User:Anthony.Sebastian/WP Metaphor Sandbox

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A metaphor is a figure of speech concisely expressed by comparing two things, saying that one is the other.[1] The English metaphor derives from the 16th c. Old French métaphore, from the Latin metaphora “carrying over”, Greek (μεταφορά) metaphorá “transfer”, [2] from (μεταφέρω) metaphero “to carry over”, “to transfer” [3] and from (μετά) meta “between” [4] + (φέρω) phero, “to bear”, “to carry”.[5] Moreover, metaphor also denotes rhetorical figures of speech that achieve their effects via association, comparison, and resemblance, e.g. antithesis, hyperbole, metonymy, and simile; all are species of metaphor. [6]


The Philosophy of Rhetoric (1936), by I. A. Richards, reports that metaphor is in two parts: the tenor and the vehicle. The tenor is the subject to which attributes are ascribed. The vehicle is the subject whose attributes are borrowed. Other writers employ the general terms ground and figure to denote tenor and the vehicle. Consider the All the world's a stage monologue from As You Like It:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;William Shakespeare, As You Like It, 2/7

In this metaphoric example, "the world" is compared to a stage, describing it with the attributes of “the stage”; "the world" is the tenor, and "a stage" is the vehicle; "men and women" is a secondary tenor, "players" is the secondary vehicle.

In cognitive linguistics, the terms target and source correspond to the terms tenor and vehicle. In this nomenclature, metaphors are named with the small-capital typographic convention TARGET IS SOURCE, and all-capitals when small-caps are unavailable; in this notation, the metaphor discussed above would be LIFE IS THEATRE. In a conceptual metaphor the elements of an extended metaphor constitute the metaphor’s mapping — in the Shakespeare quotation above, exits would be mapped to “death” and entrances mapped to “birth”. a metaphor is comparing two unlike things without using like or as

Types, terms, and categories

A metaphor is more forceful (active) than an analogy, because metaphor asserts two things are the same, whereas analogy acknowledges difference; other rhetorical comparative figures of speech, such as metonymy, parable, simile, and synecdoche, are species of metaphor distinguished by how the comparison is communicated. [7] The metaphor category also contains these specialized types:

  • allegory: An extended metaphor wherein a story illustrates an important attribute of the subject
  • catachresis: A mixed metaphor used by design and accident (a rhetorical fault)
  • parable: An extended metaphor narrated as an anecdote illustrating and teaching a moral lesson

Common types

  • A dead metaphor is one in which the sense of the transferred image is absent. Examples: "to grasp a concept" and "to gather what you've understood" use physical action as a metaphor for understanding, most do not visualize the action; dead metaphors normally go unnoticed. Some people distinguish between a "dead metaphor" whose origin most speakers ignore, e.g. "to break the ice". Others use dead metaphor to denote both concepts, and generally use it to describe a metaphoric cliché.
  • An extended metaphor (conceit), establishes a principal subject (comparison) and subsidiary subjects (comparisons). The As You Like It quotation is a good example, the world is described as a stage, and then men and women are subsidiary subjects further described in the same context.
  • A mixed metaphor is one that leaps from one identification to a second identification inconsistent with the first. Example: "If we can hit that bullseye then the rest of the dominoes will fall like a house of cards... Checkmate."Quote from Futurama TV show character Zapp Brannigan, [1]
  • Per Hans Blumenberg’s metaphorology, absolute metaphor denotes a figure or a concept that cannot be reduced to, or replaced with solely conceptual thought and language. Absolute metaphors, e.g. “light” (for “truth”) and “seafaring” (for “human existence”) – have distinctive meanings (unlike the literal meanings), and, thereby, function as orientations in the world, and as theoretic questions, such as presenting the world as a whole. Because they exist at the pre-predicative level, express and structure pragmatic and theoretical views of Man and the World.

Uncommon types

Other types of metaphor have been identified as well, though the nomenclatures are not as universally accepted:

