Figures of Speech like Bono or U2

I think figures of speech are fascinating. I have done a significant amount of work with them in my research and work as a dissertation editor.  My interest began when I worked with individuals who had right hemisphere brain injury. They often have difficulty interpreting certain figures, even though they once knew them. When asked to interpret what is meant by “Two heads are better than one,” a patient might say, “Well, I guess if you had two heads, it would be better than if you just had one.”

There are an overwhelming number of figures of speech and rhetorical devices. We are familiar with the names of some of them, such as metaphor, idiom, and hyperbole. We may use others often, but not know their names, such as circumlocution (describing an object rather than naming it) or anthypophora (asking a question and then answering it right away).

Figures of speech and rhetorical devices came about for a reason. They may be a more succinct or creative way to say what you mean. But do they ever belong in, say, a research paper? I have my own biases. I really dislike figures that have become clichés when they are strung together in succession, with the writer saying nothing in his own words. I don’t have a problem with the occasional use of metaphor, because the relationship between similar ideas can be very illustrative, particularly when the author is relating new concepts to familiar ones. If you use metaphor in every sentence, though, you can bet I will change some of them; redundancy in grammatical form is painful.

Of course, using figures and devices is a matter of personal preference, as well as the preference of your audience. If you use them, use them very sparingly. Even if you love how poetically you presented your results, you will be reducing your chances of getting published if the academic editors of your target journal happen to feel that your use of macrologia is unbearable. And trust me, it is.

–Dr. Sarah,