What's the technical term for the "argument" of a metaphor? For example:

The world is a vampire, set to drain

Bullet with Butterfly Wings, Smashing Pumpkins (1995).

"Vampire" is the metaphor itself. What is "world"?


1 Answer 1


There are several pair of terms used by different authors or branches of linguistics.

According to Richards, the world is the tenor of the metaphor. Commenting on Shakespeare's metaphor of the world:

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
(As You Like It, 2/7)

Wikipedia explains:

The Philosophy of Rhetoric (1936) by rhetorician I. A. Richards describes a metaphor as having two parts: the tenor and the vehicle. The tenor is the subject to which attributes are ascribed. The vehicle is the object whose attributes are borrowed. In the previous example, "the world" is compared to a stage, describing it with the attributes of "the stage"; "the world" is the tenor, and "a stage" is the vehicle; "men and women" is the secondary tenor, and "players" is the secondary vehicle.

Thought.co gives the exact quote saying:

The terms vehicle and tenor were introduced by British rhetorician Ivor Armstrong Richards in The Philosophy of Rhetoric (1936).

[V]ehicle and tenor in cooperation give a meaning of more varied powers than can be ascribed to either.

So, in your example, the world is the tenor, while vampire is the vehicle.

The Wikipedia article also mentions other pairs of terms used to name the two parts of the metaphor. For example:

Other writers employ the general terms 'ground' and 'figure' to denote the tenor and the vehicle. Cognitive linguistics uses the terms 'target' and 'source', respectively.

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