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The Power of Metaphorical Expressions


What is a metaphor?

Metaphors are extremely powerful rhetorical tools we can use to understand an unfamiliar thing, concept, or idea by carrying over the qualities of something else that is familiar to us. In this context, we bring two unrelated ideas/elements into a comparison. In other words, metaphors pull comparisons between two unrelated ideas.


We can also use metaphors to powerfully communicate complex ideas, controversial information, or unfamiliar concepts to other people. They help the listener understand a new or unfamiliar subject by replacing it with something else that they have previously experienced to understand it. By so doing, the speaker describes or depicts the unfamiliar subject by providing it with the qualities of some other subject.  In short, metaphors equate one idea to another, i.e., A is B. Look at the following examples.

(1) A teacher is a compas.

Through this metaphor, the speaker explains his ideas about a teacher by providing it with the function of a compass, i.e. to show direction. In this context, the speaker emphasizes the role of a teacher to guide students to go in the right direction while they are learning a new topic or endeavoring for a better life.

(2) Education is a passport to new worlds.

In this metaphor, the speaker tries to explain the nature of learning as a means to get a deeper and/or broader understanding of new worlds (i.e., concepts, cultures, places, etc.), The new worlds could also be new opportunities like the chance to get a better job or to meet new people.

(3) Learning is a gift
This metaphor emphasizes that learning is not something to take for granted. Many people all over the world meet various barriers to having the opportunity to further their education, Any of us who is lucky enough to get access to education must remember that it’s a gift: something to appreciate and cherish.

(4) School is a prison.
Have you ever heard an elementary school student say such a metaphor? He might say this after having an incidental bad day at school. He might think his school does not offer him appropriate freedom because he is forced to attend classes every day, follows the rules given by the teacher who acts like a dictator and is permitted to leave the school only when the bell rings.



Conceptual Metaphor

Based on what you learn in literature classes, you might think of metaphor as a figurative language used in poems or stories to illustrate one kind of object by referring it to something similar, such as ‘the arm of the chair’, ‘foot of the table’, ‘Time is money’, ‘Life is a stage’, ‘Money is the root of all evil’, ‘She has a golden heart’, etc. However, a more recent cognitive linguistics views it as a cognitive tool for demonstrating a processing way of thought used to understand the world and reality around us. Using metaphors, people can anticipate actions, make inferences, define goals, and express plans and thoughts related to the experiences they are involved in. Lakoff & Johnson (1980, p.5) accentuated: “The essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another”.


Conceptual metaphor is pervasively used to interpret how people construct their thought and beliefs about certain objects (Guerrero & Villamil, 2000). It is considered a significantly effective conceptual tool to conceptualize abstract and complex ideas into something concrete (Zhang, 2016). Therefore, metaphors are everywhere. Whether we realize it or not, we use metaphors every day. For instance, are often used in the educational environment to interpret teachers' and students’ perceptions and beliefs towards their practices and roles like those in examples (1) to (4) above.


Metaphor and Simile

Similes are also metaphorical expressions. Like metaphors, similes also equate two different concepts, but in a less direct way: A is like B (because…). Similes employ the words like and as to make a comparison and sometimes require an additional explanation to get their meaning across. Thus both metaphor and simile draw an analogy between an unfamiliar topic or idea and something else to explain its features and how it happens. Compare the followings.


(5) The singer’s silky voice is very soothing.

(6) The singer’s voice is smooth like silk so I feel soothed while listening to her songs.


Example (5) is a metaphor because it directly associates the singer’s voice with silk, while example (6) is a simile because it indirectly compares the singer’s voice with silk and provides an additional explanation to make the meaning clearer.


Metaphors and Similes in Online Learning
Online learning, which simply means education taking place over the internet or web, is a complex program or activity. To conceptualize it, metaphor and simile are often employed. One of the popular similes runs "Online learning is like gardening in cyberspace because the online teacher is creating an environment for learning and students’ personal growth on the internet." A student who experienced it was hard to learn quickly in online learning might say. "Joining online learning, I feel like a little turtle walking slowly." Another student might say “Online learning is like sailing an open ocean” to explain how uncertain he was when the learning activities in cyberspace would be over. A student who sometimes felt enthusiastic but was unexcited and slowed down at other times might say "Online learning is a rollercoaster.” In this metaphor, online learning is compared to a rollercoaster which is unstable, in the sense we can be up and down, and still, go on riding.

