting Freudian here? Jan 12, 2020 at 11:09
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    Assuming that the sentence is describing the struggle of an oversized elf to slither down an uncomfortably narrow flue, I completely agree with the poster that the noun "battle" is a perfectly good metaphor. However, frequent use of certain words or phrases that objectively function as metaphors may lead to the word's acquiring an everyday meaning that normalizes the metaphorical usage as a standard—and therefore, by definition, nonmetaphorical—meaning of the word. "Battle" in the sense of "struggle" rather than of "military conflict" is a good example of a typical end-product of this process.
    – Sven Yargs
    Feb 11, 2020 at 8:05

1 Answer 1

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The word battle is defined with several meanings. One of the noun definitions is "any conflict or struggle". As a verb it can mean "to work very hard or struggle; strive".

It seems to me that that meaning applies literally rather than metaphorically in the sentence you've quoted. I wouldn't describe getting down a chimney as a conflict, but it could be a struggle depending on the size and shape of both the chimney and the man.

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  • But are you saying that when something is defined as having a certain meaning, this meaning cannot therefore be a metaphor?
    – Mr Lister
    Jan 11, 2020 at 15:32
  • @MrLister - I'm saying that when the literal meaning applies to the case in question then it isn't a metaphor in that case. The whole point of metaphors is that they are not taken as the literal meaning. In the OP's case the literal meaning does apply, therefore it's not a metaphor.
    – nnnnnn
    Jan 11, 2020 at 15:35
  • No; the broader sense of 'metaphor' is held as standard on ELU. All similes employ metaphor. And all senses other than the primary one (the primary one here being a physical tussle against [probably human, but certainly sentient] enemies). However, fantastical writing probably goes beyond the limits. Jan 11, 2020 at 17:07

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