We wanted to get to know John McIntyre (NAIWE’s Grammar Expert) better, so last month we sat down with him. Here is what he shared with us.
Remind us why we should be interested in metaphors.
Because human beings are deeply motivated to seek out patterns, comparisons, and correspondences, we are awash in metaphors. Comparing one thing to another leaves us feeling that we have both a sharper and a broader understanding.
And this does not happen exclusively in poetry or more ornate prose. We are bathed in metaphors in our daily speech, some of them so deeply embedded that we no longer perceive them as metaphors.
For example, when we relinquish control of something to someone else, we say that we give that other party “free rein.” It evokes the era of horseback riding, when a rider would drop the reins, giving up control of the horse and going wherever the horse chose to go.
Of course, since most of us no longer ride horses, that image has faded, permitting the frequent, and misguided, substitution of the meaningless homonym, “free reign.”
How do metaphors enhance an author’s writing?
They make it interesting.
Infusions of a metaphor into prose can make it more vivid. Without a metaphor, or allied tropes from classical rhetoric, a text would inspire as much interest in the reader as the terms and conditions of your cellphone contract.
Can you give us an example?
Frank Roylance, a reporter at The Baltimore Sun, filed an article on physics that employed a simile to help the reader understand a technical point: “Capturing data on the most powerful and mysterious explosion in the universe is a bit like swatting flies. The blasts, called gamma ray bursts, are usually too quick.”
If a metaphor is such a good thing, why do we need your workshop?
With metaphors, as with everything else, we are not always the best judges of our own work. Writers can fall in love with a metaphor because they thought it up all by themselves and are not able to recognize that it may be strained or that it carries an unintended double meaning.
That’s why [cough] you need an editor.
Everyone appreciates an apt simile or striking metaphor. Figurative language enlivens prose and aids the reader’s understanding. But it is easy to get entangled in mixed metaphors, comparisons that fizzle, or images that convey the opposite of what the writer intends. And writers are not always the best judges of their effects. John McIntyre, who has been a working newspaper editor for four decades, will take you on a tour of regrettable metaphors and explain how they fail to achieve their purpose. Some laughter may be involved.
You can join in this conversation on December 15, at 2 pm eastern, when NAIWE will host a discussion on figurative language. The cost for NAIWE members is only $10! Non-members can join for $30. Register today!