  • An absolute or paralogical metaphor (sometimes called an anti-metaphor) is one in which there is no discernible point of resemblance between the idea and the image. e.g. “light” as a metaphor for truth or virtue.
  • An active metaphor is one which by contrast to a dead metaphor, is not part of daily language and is noticeable as a metaphor.
  • A complex metaphor is one which mounts one identification on another. Example: "That throws some light on the question." Throwing light is a metaphor: there is no actual light, and a question is not the sort of thing that can be lit up.
  • A compound or loose metaphor is one that catches the mind with several points of similarity. Examples: "He has the wild stag's foot." This phrase suggests grace and speed as well as daring.
  • A dying metaphor is a derogatory term coined by George Orwell in his essay Politics and the English Language. Orwell defines a dying metaphor as a metaphor that isn't dead (dead metaphors are different, as they are treated like ordinary words), but has been worn out and is used because it saves people the trouble of inventing an original phrase for themselves. In short, a cliché. Example: Achilles' heel. Orwell suggests that writers scan their work for such dying forms that they have 'seen regularly before in print' and replace them with alternative language patterns.
  • An epic metaphor or Homeric simile is an extended metaphor containing details about the vehicle that are not, in fact, necessary for the metaphoric purpose. This can be extended to humorous lengths, for instance: "This is a crisis. A large crisis. In fact, if you've got a moment, it's a twelve-story crisis with a magnificent entrance hall, carpeting throughout, 24-hour porterage and an enormous sign on the roof saying 'This Is a Large Crisis.'" (Blackadder)
  • An implicit metaphor is one in which the tenor is not specified but implied. Example: "Shut your trap!" Here, the mouth of the listener is the unspecified tenor.
  • An implied or unstated metaphor is a metaphor not explicitly stated or obvious that compares two things by using adjectives that commonly describe one thing, but are used to describe another comparing the two.
    An example: "Golden baked skin", comparing bakery goods to skin or "green blades of nausea", comparing green grass to the pallor of a nausea-stic person or "leafy golden sunset" comparing the sunset to a tree in the fall.
  • A simple or tight metaphor is one in which there is but one point of resemblance between the tenor and the vehicle. Example: "Cool it". In this example, the vehicle, "Cool", is a temperature and nothing else, so the tenor, "it", can only be grounded to the vehicle by one attribute.
  • A submerged metaphor is one in which the vehicle is implied, or indicated by one aspect. Example: "my winged thought". Here, the audience must supply the image of the bird.
  • A synecdochic metaphor is a trope that is both a metaphor and a synecdoche in which a small part of something is chosen to represent the whole so as to highlight certain elements of the whole.

Use outside of rhetoric

The term metaphor is also used for the following terms that are not a part of rhetoric:

  • A cognitive metaphor is the association of an object to an experience outside the object's environment.
  • A conceptual metaphor is an underlying association that is systematic in both language and thought.
  • A root metaphor is the underlying worldview that shapes an individual's understanding of a situation.
  • A therapeutic metaphor is an experience that allows one to learn about more than just that experience.
  • A visual metaphor provides a frame or window on experience. Metaphors can also be implied and extended throughout pieces of literature.

History in literature and language

Metaphor is present in the oldest written Sumerian language narrative, the Epic of Gilgamesh:

My friend, the swift mule, fleet wild ass of the mountain, panther of the wilderness, after we joined together and went up into the mountain, fought the Bull of Heaven and killed it, and overwhelmed Humbaba, who lived in the Cedar Forest, now what is this sleep that has seized you? — (Trans. Kovacs, 1989)

In this example, the friend is compared to a mule, a wild donkey, and a panther to indicate that the speaker sees traits from these animals in his friend (A comparison between two or more unlike objects).

The idea of metaphor can be traced back to Aristotle who, in his “Poetics” (around 335 BC), defines “metaphor” as follows: “Metaphor is the application of a strange term either transferred from the genus and applied to the species or from the species and applied to the genus, or from one species to another or else by analogy.”[8] For the sake of clarity and comprehension it might additionally be useful to quote the following two alternative translations: “Metaphor is the application of an alien name by transference either from genus to species, or from species to genus, or from species to species, or by analogy, that is, proportion.”[9] Or, as Halliwell puts it in his translation: “Metaphor is the application of a word that belongs to another thing: either from genus to species, species to genus, species to species, or by analogy.”[10]

Therefore, the key aspect of a metaphor is a specific transference of a word from one context into another. With regard to the four kinds of metaphors which Aristotle distincts against each other the last one (transference by analogy) is the most eminent one so that all important theories on metaphor have a reference to this characterization.

The Greek plays of Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides, among others, were almost invariably allegorical, showing the tragedy of the protagonists, either to caution the audience metaphorically about temptation, or to lambast famous individuals of the day by inferring similarities with the caricatures in the play.

Novelist and essayist Giannina Braschi states, "Metaphors and Similes are the beginning of the democratic system of envy."

Even when they are not intentional, they can be drawn between most writing or language and other topics. In this way it can be seen that any theme in literature is a metaphor, using the story to convey information about human perception of the theme in question.

In historical linguistics

In historical onomasiology or, more generally, in historical linguistics, metaphor is defined as semantic change based on similarity, i.e. a similarity in form or function between the original concept named by a word and the target concept named by this word.[11]

ex. mouse: small, gray rodentsmall, gray, mouse-shaped computer device.

