Flat as a wall or flat as a butcher’s hand: The poetic simile and second-order semantic foregrounding

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Foregrounding theory deals with the relation between deviant textual device (e.g., alliteration) and the effect on readers (e.g., high aesthetic evaluation). While previous research has tended to look at an array of devices together in longer stretches of text, we focus on an isolated, semantic foregrounding device, the closed simile. We introduce a distinction between the standard and non-standard simile, representing first- and second-order foregrounding, respectively, and test the idea that the more deviant version would yield higher ratings in terms of the aesthetic, cognitive, and emotive dimensions of text appreciation. Our first finding is that experts prefer the more foregrounded version whereas novices opt for the less foregrounded one. However, our second finding is that, when the novices are prompted to interpret the similes prior to rating them, the non-standard version yields higher ratings. We conclude by discussing some implications of the present research for foregrounding theory.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)293-312
Number of pages20
JournalScientific Study of Literature
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2018


  • cognitive study of metaphor
  • empirical study of literature
  • foregrounding device
  • semantic foregrounding;
  • simile


Dive into the research topics of 'Flat as a wall or flat as a butcher’s hand: The poetic simile and second-order semantic foregrounding'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this