I found this explanation for what a figure of speech is, on the internet: ‘a word or phrase used in a non-literal sense for rhetorical or vivid effect.’
We as writers should not use these in our writing because most people might not understand their use, mostly because some figures of speech are location specific, some are universal, and some are lost in the translation to another language.
I think it sometimes adds a degree of whimsy to the story.
I remember some years ago when I working with a Russian chap who’d not been in the country very long, and though he had a reasonable command of English, was not quite up with our figures of speech. and it made me realize when he kept asking me what they meant, just how many I used in everyday speech.
Most of these figures of speech use descriptions that do not necessarily match the situation being described, such as ‘I dance like I have two left feet’. It’s cousin, ‘I am all thumbs; generally means you can’t build anything, and that includes IKEA furniture.
I’m guessing you don’t have to be in possession of all thumbs to not be able to put IKEA furniture together. I’m a builder, and still have trouble.
As for the two left feet, that pretty much sums up how good I can dance, and that’s after the seven introductory lessons by Arthur Murray. But…
‘Like a bat out of hell’, may literally describe someone racing madly away from danger, but to a Russian, it means absolutely nothing. But as trite as it sounds, it lives on in my vernacular
‘Like a bull in a china shop’, describes a toddler let loose, sometimes in the kitchen department of a large store, with glassware, plates, and saucepans. Once is enough, believe me.
‘More front than Myers’, as my mother used to say, but in context, Myers is the Australian version of the English Selfridges or Harrods or Paris Galleries Lafayette, or New York’s, Saks of Fifth Avenue. It refers to the width of street frontage of the stores.
These people my mother referred to were the privileged few who can ignore queues, and cut in front of you for service because they can’t wait.
‘As mad as a hatter’, though not necessarily of the millinery kind, but, well, you can guess, it has something to do with Alice in Wonderland.
‘As nutty as a fruitcake’, provided your fruitcake has nuts in it. Apparently ours did.
You can see, if you get the references, they are somewhat apt, and, yes, they sometimes creep into my stories, but when writing for an international audience, sometimes it’s best you leave them out.