How do you conceptualize or explain your idea or experience of online learning through a metaphorical expression? Write 2 metaphors, or 2 similes, or 1 metaphor plus 1 simile that you think most precisely expresses your idea or describes your experience in joining online learning. If you are unsure how to express them in English, you can write in Bahasa Indonesia. Write this way:

1. Online learning is …..   OR   Online learning adalah ….

2. Online learning is like … because …   OR    Online learning itu seperti … sebab …


Guerrero, M. C. M. D., & Villamil, O. S. (2000). Exploring ESL teachers' roles through
metaphor analysis. TESOL quarterly, 34(2), 341-351

Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1980). The metaphorical structure of the human
conceptual system. Cognitive science, 4(2), 195-208

Pardede, P. (2013). Strategi Penerjemahan Metafora Bahasa Indonesia ke dalam Bahasa Inggris dalam Antologi Puisi “On Foreign Shores: American Image in Indonesian Poetry”. Jurnal Dinamika Pendidikan, 6(2), pp.56-64.

Zhang, X. (2016). Examining English language teachers through metaphorical analysis. Theory and Practice in Language Studies, 6(8), 1659-1664


  1. Please write 2 metaphors, or 2 similes, or 1 metaphor + 1 simile about online learning in this reply section. If you are a university student, write first in what semester you are in now. Thank you for participating.

    1. Thanks for covering some aspects of OL through those metaphors, Iman.

  2. Hello, Sir. Thanks for the inspiring post. I'm now in Semester 3.

    1. Online learning is a huge cup of coffee. It always makes me stay up late.
    2. Ketika belajar online, saya seperti sedang bepergian ke sebuah negara asing, karena begitu banyak hal yang dapat dieksplorasi.

  3. Hello sir. Based on your explanation, I am going to share my ideas for the questions

    For me
    1. Online learning is a challenging. I should be focus to study even tho many distractions around me.

    2. Online learning is like live in another world. Because there are many new things that I felt and suprised me.

    That's from me. Please correct me if I'm wrong. Thank you in advance 🙏🏻

  4. Hello Sir Parlin, here is me Nina Ruth from Ele 2020(semestered 5)
    I would send my ideas regards to what you explanation above.
    1. Online learning is like playing guitar and your spirit is like the chord
    Explanation: when you play the guitar you can't feel it without the chord, so you always have enthusiasm to search and feel what the chord relates to the song, and when you find your chord as your spirit, you can finish the song, and the song is like your task every day, and anything that your search is in you

    2. Online learning is like making some food.
    Explanation: You always have any ingredients to choose, that you need. You are free to make it, whether it is sweet food or salty food, healthy food, etc, it's depend on you.

    That's all thank you🙏

    1. What beautiful and meaningful metaphorical expressions, Nina. Thanks.

  5. Hello sir, I'm Chalix Givan 5th Semester would love to share my ideas based from your questions sir..

    1. Online learning is like surfing on the waves, that means we don't ever know how big, and danger the waves are but we still enjoy to surf, like the online learning, we don't know to far about the internet, like the waves, there is always surprised us, we don't know how far the waves brought us, but it make us open wider about the information.

    2. Online learning is also the highway because the highway is a freeway, therefore we can reach our destination faster. This means that online learning is likened to practical learning that can be accessed anytime and makes it easier to find information.

    I do apologize if there is any mistake in my ideas sir, thank you..

  6. Hello, Sir. I am Rushel Bintang Ashaffi from UKI and now I am in the 5th semester which is also being taught by Mr. Johannes Eric Joseph, S.S, M.Hum. I'm interested in your discussion of metaphors and similes.

    Here's an example from me:

    1. Online learning is like white bread and raw vegetables, because sometimes it's easy for the brain to digest, and sometimes it's hard for the brain to digest.
    2. Learning online is like a traffic light, because sometimes the internet network is smooth, sometimes slow, and even sometimes the internet network is interrupted.

    1. Wow... ! What interesting points. Thanks for participating, Rushel.

  7. Aha....hide and seek? That's captivating, Arthur. Yes, the internet connection is not yet supporting. But, as you said, ready or not ..., here comes online learning. Thanks.

  8. Hello Sir. thank you for the explanation. I am Miranda Levania. I am in the fifth semester right now. I want to share my idea for the questions
    1. Online learning is interesting because online learning can make us easily to join the class from anywhere on our device and easily get the material too
    2. Online learning is like learning and using diction when we make poetry because diction is a collection of words that are rarely heard or used in daily life but have beautiful meanings and beautiful words or unique for giving different ways to express the meaning of one or some words. Therefore, if we want to understand diction, we must know the concept and find out more about what the word means. it so indirectly makes us think critically, add our efforts to seek and find the meaning, and get new information that maybe we have never known before


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