Dead Metaphor Society


In rhetoric, a dead metaphor is one that has lost its quality of joining two objects. It is a cliché. You grasp the concept. We use them socially out of habit, laziness or not caring for the person to whom we are talking. Marcel realizes that he will have to look within to keep language fresh in his writing.

Above all I should have to be on my guard against those phrases which are chosen rather by the lips than by the mind, those humorous phrases such as we utter in conversation and continue at the end of a long conversation with other people to address, factitiously, to  ourselves although they merely fill our mind with lies–those, so to speak, purely physical remarks, which, in the writer who stoops so low as to transcribe them, are accompanied always by, for instance, the little smile, the little grimace which at every turn disfigures the spoken phrase of a Sainte-Beuve, whereas real books should be the offspring not of daylight and casual talk but of darkness and silence. (VI,302)

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8 Responses to “Dead Metaphor Society”

  1. Yefim Tovbis Says:

    If your writing comes from your mind and soul why should you have to be on guard against anything?

    • Jim Everett Says:

      Because everyone is prone to acting out of habit, the great destroyer of novel and fresh perceptions. You may, of course, feel free to use a cliche if, after consideration, it is appropriate.

  2. Yefim Tovbis Says:

    “… phrases which are chosen rather by the lips than by the mind…”

    If your writing comes from the mind then there should be no clichés?

  3. Yefim Tovbis Says:

    I’m only trying to note that this is not a writing’s problem – the thing is who you are. You don’t to guard yourself against saying “like”.

  4. Jim Everett Says:

    Interestingly, Proust breaks his own rule by using the cliche “One foot in the grave” not once but twice describing the aged characters in the Guermantes matinee.

  5. Yefim Tovbis Says:

    “Some men walked with a limp, and one was aware that this was the result not of a motor accident but of a first stroke: they had already, as the saying is, one foot in the grave.”

    I think Proust knows what he’s doing (and he acknowledges that he knows:”as the saying is'”) – but in this case the old cliche is exactly what was needed for him, because a person’s limp was caused by the person’s foot being grabbed by the grave.

  6. Jim Everett Says:

    Good observation. You could say the same thing about the second time he uses the phrase:

    “Were it not that she had shrunk in height (which gave her, her head being now situated at a much lower elevation than formerly, an air of having “one foot in the grave”)…(VI,425)

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