Submerged Metaphor

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

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A submerged metaphor is a type of metaphor (or figurative comparison) in which one of the terms (either the vehicle or the tenor) is implied rather than stated explicitly.

In the book Myth and Mind (1988), Harvey Birenbaum observes that submerged metaphors "lend the force of their associations in a subliminal way but are likely to be disruptive if they are realized too explicitly."

Examples and Observations

"A submerged metaphor is an implied comparison made in one or two words (usually verbs, nouns, adjectives). Example: 'Coach Smith mended the losing pitcher's hurt feelings.' (Not literally; he just tried to make him feel better.)"​ (Patrick Sebranek, Write Source 2000: A Guide to Writing, Thinking and Learning, 4th ed., 2000)

Time and Change Metaphors

"Examples of submerged metaphor in the vocabulary include the lexical sub-system for constructing the meaning, or the set of concepts, that we call 'time' and 'change.' Expressions like 'time passes,' 'as time goes by' are based on the metaphor 'time is a moving object.' Expressions like 'the elections are approaching,' 'his mistakes are catching up with him' are based on the metaphor 'events are objects moving along a path.' Expressions like 'we are approaching the election,' 'he thought he had left his mistakes behind him,' and even 'we are going to win' are based on the metaphor 'people are objects moving through time.'"​ (Paul Anthony Chilton and Christina Schäffner, Politics as Text and Talk: Analytic Approaches to Political Discourse. John Benjamins, 2002)

James Joyce's Submerged Metaphors

"Reading Ulysses often depends upon recognizing the submerged metaphor in the stream of consciousness of the major characters. This is especially true of Stephen whose mind works in metaphorical terms. For example, Stephen's association of the sea with the "bowl of white china . . . holding [his mother's] green sluggish bile which she had torn up from her rotting liver by fits of loud groaning vomiting' depends upon his responding to Mulligan's shaving bowl as a transitive but submerged metaphor signified by the present members of the metaphorical series--the sea and the bowl of bile--and in turn signifying them (U.5; I.108-110). Stephen is a hydrophobe whose neurosis depends upon metaphors taking precedence over logic."​ (Daniel R. Schwarz, Reading Joyce's Ulysses. Macmillan, 1987)

Also Known As: implicit metaphor

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Submerged Metaphor." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 27). Submerged Metaphor. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Submerged Metaphor." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 23, 2023).