What Is Dead Metaphor? 6 Examples in Literature

What are Dead Metaphors?

Dead metaphors are figures of speech that have lost their original impact and imaginative power due to overuse and familiarity. These metaphors have become so ingrained in our language that they are no longer recognized as metaphorical expressions, but rather as literal phrases. Dead metaphors are often used unconsciously, as their figurative meanings have become absorbed into everyday language.

Common Examples of Dead Metaphors

There are many dead metaphors in English language. Some common examples are as under:

  1. The leg of the table – The phrase refers to the structure that give stability to a table. On the contrary, no one can ever think of leg of an animal or a table as a basis for such comparison..
  2. The eye of the storm – The eye of the storm indicates absolute stillness in the center of a storm. But it has slowly become simple figures of speech..
  3. Time is running out – The sentence is meant to imply that the time is hardly left. It can be depleted. While it has also become a stereotype as it has been exhausted in use.
  4. He’s a couch potato – He is a couch potato and unfortunately, it is also no longer possible to melt the potatoes using my grandmother’s old cast-iron pan.
  5. She’s fishing for compliments – It is possible to replace the second comma with a colon to emphasize that she is looking for any type of compliment. The main issue with this analogy is that fishing is no longer a suitable image.

dead metaphor Examples in literature


“The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger

“All of a sudden, I decided what I’d really do, I’d get the hell out of Pencey – right that same night and all. I mean not wait till Wednesday or anything. I just didn’t want to hang around anymore. It made me too sad and lonesome.”

Here, the dead metaphor is “get out of here”, which is a literal phrase. The symbolism of this sentence was originally poetic, but it was distorted due to repeated use. It simply means to leave Pencey quickly. The speaker decides to leave the school suddenly without waiting the departure date. The dead metaphor is employed to emphasize the strong desire of the speaker. It escapes the sad and lonely feelings associated with staying at Pencey. The figurative meaning of “hell” is faded. The phrase now suggests that one should get out of the an office quickly.


“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen

“The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news.”

“The business of her life” is the ultimate expression of a burning allegory. It makes her occupation and concern for her child a business and the metaphorical use has lost meaning in the current content of the poem.


“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

“The exhilarating ripple of her voice was a wild tonic in the rain.”

In the sentence, “a wild tonic” can be shot in different styles using various cutting techniques. Tonic, which had once stood for a curative substance, often indicates on things that are invigorating and refreshing, thus no longer being a metaphorical referent.


“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee

“Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square.”

This excerpt is a common use of dead metaphor, which is “tired old town”. The phrase has lost its original metaphorical meaning over time due to the repeated use. The phrase is used to describe Maycomb as a worn-out, sleepy and uneventful place. The metaphorical meaning of “tired” has faded. The phrase now conveys the idea of a town that is old, dull and lacking in energy and vitality. The description of Maycomb as a “tired old town” is emphasized by the imagery of red and sloppy streets in rainy weather. These details reinforce the sense of decay and neglect in the town.


“1984” by George Orwell

“The Ministry of Truth, which concerned itself with news, entertainment, education, and the fine arts. The Ministry of Peace, which concerned itself with war. The Ministry of Love, which maintained law and order. And the Ministry of Plenty, which was responsible for economic affairs.”

The names of the ministries are dead metaphors. They ironically represent the opposite of their literal meanings. The metaphorical contradiction has lost its impact through overuse.


“The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde

“The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn.”

The excerpt contains two dead metaphors, i.e. “rich odour of roses” and “heavy scent of the lilac”. These dead metaphors have lost their original metaphorical meaning over the time due to use repeatedly. The aforesaid two phrases are used to describe the deep fragrance of the roses and lilacs. The metaphorical meaning of “rich” and “heavy” have been faded and now simply convey the idea of strong and abundant scents.

The dead metaphors are used to create a sensory experience for the reader. They emphasize the powerful presence of the flowers in the studio. The contrast between the “heavy scent of the lilac” and the “more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn” further enhances the olfactory imagery.

Dead Metaphor Examples in Literature
Dead Metaphor Examples in Literature

When To avoid dead metaphors?

Dead metaphors seem not to be suitable in the literary compositions.

While dead metaphors are a natural part of language evolution, there are situations where they should be avoided:

Creative Writing: In fiction writing, poetry or any other creative writing genre, using dead metaphors can be detrimental to your work. This make it look familiar and dull. Instead, try developing your own, original metaphors that let the reader walk away with a rich one, take the real world and abstract it.

Academic or Technical Writing: Dead metaphors bring about a state where either the speaker or the listener may no longer know the true meanings of the words used. Clarity is of great importance in academic and technical writing. 

Persuasive Writing or Speeches: The images which dead metaphors create are; therefore, unreliable as they make your arguments to sound too familiar which can , consequently, be detrimental to their impact. Employ more original and far-reaching language to drive home your ideas forcefully. Such values further contribute to creating a thriving and inclusive public space where residents can feel a sense of belonging and pride in their community.

Good Dead Metaphor Examples

Despite their limitations, dead metaphors can still be used effectively in certain contexts:

Everyday Communication: Metaphors, which sometimes work in a dead sense are useful in formal talks. They quickly give ideas a sense which can be grasped by most people. For instance, “I just don’t feel like myself” would be a small way of specifying that you aren’t feeling your best.

Emphasizing a Point: In some instance dead metaphor is intentionally employed as a rhetorical device to change perception and improve comprehension by the audience. 

Historical or Cultural References: The dead metaphors sometimes are used to deliver historical context or culture values. This contribution will assist in creating a shared understanding or the sense of an identity. Likewise, the sentence “Achilles’ heel” is a phrase that refers to a particular weakness or vulnerability, which uses the allusion to the legendary Achilles, a Greek mythological character.

Dead Metaphors vs. Implied Metaphors

Dead metaphors are re-interpretation of an analogy that has lost its metaphorical power through overuse and appeared no more as an analogy but as a common expression in speech. These metaphors contain concealed metaphorical meanings, which do exist in the context but they are not clearly stated by the imagery or the setting. For instance, the sentence ” The classroom was a zoo” seems to be a symbolic interpretation where the students’ behavior is compared with the animals which couldn’t be discerned from the given sentence. On the other hand, “The hands of the clock” is a implied metaphor, as we no longer recognize it as a comparison between the clock’s components and human hands.


Dead metaphors show how to be more accepting of changing language as a phenomenon. Though they are not direct anymore, they still end up playing an important role in how we communicate with each other by enabling the listener to know the thoughts and ideas being put into words. Sometimes metaphors quit working and instead of enlightening us, they can dull our creativity or our capacity to do a good standpoint in academic or persuasive writing.

Through grasping the nature of differing metaphors and their significance, we get a chance to use dead idioms and look for more original and powerful language where suitable. Finally, the main thing is a combination of the already understood and new innovative expressions that the audience will feel through the text and will be the reason for further interest and speech.

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