Not as Clear as Day: On Irony, Humor, and Poeticity in the Closed Simile

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This paper takes up the much-neglected figure of the closed simile, a simile in which the ground is explicitly stated, as in “the dress is as black as coal.” In the typical case, which we call standard, the ground is a highly-salient feature of the source term (e.g., black is a salient feature of coal), but our concern is with the non-standard closed similes, those in which the ground is a non- or low-salient feature of the source (e.g., “black as a building”). What is the purpose and the function of using a non-salient ground? We identify and discuss three types of non-standard similes, each exhibiting certain semantic and structural traits as well as a distinct pragmatic or communicative function. In the ironic simile, the ground is the antithesis of a salient feature (e.g., “as clear as mud”). In the humorous simile, the surprising ground comes as a punchline to solve a kind of riddle (e.g., “What do politicians and diapers have in common? Both need to be changed often”). And in the poetic simile, the introduction of a non-salient quality encourages the reader to rethink the source term itself (e.g., “waves as formal as scales on a fish”).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-196
Number of pages12
JournalMetaphor and Symbol
Issue number3
StatePublished - 3 Jul 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Communication
  • Linguistics and Language


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