When a word or phrase from one figurative statement is used in a new way, it is referred to as metalepsis. Metalepsis could be created when a writer or speaker refers to a well-understood figurative statement. Or, it could be created when a writer makes a figurative statement and then continues to refer to that statement-expanding it in new ways.
A woman trying to clean a stain on a shirt, says, "Out, out damned spot!"
This is a reference to a statement by Lady Macbeth when she had "blood on her hands."
A man who is trying to get to work early says, "I have to get going and catch a worm this morning." This is a reference to the statement "The early bird gets the worm."
Examples of Metalepsis in Literature
From Macbeth-Shakespeare builds his figurative description of the passage of time by expanding the reference in new ways as he moves through the speech:
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death...
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
From Marlowe's Doctor Faustus-a reference to Helen of Troy:
Was this the face that launched a thousand ships
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
Literary Terms Examples