Phor is a term which describes an object or action which forms the basis of a common metaphor in everyday language. It is the literal manifestation of a metaphorical figure of speech. In other words, a metaphor, minus the meta-.
So, if you take the OED definition of metaphor:
Metaphor A figure of speech in which a name or descriptive word or phrase is transferred to an object or action different from, but analogous to, that to which it is literally applicable; an instance of this, a metaphorical expression.
And subtract from it the OED definition of the prefix meta-:
Meta- With sense ‘beyond, above, at a higher level’.
Then you are left with the very object or action which formed the basis of the analogy which the metaphor draws.
For example, the look on your pet cat’s face after you actually feed it cream (from ‘the cat that got the cream’). Or, the perilous exercise of actually skating over thin ice on top of a lake (from ‘skating/trading/walking on thin ice’). Or, the experience of finding that riding a bicycle for the first time, after having not ridden a bicycle for a long time, is actually quite straightforward (from ‘just like riding a bicycle’) Or, trying to propel your canoe upstream without a paddle. Or ‘taking the cake’, without permission. Or the red cloth tape used by civil servants in the old days to tie up bundles of papers relating to an issue on which no further action was to be taken. And so on. These are all phorical phenomena.
For almost every metaphor, there is a corresponding phor. Some occur in real life more frequently than others.
‘Look what the cat dragged in!’, exclaimed Lola phorically, as she watched Fluffy pawing a mutilated sparrow on the kitchen floor.
An important piece of machinery in any sewage treatment plant is the phorical shit stirrer, which is vital to the effective operation of oxidation ponds.
DERIVATIVES: phorical (adjective), phorically (adverb).
ORIGIN: Coined by Steve Kerr in Wellington, New Zealand, c. 2000. As of Feb 2006, yet to really take off.