There are a few words for certain features of language which you might like to learn, and they can make you sound a great deal more intelligent if you drop them into conversations.
- Simile. A simile (pronounced "SIMMilay") is when you make a comparison, usually by using the word "like" or "as": he leapt out of his chair like a rocket. I personally don't find the simile at all interesting as it describes something no more significant than many other features of language: why have a name for phrases like "snug as a bug in a rug", but not for "snugger than a hugger in a rugger scrum"? Perhaps this word only exists to make it easier to explain what a metaphor is:-
- Metaphor. A metaphor is rather like a simile in that a similarity is being described, only it is not put across as a similarity: "my gym teacher is a stupid cow" means that she's as stupid as a cow.There is no attempt here to convince anyone that the teacher is actually an animal with udders, but it is obviously rather fun to state it as if she is indeed a cow. This is a playful use of language, and it is particularly popular in poetry, though there the idea is usually not to amuse, but to generate powerful, dream-like images in the mind. Some metaphorical phrases have become a standard part of the language, such as "barking mad" which was no doubt used originally about a mad person who really did bark. "She's an elephant" creates an amusing image which says that someone is fat, while "she's a rake" says the opposite. With metaphors, the direct meaning is never true, but the implied comparison is very apt. There is another use of the word metaphor in which the direct meaning can also be true, though this is more relevant to television and film: if two people kiss in a soap opera, this may suggest that something else is happening: it may be a metaphor for some oogie boogie. The same applies to trains going into tunnels, or waves crashing onto the shore. Whenever you spot these kinds of symbolism in a programme, it would be worth asking the people around you if they think it might be a metaphor for something much more rude: this will make you sound a lot more intelligent than you are, because most adults don't know how to use the word metaphor at all. Make sure you pronounced it as "MET a for".
- Onomatopoeia. Pronounced "onomatoPEE-a", this word refers to words which actually sound like the things they represent, such as "whoosh", "ping" and "bang". A friend of mine has suggested that I add the word "bumblebee" to this list of examples: it illustrates beautifully how the sound in the name of this insect resembles the sound of it buzzing around in its deep-toned way.
- Alliteration. This is a generally uninteresting phenomenon in which a series of words all start with the same letter, or more importantly, the same sound. It is popular in newspaper headlines, slogans and some kinds of poetry. It works at its best when it also has an onomatopoeic aspect to it, such as in "ssssslithering sssssnakes". Often it's an irritating distraction, so you have to be careful how you use it.
- Transferred Epithet. An epithet is just a descriptive word, but when a description is used to describe what is logically the wrong item, it has then been transferred: the "giddy heights" are not themselves in the least bit giddy, but people visiting them might well feel that way.
- Plagiarism. A description of the most popular piece of Scottish literature studied in schools (the original having been written in German) - plagiarism is copying other people's work and passing it off as your own.
There are also a number of words used for describing different kinds of words (noun, verb, adjective, etc.) but you will learn these easily enough when you start learning other languages: they certainly won't help you understand, speak or write English any better, so it would be a waste of time trying to teach them here.