On New Year’s Day, you will hear many people talk about a fresh start. You may hear people refer to the new year as a clean slate. Others may refer to the year ahead as a blank canvas, ready to be painted with new experiences.
These are all examples of using figurative language to describe the new year in a way that conveys a certain idea. In the case of New Year’s Day, the idea many people want to get across is that the old year is gone and the new year is here and filled with all sorts of new possibilities.
Figurative language adds color and life to our conversations. Instead of simply saying that the new year ahead is full of new possibilities, figurative language allows us to paint pictures with our words, creating vivid word images that help us express ourselves in ways that go beyond the mere words themselves.
Saying that the new year ahead is a blank canvas is a specific type of figurative language called a metaphor. Metaphors indirectly compare two unlike things by saying that one thing is the same as another.
Of course, the new year ahead is not an actual blank canvas. It’s a set of 365 days. A blank canvas, on the other hand, is a blank piece of material to paint on. By equating the two, though, the metaphor conveys the message that the new year and a blank canvas share certain properties, such as their ability to turn into something never seen before.
The word metaphor comes from a Greek word meaning “to transfer.” Metaphors transfer meaning from one word to another by implying a comparison between the images and ideas associated with the words.
For example, have you ever called someone a “night owl” or an “early bird?” If so, you’ve used metaphors before! A person is obviously not an owl or a bird, but they might have something in common with these creatures, such as the tendency to stay up late or get up early.
There’s also a special type of metaphor called a simile. Similes compare two things directly using the words “like” or “as.” For example, the phrase “He’s as cold as ice” directly compares someone to ice using the word “as.”
Metaphors tend to convey stronger images than similes, because metaphors indicate that something “is” something else rather than simply being “like” it. For example, “Joe is ice” tends to send a stronger message than “Joe is as cold as ice.”