To understand the meaning of figurative language one should realize the difference between figurative and literal. Literal language means exactly the same thing the person is talking about. For instance, if someone tells to go home, he/she definitely means “stop doing something and go home.” There is no hidden sense in these words. To the contrary, figurative language is something different. It is the language that means a lot more than it is said on the surface. Usually, its purpose is to create particular effect or emotion. For example, if somebody offers to go chill, it does not mean that he/she wants to go into the freezer, however, they mean that one has to relax and have some fun together (Sikos, Brown, Albert, Michaelis, & Palmer, 2007).
Idiom is a locution which one cannot comprehend from the meaning of its separate elements. Every idiom is a semantic unity. It means that mostly it is not a total of meanings of each part of the idiom. It is also characterized by the irrational correlation between the literal meanings of the words in the idiom. From the structural point of view, idioms always remain unchangeable. Idioms usually play the role of facilitation of complex moments of life in a more cultured and purified way. One of the most pivotal reasons to use idioms is the idea of politely expressed opinions in indirect way in order to avoid responsibility for what is communicated. For example, “to rain cats and dogs” – is an idiom, which means "to rain very heavily"; “to be over the moon” – is another idiom with a meaning of “to be extremely happy.” In both examples, one can meet some serious problems with understanding the actual meaning unless he/she is familiar with these idioms (Gibbs, 2007).
Analogy is a part of speech where a process, opinion or issue is described by comparing it to something else. Usually, the purpose of using analogies is to make a sophisticated and difficult process easier to comprehend. Furthermore, analogy helps to add some emphasis, adornment, color and exaggeration to the language. Analogy expresses three types of functions. Communicative function of analogy helps to comprehend the text; cognitive function is responsible for explaining and resolving problems; and aesthetic function, comparing with two previous functions, restrict the comprehension. Analogy may cause a problem in understanding if the similarities are not clear. Here are some examples of analogy: he is like a rock. It expresses that the person is reliable and strong. To feel like a fish out of water – means that a person feels uncomfortable in certain surrounding (Sikos, Brown, Albert, Michaelis, & Palmer, 2007).
Metaphor is a kind of comparison of two dissimilar things that offers a likeness between those two items. The function of metaphor is ambivalent. The first one is to let people to understand deeper the idea of the writing, the object or the character. The second one is artistic, which allows the reader to imagine the picture of the process in his/her head. However, the author needs to choose metaphors carefully, since the wrong one can distract the reader’s attention and even make a false image in his fancy. For instance, love is a rose; he is a diamond in the rough; the new player is green; I will die of embarrassment (Glucksberg, 2001).
Simile is a figurative language technique in which comparison is achieved by means of words “like” and “as.” Usually one of the words in simile is definite and another is abstract. The purpose of its usage is usually to help the reader to create a vibrant picture in his mind. It also gives the locution an emphasis, associations, and expresses the reader’s attitude. Similarly to metaphor, the reader may reach misunderstanding if the author selected inappropriate simile, which makes the expression out of sense. For instance, he is as brave as a lion; he is as angry as a bull (Glucksberg, 2001).
Cliché is a technique of vivid depiction of a sentence that had been so much that it lost its primary meaning or result. Cliché is usually based upon exaggeration and analogy, often taken from the everyday life. It used to be a popular technique since it could quickly fill up the sentence with proper meaning and color. However, nowadays, it tends to characterize those people who are caller “lazy thinkers,” since they cannot come up with another proper expression. For instance, time heals all wounds; a waste of time; opposites attract (Sikos, Brown, Albert, Michaelis, & Palmer, 2007).
Amphiboly is a technique which based on ambivalent word or grammatical structure. In other words it is an error in logic which occurs because of grammar, namely through inappropriate punctuation or word choice. One can utilize amphiboly either on purpose or accidentally. Usually amphiboly is a result of incorrect sentence structures. The primary function of amphiboly is to create the illusion of cogency, to perplex and delude the audience. Also, it is used for comic effect. For example: One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. It is not clear who was wearing pajamas: the person or an elephant (Giora, 1997).
Flame word is a device which if often used to abuse the person, in most cases electronically. It is the result of heated debates about some issues such as politics, medicine, sports, religion. Here are some examples: stupid, incompetent (Giora, 1997).
Hyperbole is a literary technique where some piece of information, process or idea is exaggerated deliberately for a specific effect. Hyperbole is usually used for emphasis; however it can be also utilized for sarcastic or humorous purposes. It is also used for emphasizing a contrast, namely in situations when one object is normally described and the other is exaggerated. For example: I need to do a million things. This phrase does not literally mean that the person needs to do a million things, however, he/she points out that he/ she has a lot of work to do. Using hyperbole can lead to misunderstanding when authors exaggerate in a not proper way that does not make a sense (Sikos, Brown, Albert, Michaelis, & Palmer, 2007).
Euphemism is a substitution of offensive and rough words by polite and inoffensive. Mostly, euphemisms are used for avoiding discomfort and taboo words. The only problem while using euphemism is that the word or phrase is deprived of emotional language that can further lead to some misunderstanding. For example, one can replace the word “to die” with the word “to pass away,” “pregnancy termination” with “abortion,” “to be dead” with “to be demised” (Giora, 1997).
Colloquialism is a kind of informal expression which is usually used in conversations rather than in formal speech. They are often used in literature because they provide the actual sense of conversation and use grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary of everyday speech. The authors tend to use colloquialism since they are comfortable with this language. They also want to permeate the sense of reality by using colloquialisms. However, they are not likely to be used in cases when the author wants to convey the deep and scientific sense. There are some examples of colloquialism: kid – a child; knickers – underpants; dead as a doornail (Giora, 1997).
All in all, figurative language, comparing to literal language, can range from superb and inscrutable to obvious and simple. It is vital to keep in mind that literal language cannot and should not exist alone, since figurative language brigs so much color, diversity, emotions, and effects to the conversation or the writing. Understanding both literal and figurative languages requires elaborate apprehension process.