• metaphor •
Pronunciation: med-ê-fêr • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A figure of speech in which a word is used for only part of its meaning, as mountain in a mountain of work refers only to the large size of a mountain, not to any of its other features (dirt, stone, vegetation). 2. A symbol.
Notes: Today's word comes with a ton of suffixes: the adjective is either metaphoric or metaphorical with the empty (meaningless) suffix –al at the end. However, you do need that suffix for the adverb, metaphorically.
In Play: Metaphors can work for you or against you: "I hope, when you say I'm sick, you are referring to my cold and aren't using the word metaphorically." The use of today's good word in the sense of "symbol" is, in fact, a misuse, but one that seems to have stuck: "Michael Jackson is a metaphor for the focus on superficiality in show business today."
Word History: The ancients thought that metaphor carried you beyond the meaning of words. We borrowed it via Old French from Latin metaphora, which came from Greek metaphora "transference" from metapherein "to carry beyond, to transfer". This verb is based on meta "beyond" + pherein "to carry". Meta is a distant cousin of English mid and middle. The root of pherein comes from a prolific PIE root, *bher-/*bhor- which turned up on its own in English as bear (carry), birth, and (wheel)barrow. In Latin the initial [bh] became [f], resulting in ferre "to carry, bear", which we see in confer, refer, defer, transfer, etc. (Today's word came from the ocean of good words in the vocabulary of Apoclima, a major trading partner in the Alpha Agora.)