Metalepsis Examples

Metalepsis

When a word or phrase from one figurative statement is used in a new way, it is referred to as metalepsis. Metalepsis could be created when a writer or speaker refers to a well-understood figurative statement. Or, it could be created when a writer makes a figurative statement and then continues to refer to that statement-expanding it in new ways.

Examples of Metalepsis:

A woman trying to clean a stain on a shirt, says, "Out, out damned spot!"

This is a reference to a statement by Lady Macbeth when she had "blood on her hands."


A man who is trying to get to work early says, "I have to get going and catch a worm this morning." This is a reference to the statement "The early bird gets the worm."


Examples of Metalepsis in Literature

From Macbeth-Shakespeare builds his figurative description of the passage of time by expanding the reference in new ways as he moves through the speech:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,

To the last syllable of recorded time;

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death...

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player


From Marlowe's Doctor Faustus-a reference to Helen of Troy:

Was this the face that launched a thousand ships

And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?

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