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I know the word 'spine' can be used like a metaphor for person's courage or assertiveness or inner strength. I'm looking for synonyms for this meaning but with one additional meaning related to a tree trunk. So that I can write, "His (spine/stem/etc.) was cut down," and be sure that the sentence has an ambiguous meaning like "breaking the spine, the inner strength of the person" and "cutting down the tree's trunk."

What words can I use for this?

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  • I don't believe there is any word that suits this in general. You might, with considerable effort, manage to write a passage that conveys this somewhat unusual metaphorical similarity between tree trunks and personal spines, but English doesn't come with that out of the box, as it were. Dec 16 '15 at 4:55
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    "Roots" are the common metaphor when it comes to trees. There is also the phrase, "cut down to size."
    – lurker
    Dec 16 '15 at 4:57
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I don't really think there is a word that works well for what you're looking for. While roots, something that was suggested in the comments, is a commonly used metaphor when comparing trees with something, they certainly wouldn't represent inner strength. They are more the very bottom base - the foundation. Inner strength is above the foundation.

However, I think a different option may work better. You don't need to be so explicit with your metaphor! Willpower is the word you're looking for.

His willpower was cut down.

The fact that you are saying that the willpower was cut down is, in and of itself, a kind of metaphor. It brings to mind the idea of chopping or cutting away at a tree, without explicitly mentioning the tree. I think that's the closest that you're going to get.

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Some phrases that are commonly used:

He is spineless.
He has no spine.

which are used when describing a person's courage or assertiveness.

His spirit was broken.

can be used to describe when the inner strength of the person is compromised.

To me (AmE), cut down is more often used like:

After trying to be a big shot, he was finally cut down to size.

meaning the person's status related to others was lowered.

or

All of the soldiers were cut down.

meaning they were all killed.

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