Some recent linguistic theories view language as by its nature all metaphorical; or that language in essence is metaphorical. [12]

Historical theories of metaphor

Metaphor as style in speech and writing

Viewed as an aspect of speech and writing, metaphor qualifies as style, in particular, style characterized by a type of analogy. An expression (word, phrase) that by implication suggests the likeness of one entity to another entity gives style to an item of speech or writing, whether the entities consist of objects, events, ideas, activities, attributes, or almost anything expressible in language. For example, in the first sentence of this paragraph, the word ´viewed´ serves as a metaphor for ´thought of´, implying analogy of the process of seeing and the thought process. The phrase, "viewed as an aspect of", projects the properties of seeing (vision) something from a particular perspective onto thinking about something from a particular perspective, that ´something´ in this case referring to ´metaphor´ and that ´perspective´ in this case referring to the characteristics of speech and writing.

As a characteristic of speech and writing, metaphors can serve the poetic imagination, enabling William Shakespeare, in his play "As You Like It", to compare the world to a stage and its human inhabitants players entering and exiting upon that stage; [13] enabling Sylvia Plath, in her poem "Cut", to compare the blood issuing from her cut thumb to the running of a million soldiers, "redcoats, every one";[14] and, enabling Robert Frost, in "The Road Not Taken", to compare one´s life to a journey. [15]

Viewed also as an aspect of speech and writing, metaphor can serve as a device for persuading the listener or reader of the speaker-writer´s argument or thesis, the so-called rhetorical metaphor....

Metaphor as foundational to our conceptual system

Cognitive linguists emphasize that metaphors serve to facilitate the understanding of one conceptual domain, typically an abstract one like 'life' or 'theories' or 'ideas', through expressions that relate to another, more familiar conceptual domain, typically a more concrete one like 'journey' or 'buildings' or 'food'. [16][17] Food for thought: we devour a book of raw facts, try to digest them, stew over them, let them simmer on the back-burner, regurgitate them in discussions, cook up explanations, hoping they do not seem half-baked. Theories as buildings: we establish a foundation for them, a framework, support them with strong arguments, buttressing them with facts, hoping they will stand. Life as journey: some of us travel hopefully, others seem to have no direction, many lose their way.

A convenient short-hand way of capturing this view of metaphor is the following: CONCEPTUAL DOMAIN (A) IS CONCEPTUAL DOMAIN (B), which is what is called a conceptual metaphor. A conceptual metaphor consists of two conceptual domains, in which one domain is understood in terms of another. A conceptual domain is any coherent organization of experience. Thus, for example, we have coherently organized knowledge about journeys that we rely on in understanding life.[17]

How does this relate to the nature and importance of our conceptual system, and to metaphor as foundational to our conceptual system?

See also


  1. The Oxford Companion to the English Language (1992) pp.653–55
  2. Metaphora, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, at Perseus
  3. Metaphero, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, at Perseus
  4. Meta, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, at Perseus
  5. Phero, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, at Perseus
  6. The Oxford Companion to the English Language (1992) pp.653–55
  7. The Oxford Companion to the English Language (1992) pp.653–55
  8. Aristotle in 23 Volumes, Vol. 23, translated by W.H. Fyfe. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1932, 1457b.
  9. Aristotle, Poetics, trans. I. Bywater, in The Complete Works of Aristotle, ed. Jonathan Barnes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), vol 2, 1457b.
  10. Aristotle: Poetics. Translated by Stephen Halliwell; Longinus: On the Sublime; Demetrius: On Style (Loeb Classical Library No. 199), 1996, 1457b.
  11. Cf. Joachim Grzega (2004), Bezeichnungswandel: Wie, Warum, Wozu? Ein Beitrag zur englischen und allgemeinen Onomasiologie, Heidelberg: Winter, and Blank, Andreas (1997), Prinzipien des lexikalischen Bedeutungswandels am Beispiel der romanischen Sprachen, Tübingen: Niemeyer.
  12. See, for example, Vilayanur S Ramachandran, Reith Lectures 2003 The Emerging Mind, lecture 4 "Purple Numbers and Sharp Cheese", BBC
  13. "As You Like It": Entire play From: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare
  14. "Cut" by Sylvia Plath From: The Sylvia Plath Forum
  15. "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost From: Great Books Online
  16. Lakoff G., Johnson M. (1980, 2003). Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 Zoltán Kövecses. (2002) Metaphor: a practical introduction. Oxford University Press US. ISBN 9780195145113.


