Friday, March 14

Metaphors We Live By

Metaphors aren't just a device of language.  They are part of everyday life in a bigger way than I realised.  

There are everyday concepts that are metaphorical and structure our perceptions, thoughts and actions.  ARGUMENT IS WAR is a great example given by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson in An Introduction to Literary Language (1988).  

"Your claims are indefensible.  He attacked every week point in my argument.
I've never won an argument with him.
You disagree?  Okay, shoot!
He shot down all of my arguments" p 81.

See how we talk and think about arguments in terms of war?  This is a metaphorical concept that we live by in our culture, which structures the entire way we perceive arguing.  

The second part of this idea really grabbed my attention.  Imagine a culture where arguments aren't viewed in terms of war, but rather as a dance.  Just picture it! Instead of warring opponents, the participants are performers - harmonious, balanced, aesthetically pleasing.  

We would find it weird to even call what they are doing "arguing".  It's so different to our perception of what an argument is.  That's because in our culture, we have a discourse form structured in terms of war, not dance.  

"The concept is metaphorically structured, the activity is metaphorically structured, and, consequently, the language is metaphorically structured" p 82.  

Lakoff and Johnson provide more excellent examples to help you grasp the idea.  As I read on, I was surprised by how invisible and ingrained these metaphors are.  I use them constantly!  They are just part of the way our culture perceives the world. 

"Theories and Arguments are Buildings:
Is that the foundation for your theory?
We need to construct a strong argument for that.
So far we have put together only a framework of the theory" p 82
"Understanding is Seeing:
I see what you're saying.
It looks different from my point of view.
Now I've got the whole picture" p 84. 
"Love is a Patient:
They have a strong, healthy marriage.
The marriage is dead - it can't be revived.
It's a tired affair" p 85. 
"Significant is Big:
He's a giant among writers.
That's the biggest idea to hit advertising in years.
It was only a small crime.
His accomplishments tower over those of lesser men" p 86. 
"Emotional Effect is Physical Contact:
His mother's death hit him hard.
That really made an impression on me.
I was touched by his remark.
That blew me away" p 86. 
"Life is a Container:
Life is empty for him.
Get the most out of life.Live your life to the fullest" p 87.

This read was eye-opening and quite beautiful.  The metaphors that structure our cultural perceptions can be thoughtprovoking when you stop to consider them.  


Scholes, Robert, Comley, Nancy R., and Ulmer, Gregory L.  1988.  An Introduction to Literary Language.  New York: St Martin's Press.  

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