A Note on Figurative Language

These are various types of figurative language:

hyperbole
simile
metaphor
onomatopoeia*
personification
idiom
oxymoron

What does it mean to say something is figurative language, though?

“Figurative language is language that uses words or expressions with a meaning that is different from the literal interpretation. When a writer uses literal language, he or she is simply stating the facts as they are.” (from grammar.yourdictionary.com)

NOT figurative language (even though they’re usually seen on the list these days):

alliteration/assonance

If you’ve been spreading the misinformation that alliteration is figurative language, STOP. (Yes, lots of people say it. That doesn’t make them correct; it just makes them parrots.) Get this into your head: repetition of sounds does not make the words non-literal. Why would you ever think it did? The phrase curious calico cat is quite literal. Ditto for blue-eyed blond, etc. Is alliteration a literary device? Of course. Is it figurative? Only if the phrase is non-literal for some other reason.

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*Onomatopoeia is a sort of grey area because it sometimes uses made-up words: The water made a slow sort of plooping sound as it dripped from the leaky faucet. You’re unlikely to find ploop in any dictionary. On the other hand, it’s a fair imitation of the sound water sometimes makes when dripping from a leaky faucet. If you say The dripping water made a sound like a fish calling for help, that’s figurative language — a simile, to be precise.