Figures of Speech - Metalepsis

What is metalepsis?

Metalepsis is a figure of speech in which reference is made to something by means of another thing that is remotely related to it, either through a causal relationship, or through another figure of speech.

Examples of metalepsis


Was this the face that launched a thousand ships
and burnt the topless towers of Ilium?

- Chistopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus

A reference to the mythological figure Helen of Troy (or some would say, to Aphrodite). Her abduction by Paris was said to be the reason for a fleet of a thousand ships to be launched into battle, initiating the Trojan Wars.


I've got to catch the worm tomorrow.

"The early bird catches the worm" is a common maxim, advocating getting an early start on the day to achieve success. The subject, by referring to this maxim, is compared to the bird; tomorrow, the speaker will awaken early in order to achieve success.


A lead foot is driving behind me.

This refers to someone who drives fast. This metalepsis is achieved only through a cause and effect relationship. Lead is heavy and a heavy foot would press the accelerator, and this would cause the car to speed.


He experienced a pallid death.

While death has the effect of making the body look pale, describing death itself with the adjective pallid created a metaleptic expression.

More figures of speech