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I came across this context in which I find the word "metaphorical" is used in an unusual way,

Yet the 440-pound silverback leaves another metaphorical gorilla in the room, raising questions that extend far beyond the particulars of the case...

I consulted dictionaries and only found the meaning connecting with "metaphor".

I assume the word "metaphorical" have the extended meaning of "being similar or alike"? What exactly does it mean here?

  • Here with "another metaphorical gorilla" the writer means "a second gorilla, but this one a figure-of-speech gorilla, unlike the first, which was a real gorilla" – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 7 '16 at 11:16
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Metaphorical relates to the use of metaphor. When Shakespeare's Hamlet considers whether to take arms against a sea of troubles he is not talking about attacking a large body of water - sea of troubles is a metaphor, Hamlet is speaking metaphorically; it is a metaphorical sea.

So to return to your example:

Yet the 440-pound silverback leaves another metaphorical gorilla in the room, raising questions that extend far beyond the particulars of the case.

Although it's difficult to be certain without the full context, I'd interpret this as a a play on the expression 'Elephant in the room'

The elephant in the room is a metaphor for something big that everyone knows is there but that they either choose to ignore or pretends not to exist. For example:

when we talk about welfare cuts from a purely fiscal perspective, the elephant in the room is the suffering that those cuts will cause

(that's a rough paraphrase of a political discussion I heard recently)

In the case of the quote, I think the writer is substituting gorilla for elephant thereby preserving the metaphor by using another large, imposing animal and linking it to the incident that is being discussed.

The metaphorical elephant has been replaced by a metaphorical gorilla...

  • Is "an X(any big, imposing animal) in the room" an idiomatic phrase? – dennylv Jun 7 '16 at 4:53
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    @dennylv yes it is, although generally only elephant is used. Incidentally, the phrase actually originates from a Russian short story about a man who, quite literally, fails to notice an elephant – PerryW Jun 7 '16 at 6:26
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A "metaphor" is a figure of speech in which one thing is compared to another without using any "comparison" words, such as "like". For example, "Her words were a dagger pointed at my heart." Her words were not literally a dagger of course, but her words were like a dagger -- presumably because they hurt me like being stabbed with a dagger.

So yes, "metaphor" refers to things that are said to be similar or alike. This is not an "extended meaning", but the normal meaning of the word. (And to the best of my knowledge, the only meaning.)

"Metaphorical" is just the adjective form of "metaphor", meaning "having to do with a metaphor. Referring to the example above, you might say, "The metaphorical use of the word 'dagger' indicates how much her words hurt."

There is a commonly-used metaphor, "X was the 300-pound gorilla in the room", where "X" is someting that people are trying to ignore or pretend doesn't exist. Like, "The company's profits have been falling for several years. The 300-pound gorilla in the room is the new president, the son of the previous president but obviously incompetent." The idea is that you really have to work hard to ignore a 300-pound gorilla, but everyone does for some reason.

The sentence you quote appears to come from an article in the New York times. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/07/science/gorilla-shot-harambe-zoo.html?_r=0 The article is about the gorilla in the Cincinnatti Zoo who was recently shot by zoo officials to prevent him from harming a child who had fallen into his enclosure. The writer says that a subject no one wants to talk about is the ethics of keeping primates in zoos. No one wants to talk about it, i.e. a 300 pound gorilla in the room. The sentence you quote is linking the literal gorilla who was shot to the metaphorical gorilla that people are supposedly trying to ignore.

  • Do you mean that "a metaphorical X in the room" is an idiomatic expression? – dennylv Jun 7 '16 at 4:48
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    No, I mean "a 300 pound gorilla in the room" is a well-known metaphor. So saying "a metaphorical gorilla" is a reference to this metaphor involving a gorilla. – Jay Jun 7 '16 at 4:59
  • May I take the liberty to ask: Why is that metaphor well-known then? – dennylv Jun 7 '16 at 5:39
  • @dennylv I don't know how to answer that. It's popular because it's an idea that comes up reasonably often and the image is amusing, I guess. By the way, it's also often said as "the elephant in the room" rather than "the 300-pound gorilla". Same idea. – Jay Jun 7 '16 at 13:16
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The word metaphorical is indicating that 'it seemed like that', but it is only a metaphor used to create excitement or, over-exaggerate, within the sentence (that, literally, it couldn't possibly be true)

The metaphor is the word that the 'lie' is built around.

I.e - His words struck me like that of punch, one by one, as each one felt so strong. Here, 'words' is the word that the metaphor is building around - words couldn't possibly hurt you physically, but here, the metaphor is that 'the words were like punches, strong.'

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