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What is the term for using a word to portray a particular idea outside of but close to the context of the original meaning? Here is an example of what I mean. Someone may use the word “mercenary” in a sentence, to describe agency working, working for several different people or picking up lots of different jobs as the need arises. Using the word “mercenary” in this way, is close to the original meaning of a soldier being hired by foreign armies.

Here is another example - someone may use the word “gerontocracy” in a sentence to describe a school or a company that is run by people who have been in positions of leadership for a very long time. Using the word “gerontocracy” in this way is close to the original meaning of a government being run by elders.

Here are two sentences - (1) “I’m looking forward to the interviews this afternoon, we may get some younger applicants who can infiltrate this gerontocracy” (2) “I’m a mercenary at the moment, just freelancing, I do work for a lot of different people”

Is there a literary term that describes the use of words in the way that I have described above?

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    Sounds like metaphor to me.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 22:46
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    I don't think either of those usages would be considered “metaphorical,” but if they were, in lexicography, they would be called figurative. There is also extended usage, which might better describe these. Commented Feb 19, 2023 at 19:15
  • Thank you, here are two sentences - (1) “I’m looking forward to the interviews this afternoon, we may get some younger applicants who can infiltrate this gerontocracy” (2) “I’m a mercenary at the moment, just freelancing, I do work for a lot of different people” Commented Feb 19, 2023 at 21:35
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    Figurative use seems the best and most general match. There are other terms like metonymy and metalepsis, as well as metaphor and analogy, which may apply in some cases. Calling someone in the employment market a "mercenary" or "gun for hire" is a comparison with a soldier who kills only for money, so it's a metaphor - or at least it was; now it's a dead metaphor, or just a regular meaning of the word.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Feb 19, 2023 at 21:54

1 Answer 1

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This is known as metaphoric extension. As an article from the University of Indiana explains, this involves an "extension of a word's meaning on the basis of similarity."

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