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What is a figurative sense?

 

Definition
 

A figurative sense is a meaning that is derived from a primary sense by analogy (for example, personification), association (for example, metonymy), or similarity (for example, metaphor and simile).

Discussion
 

A figurative sense shares one or more supplemental semantic components with the primary sense of a lexeme, but it often negates one or more of the obligatory semantic components. As a result, it is only related to the primary sense in an abstract or generalized way.

 

A figurative sense will often bring to mind a picture of the primary sense. However, a literal interpretation of the figurative sense will be strange, nonsensical, or wrong. Figurative senses often have few collocates and limited contexts of usage.

Examples (English)
 

The word jungle has a primary sense meaning "land covered with dense growth of trees, tall vegetation, and vines, typically in tropical regions, and inhabited by predatory animals".

 

By extension of meaning, jungle can refer to any place with a dense, tangled growth of trees and vegetation, as illustrated in the sentence, "I need to take care of the jungle in my backyard." This meaning is a secondary sense of jungle.

 

The meaning of jungle can further be extended in a figurative sense to include non-plants and refer to any tangled, disorganized set of objects, as in "You can find it if you dig through the jungle in my closet."

 

It may be even further extended in a more abstract way to mean anything that confuses by its tangled or complex nature, as in "Life can be a jungle sometimes."


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