Figurative language in teaching

I found a free Kindle e-book on Amazon a while back called How to Speak and Write Correctly, by Joseph Delvin. I began listening to it on my commute and it reminded me how much I enjoy words, writing, grammar, and all that other nerdy stuff. The first half of the book was mostly technical, instructions regarding the usage of commonly misused words like further and farther, each other and one another, less and fewer– the kind of stuff only word-people actually like. The second half concentrated more on the art and nature of good writing and good speaking. As a pastor, I write and speak a lot, and of all the words that could be used to describe me one of the words I fear most is boring, so I glean from wherever I can the tricks that will help me avoid that. Chapter four in this little book was helpful.

Chapter Four is called “Figurative Language.”

“In figurative language we employ words in such a way that they differ somewhat from their ordinary signification in commonplace speech and convey our meaning in a more vivid and impressive manner than when we use them in their everyday sense. Figures make speech more effective, they beautify and emphasize it and give to it a relish and piquancy as salt does to food; besides they add energy and force to expression so that it irresistibly compels attention and interest.”

He goes on to list 15 figures of speech that a writer or speaker can employ to season their diction:

  1. Simile
  2. Metaphor
  3. Personification
  4. Allegory
  5. Synecdoche
  6. Metonymy
  7. Exclamation
  8. Hyperbole
  9. Apostrophe
  10. Vision
  11. Antithesis
  12. Climax
  13. Epigram
  14. Interrogation
  15. Irony

As a pastor, my primary calling is to preach the Word. Simply put, my job is to communicate with precision the truth of God’s Word. It’s of utmost importance to know the Word, but it doesn’t matter how much I know if I’m tongue-tied and misunderstood every time I get up to teach. And though clarity is essential to good communication, even clarity is nothing if I’m boring. Our speech needs to be aflame. It needs to taste like something. It needs to grab the listener and hold him in place.

Certain ways of speaking pique interest. Have you ever listened to a speaker who was not a yeller, not even particularly dynamic– but the way he formulated his words and sentences and thoughts was captivating? If you haven’t, listen to R.C. Sproul or Tim Keller– their manner of speaking holds your attention even though their style tends to be more academic. John Piper brilliantly weaves words together to make his communication beautifully aesthetic; gripping. Macarthur can strategically and powerfully drill a concept into your heart by the forceful use of the perfect series of words. These are speakers who have understood the power of language. And much of it has to do with mastering figures of speech. Though the ability to preach and teach is a gift, we can apply ourselves to sharpen our God-given skills by studying language.

In the next few posts, I am going to be examining some of these figurative language terms and their application to teaching/preaching, with hopes to benefit my own ministry and other people in the teaching world who are interested.

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