Words and phrases: Literal or figurative words?

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Source: Psychology Today

Because we are human, we subconsciously note patterns, make connections, and use and understand metaphor. We're hardwired so that figurative speech comes naturally.

From Beginnings of Rhetoric and Composition, by Adams Hill:
Every day of our lives we all unconsciously express ourselves in figures of speech.
We say, for instance, that a man “broods“ over his wrongs, “reflects“ on a plan, “drives“ a hard bargain, “ruminates“ on a subject, “digests“ an affront, takes a “degree,“ “tastes“ the “sweets“ of success. We speak of a “soft“ voice, a “sharp“ mind, an “uneven“ temper, a “wild“ idea, a “tame“ description, a “striking“ remark; of the “voyage“ of life, the “ship“ of state, the “course“ of events, the “flight“ of time, “fleecy“ clouds. 
Good writers do not make a deliberate choice between a literal and a figurative expression; the choice is usually made for each by his temperament or by circumstances. The thoughts of one man habitually present themselves in plain language, those of another in pictures, the imagination of a third is aroused now and then by something in which he takes a deep interest.
Simile and Metaphor
A simile likens a person or a thing to something of a different class; a metaphor identifies a person or a thing with something of a different class. The two figures differ in form only, the simile expressing fully a resemblance which the metaphor implies. 
When Byron wrote
The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
he used a simile; when we call a man a wolf in sheep's clothing, we use a metaphor.
Sydney Smith, wishing to show the insignificance of Mr. Percival's position in the British ministry, used a metaphor when he wrote, “He is a fly in amber; nobody cares about the fly: the only question is, How the devil did it get there?“ If he had written “He is like a fly in amber,“ he would have expressed his idea in the form of a simile.
Sometimes a metaphor embodied in a single word is more suggestive than it would be if developed at length. For example: —
The streets are dumb with snow. — Tennyson.
At one stride comes the dark. — Coleridge.

Sometimes it is advantageous to dwell on a metaphor at some length. For example:—
The two sections [of the Liberal party] may call themselves by the same name and row in the same boat. But, if so, the boat can never advance, for they are rowing in opposite directions. Until the crew make up their mind towards what point they are to row, their barque can never move. — Lord Rosebery.
The thorns which I have reap'd are of the tree
I planted, — they have torn me, — and I bleed:
I should have known whatfruit would spring from such a seed.— Byron.
Methought among the lawns together
We wandered, underneath the young grey dawn,
And multitudes of dense white fleecy cloudsWere wandering in thick flocks along the mountains,
Shepherded by the slow, unwilling wind. — Shelley.
Another figure which it is convenient to know by name is Personification, the figure that treats things or abstractions as persons—that is, personifies them. 
In ThePilgrim's Progress, the abstract qualities represented as persons (“Hopeful,“ “Faithful,“ “Worldly Wiseman,“ “Great Heart,“ “Giant Despair,“ “Diffidence,“ etc.) are as thoroughly alive as the characters in the best novels.
George Eliot personifies rumor as follows: —
That talkative maiden. Rumor, though in the interest of art she is figured as a youthful winged beauty with flowing garments, soaring above the heads of men, and breathing world-thrilling news through a gracefully-curved trumpet, is in fact a very old maid, who puckers her silly face by the fireside, and really does no more than chirp a wrong guess or a lame story into the ear of a fellow-gossip.

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