Dead Metaphor — Definition & Examples
What is a dead metaphor?
A dead metaphor is a figure of speech that describes when the figurative meaning of a metaphor shifts away from its original meaning. The metaphorical meaning becomes so familiar that the literal meaning is forgotten.
There are two reasons why a metaphor "dies:"
Repetition: After using a metaphor repetitively for an extended period, it loses the connection to its initial imagery. It becomes so common that it is understood without knowing the earlier connotation.
Semantic shift: Semantics deal with the meaning of words. Therefore, a dead metaphor occurs if the meaning of a word within it shifts over time.
Dead metaphors can also be called a frozen metaphor or a historical metaphor. The English language is always changing, so figurative language is too. The evolution of a language is responsible for dead metaphors.
Examples of dead metaphors
The following is a list of dead metaphors with their literal and figurative meanings:
|Dead Metaphor||Literal Meaning||Figurative Meaning|
|Go belly up||What happens to a fish when it dies||Bankrupt; ruined|
|Nip it in the bud||Snipping a flower before it has the chance to bloom||To stop something at an early stage|
|Flying off the handle||Ax blade flung off its handle||Someone losing his/her sense of self-control|
|Time is running out||The sand in the top of an hourglass was almost all in the bottom||There is not enough time to finish something|
|Head over heels||Being the wrong way up (upside down; topsy turvy)||Being extremely excited|
|Deadline||Inmates would be shot if they passed a certain line in the prison yard||Time limit|
|Stick in the mud||Reference to a horse-drawn carriage being stuck in the mud||Person who resists change|
|Roll up/down the window||Use the spinning lever below the window to open/close it||Close the window|
|Hang up the phone||Disconnect the phone by putting it back on the receiver||End a phone call|