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Tonto Dike and figures of speech that can save you from embarrassment

Celebrated actress, Tonto Dikeh, has been in the news in the past one week. Well, celebrities are often in the news, but the beautiful lady has particularly been at the centre of a heated controversy.

This is as a result of a comment she made in connection with what can be called the manpower of her ex-man.  We cannot afford to reproduce details of her statement on this page, but I believe that, apart from the fact that the little I have said should be understandable, many of us have also read the tale in the news – even participated in the debate it provoked.
Then, why am I raising the matter at all if I wouldn’t say it as it is? That is the thrust of our lesson today! In communication, you do not always have to say things exactly the way they are. The good speaker or writer is not just the one who knows or has something to say, he or she is, indeed, the one who knows how best to say it. At times, one has to heighten the effect, say it in a mild way or wrap it in a garment of imagery.

We want to learn a lesson in the Tonto Dikeh saga, in the sense that there are figures of speech that can help us express certain things without directly hitting the nail on the head. Perhaps if the actress had employed such, we would have been saved the argument that has lasted a whole week. Yet, because we are neither for nor against Tonto Dikeh here, we will immediately set aside her matter in terms of her statement.  I rather welcome you to Literature Class where we want to take a look at some major figures of speech.

 I should quickly add that literature is an integral part of language.  So, what we are doing is not far from what obtains in the core English language room itself. Besides, the language’s curriculum already has some elements that are figurative. These include idioms and phrasal verbs, while synonymy, homonymy etc. are also connected to figurative constructions.

Examples of figures of speech are simile, metaphor, personification, hyperbole, litotes, irony, sarcasm, oxymoron, antithesis and repetition. And why do you need to know about the figurative elements? The reason is that, if wisely used, they enrich your expression and add to its beauty. They help to present a vivid picture of what is on our minds just as they help to manipulate ideas where needed. For instance, when you do not have to say something exactly as it is – the  way our darling actress did – you can employ a euphemism, irony or sarcasm.

(Quickly note that I didn’t say ‘An euphemism’. Why? The reason is that you use the article ‘a’ before a word that begins with a consonant, and ’an’ before the one that starts with a vowel. Yet, you may be tempted to ask: But ‘euphemism’ starts with a vowel – ‘e’? Well, you are right but wrong. In the physical and orthographic sense, it starts with the vowel ‘e’ but in the real phonological sense, which is the factor to consider, it begins with a consonant. When you pronounce  ‘euphemism’, it begins with something like YJU, not E or U. It is like YJU-phemism, not EU-phemism; neither E-phemism nor U-phemism. That is why we should use ‘a’ before it, not ‘an’: A YJU-phemism; not An YJU-phemism.)


A simile is a figure of speech used to compare two things, using ‘as’ and ‘like’. It is assumed that you, the speaker, know something, you have a clear picture of it, but your listener or reader does not yet know this. For them to get you right, you compare this to something they are already familiar with. Then, the picture is well registered on their minds:

  • The boxer is quick-tempered. (A normal expression)
  • The man is as quick-tempered as a gun. (Figurative with use of simile.)

In the second sentence, the writer has given us a deeper picture of the man’s temper, using a simile. Apart from the fact that we get the message better, we have also been blessed by a richer expression.  You may not be able to use too many literary devices in formal situations, but there are definitely several contexts you can flirt with them. Okay! See the way I have used ‘flirt’ here? Am I guilty of the actress’ 40-second syndrome? I don’t think so – because I have taken the word out of the original context.  Here are other examples:

  • Aisha Buhari and Dolapo Osinbajo are beautiful. (A normal factual expression.)
  • Aisha Buhari and Dolapo Osinbajo are as beautiful as lilies. (Figurative)

In the second sentence, the simile now helps us to ‘see’ the beauty being talked about, so that even if one has never seen the women before, one can mentally compare them with the flower that one already knows about. Meanwhile, I hope that some bloggers will not turn this example into a story by asking readers who is more beautiful between the presidential wives being seemingly referred to here.)

    In terms of size, the tent is like the main building of the National Museum, Lagos.

 His voice is like that of a toad.  (This is abusive, but the comparison helps us to appreciate what the speaker/writer means.)

This country is like a jungle.


A metaphor is also used to compare two things. The difference between it and a simile, however, is that we do the comparison without making use of ‘as’ or ‘like’. We say the two things being compared are exactly the same.  This means that the expression bearing the metaphor is not literally true but helps to explain an idea. It states that one thing is another:

  • Aisha Buhari and Osinbajo are like lilies. (Simile)
  • Aisha Buhari and Dolapo Osinbajo are lilies. (Metaphor)
  • Ussein Bolt runs like a hare. (Simile)
  • Ussein Bolt is a hare. (Metaphor. Note that I didn’t write ‘an hare’. Why?)
  •  Euphemism

Euphemism is a figure of speech used to express something serious or grave in a light manner.  The concept of euphemism is very important in communication. It helps us to present hard facts in a harmless or friendly way. It saves us from vulgarity and helps us to respect the humanity of other people. Perhaps this is what Tonto Dikeh’s critics expected her to engage when she was commenting on her experience with her ex in ‘the other room’. Sorry, like the proverbial dog, I had to return to my vomit in terms of referring to her case again. Consider the following examples:

  • I learnt your brother has died. (A normal blunt statement.)
  • I learnt your brother has passed on. (Euphemism used.)
  • The disabled man wants to see you. (Too bad.)
  • The man with physical disability wants to see you. (Good.)
  • There are many deaf people in the city. (No!)
  • There are many hearing-impaired people in the city. (Good.)
  • The musician has gone mad. (Too loud.)
  • The musician is mentally challenged or needs psychiatric attention.

Above all, you can talk about sex organs or activities without necessarily using some expressions. If doctors use such open expressions freely in hospitals, it is understandable. We must also acknowledge that some activists have said that parents who don’t call spade a spade when bringing up their children end up producing those who feel too shy to state the facts if abused later in life. But in day-to-day communication, and particularly in formal settings, using some words may raise the kind of moral questions that our pretty actress has been facing.  That is why an expression such as ‘private parts’ (not part!) helps where issues concerning male and female organs are being discussed.

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