Figures of Speech



Riddle                       A brief poem or puzzle describing a thing or person, but intentionally

                                    misleading the hearer as to the meaning. An simple example might be:


                                              When I am open

                                              You can put in some jam;

                                              Now do you understand

                                              just who I am?


                                      And the answer is ‘A door, which when it is open is ajar.’


Conundrum          Like a riddle but dependent on a play on words e.g. ‘Why didn’t Israel starve in

                                    the desert?’ Answer: ‘Because of the sand which is there.’

Enigma                     Difficulty in fully understanding a person – or thing – due to a secret which

                                     needs to be discovered.

Simile                       e.g. ‘He swam like a fish’/ ‘he looked like a soldier’….. or

                                    as clear as crystal/as quick as a flash                               

Synonym                  colour/shade/hue  or car/automobile         

Zeugma                      e.g. ‘she tore up the book and the garden path .’                              

Oxymoron                 A contradiction in terms                               

Paradox                     phrase, or situation, with two words of the opposite                               

                                     meaning.   e.g. mobilizing for peace, the Swiss navy, needing darkness

                                     in order for light to be seen clearly. (Torchlight cannot be seen in the day). 

Palindrome               Mirrored letters e.g. ‘Madam, I’m Adam’ or ‘Able was I ere I saw Elba.’

Spoonerism              Named after Professor William Spooner of New College, Oxford.  A confusion of words e.g. ‘a

                                       well-boiled icicle’ for ‘a well-oiled bicycle,’ or ‘you have hissed my mystery lesson and tasted a

                                       whole worm.’

Anachronism            Before or after it’s time.  e.g. a watch being worn by an actor in a period

                                       drama; or else being out of date, or old-fashioned.

Aphorism                   A brief, concise, and true saying – not as long as a proverb.   e.g. ‘waste not, 

                                          want not,’ or ‘once bitten, twice shy.’

Holorhyme                A sentence, albeit a meaningless one, composed of words that rhyme with

                                        themselves.  e.g. ‘two read four books for royalty at Rye Tower’ and ‘too

                                        red for books for royal tea at right hour.’

Malapropism            Using a similar sounding, but wrong, word.   ‘You speak very well.  You must have been to       

                                        electrocution lessons,’  ‘Tinsel was used to desecrate the Christmas Tree.’

Epithet                        Word describing the character of a person or thing, extending the usual

                                      name.  e.g. ‘Clever Andrew!’  or ‘Thoughtful Susan brought some chairs for

                                       us all  to sit on.’

Epigram                      Witty saying or remark about someone: A famous one is that made on the

                                        death of Charles II:


                                          ‘Here lies our sovereign lord, the king,

                                         whose word no man relies on,

                                          He never did a foolish thing,

                                           Nor ever did a wise one.’ 

Metaphor                       A sentence or phrase containing words which bear no relation to each other,   

                                           e.g. ‘a racing certainty,’  or ‘the truth

                                            stared him in the face.’


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