By stylistic devices, I mean things like:

  • Metaphors: using a word for similar object instead of the implied word ("toxic person")
  • Metonymy: using a word for related object instead of the implied word ("the crown accepts the truce")
  • Synecdoche: using a word for a part instead of implied whole ("she needs an extra pair of hands")
  • Hyperbole: an exaggeration ("the man is as big as a truck")

In English, as well as most (or all) major world languages, sylistic devices come natural to speakers: one doesn't have to be a poet to understand that the man isn't litterally as big as a truck, or that she doesn't litterally need a pair of severed human hands, or that a toxic person isn't actually covered in toxic chemicals. In colloquial speech, things like that are used all the time, are readily understood, and are the go-to methods to express a lot of things.

I wonder: are there languages where some or all of those devices don't work at all, aren't understood, or where there are other devices that aren't based on any of the things listed above.

Can one expect to be able to use metaphors or hyperboles in any language to the same effect as in English?

  • How is “toxic person” a metaphor? It certainly doesn’t fit the definition I learned in middle school. I wonder if you’re noting the fact that the adjective “toxic” used to apply to substances but now applies to people as well, which is semantic broadening rather than metaphor.
    – Graham H.
    Sep 4, 2023 at 1:55
  • @Graham, it's a fixed (fossilized) metaphor, I'd say.
    – Slavus
    Sep 4, 2023 at 9:14
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    All language is metaphorical and referential.
    – Lambie
    Sep 4, 2023 at 13:40
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    I know about at least two meanings of "toxic person": a person with unpleasant character and a person whom other people avoid so to protect their reputation. When I was born, neither meaning existed (at least in my language).
    – Anixx
    Sep 5, 2023 at 4:44

1 Answer 1


These are not properties of language, they are ways of thinking of the universe, which are expressed in language. In English, using "The Crown" is conventionally understood to refer to the sovereign, and substitution "The Drum" would fail – in our culture. However, "The Drum" is used in some East African (former) kingdoms to refer to refer to the sovereign. There may be a cultural difference between saying "strong as an ox" in western culture versus other cultures, since nowadays we don't generally believe in magical powers so such a statement would usually not be interpreted as literally true, but in cultures with a strong belief in the supernatural the same comparison would be more likely believed to be true. Again, that is not a difference in language, that is a cultural difference in how you see the world.

  • I was thinking as much, but just wanted to ask around to make sure. After all, there were some bizzare claims made about Piraha some time ago (which likely are false or exaggerated, but still).
    – Slavus
    Sep 4, 2023 at 0:23

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