When you hear a term “dead metaphor”, you may consider it to be paradoxical. Due to the fact that the expression does not evoke relevant images in your mind, you cannot state that it is a metaphor indeed. For instance, when people use the phrase “to kick the bucket”, they do not actually perceive it literally. As a result, there is an unclear relationship between the act of dying and the term “dead metaphor”.
Dead Metaphor as a Figure of Speech
A dead metaphor is defined as a figure of speech that has lost its imaginative force and initial meaning because of outdated terminology or frequent use. You may often find the examples of dead metaphors in the speech of older generations. Although these metaphors are considered dead by the present generation, they still hold their initial meaning for the past generation. In addition, the life of a metaphor depends on different social and cultural norms that may remain stable in one societal group and constantly change in the other.
How to Use Dead Metaphors?
Dead metaphors are widely used in literary works that are older than a century. On the other hand, it is often challenging to recognize them in a literary piece due to the archaic language used by an author. On the other hand, students should be careful with using dead metaphors in writing, because many professors dislike them.
There are dead metaphors that are used in modern language so often that one may not realize he/she is using them in writing. Thus, avoid using dead metaphors such as “life is no bed of roses”, “the eye of the needle”, “hands/face of a clock”, etc.
Famous cognitive linguists Mark Johnson and George Lakoff claim that there is no such phenomenon as “dead metaphor”. Instead of having outdated meaning, dead metaphors actually become obsolete due to the fact that they no longer need to be used and become a part of our unconscious.
In addition, dead metaphors become conventional, so there is no need to know the previous context in order to understand the meanings of the metaphors. Semantic shift in language is the reason of dead metaphors’ emergence. As a result, many metaphors become literalized in the process of semantic evolution. Some of the metaphors are so settled in our language that their origins are unknown to the general audience. Other metaphors have widely known origins, for example, the idea of falling in love.
In 2015, Canadian playwright George F. Walker published a collection of three plays entitled “Dead Metaphor”. The title of the collection signifies the crossing of a politician’s professional and personal life.
Now you may easily identify a dead metaphor in a literary piece or in the speech of older generation. Also, be careful using dead metaphors in writing because not many instructors perceive them as a positive feature of an author’s style.