  • Template:Citizendium
  • Stefano Arduini (2007). (ed.) Metaphors, Roma, Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura.
  • Aristotle. Poetics. Trans. I. Bywater. In The Complete Works of Aristotle: The Revised Oxford Translation. (1984). 2 Vols. Ed. Jonathan Barnes. Princeton, Princeton University Press.
  • I. A. Richards. (1936). The Philosophy of Rhetoric. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
  • Max Black (1954). Metaphor, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 55, pp. 273-294.
  • Max Black (1962). Models and Metaphor, Ithaca, Cornell University Press.
  • Max Black (1979). More about Metaphor, in A. Ortony (ed) Metaphor & Thought.
  • Clive Cazeaux (2007). Metaphor and Continental Philosophy: From Kant to Derrida. New York: Routledge.
  • L. J. Cohen (1979). The Semantics of Metaphor, in A. Ortony (ed) Metaphor & Thought
  • Donald Davidson. (1978). "What Metaphors Mean." Reprinted in Inquiries Into Truth and Interpretation. (1984), Oxford, Oxford University Press.
  • Jacques Derrida (1982). "White Mythology: Metaphor in the Text of Philosophy." In Margins of Philosophy. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
  • Paul Ricoeur (1975). The Rule of Metaphor: Multi-Disciplinary Studies in the Creation of Meaning in Language, trans. Robert Czerny with Kathleen McLaughlin and John Costello, S. J., London: Routledge and Kegan Paul 1978. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press 1977)
  • John Searle (1979). “Metaphor,” in A. Ortony (ed) Metaphor & Thought

External links

In cognitive linguistics, conceptual metaphor, or cognitive metaphor, refers to the understanding of one idea, or conceptual domain, in terms of another, for example, understanding quantity in terms of directionality (e.g. "prices are rising"). A conceptual domain can be any coherent organization of human experience. The regularity with which different languages employ the same metaphors, which often appear to be perceptually based, has led to the hypothesis that the mapping between conceptual domains corresponds to neural mappings in the brain [1]

This idea, and a detailed examination of the underlying processes, was first extensively explored by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson in their work Metaphors We Live By. Other cognitive scientists study subjects similar to conceptual metaphor under the labels "analogy" and "conceptual blending."


There are two main roles for the conceptual domains posited in conceptual metaphors:

  • Source domain: the conceptual domain from which we draw metaphorical expressions (e.g., love is a journey).
  • Target domain: the conceptual domain that we try to understand (e.g., love is a journey).

A mapping is the systematic set of correspondences that exist between constituent elements of the source and the target domain. Many elements of target concepts come from source domains and are not preexisting. To know a conceptual metaphor is to know the set of mappings that applies to a given source-target pairing. The same idea of mapping between source and target is used to describe analogical reasoning and inferences.

A primary tenet of this theory is that metaphors are matter of thought and not merely of language: hence, the term conceptual metaphor. The metaphor may seem to consist of words or other linguistic expressions that come from the terminology of the more concrete conceptual domain, but conceptual metaphors underlie a system of related metaphorical expressions that appear on the linguistic surface. Similarly, the mappings of a conceptual metaphor are themselves motivated by image schemas which are pre-linguistic schemas concerning space, time, moving, controlling, and other core elements of embodied human experience.

Conceptual metaphors typically employ a more abstract concept as target and a more concrete or physical concept as their source. For instance, metaphors such as 'the days [the more abstract or target concept] ahead' or 'giving my time' rely on more concrete concepts, thus expressing time as a path into physical space, or as a substance that can be handled and offered as a gift. Different conceptual metaphors tend to be invoked when the speaker is trying to make a case for a certain point of view or course of action. For instance, one might associate "the days ahead" with leadership, whereas the phrase "giving my time" carries stronger connotations of bargaining. Selection of such metaphors tends to be directed by a subconscious or implicit habit in the mind of the person employing them.

The principle of unidirectionality states that the metaphorical process typically goes from the more concrete to the more abstract, and not the other way around. Accordingly, abstract concepts are understood in terms of prototype concrete processes. The term "concrete," in this theory, has been further specified by Lakoff and Johnson as more closely related to the developmental, physical neural, and interactive body (see embodied philosophy). One manifestation of this view is found in the cognitive science of mathematics, where it is proposed that mathematics itself, the most widely accepted means of abstraction in the human community, is largely metaphorically constructed, and thereby reflects a cognitive bias unique to humans that uses embodied prototypical processes (e.g. counting, moving along a path) that are understood by all human beings through their experiences.

Language and culture as mappings

In their 1980 work, Lakoff and Johnson closely examined a collection of basic conceptual metaphors, including:


The latter half of each of these phrases invokes certain assumptions about concrete experience and requires the reader or listener to apply them to the preceding abstract concepts of love or organizing in order to understand the sentence in which the conceptual metaphor is used.

There are numerous ways in which conceptual metaphors shape human perception and communication, especially in mass media and in public policy.

Family roles and ethics

A less extreme, but similar, claim is made by George Lakoff in his book Moral Politics and his later book on framing, Don't think of an Elephant. Lakoff claims that the public political arena in America reflects a basic conceptual metaphor of 'the family.' Accordingly, people understand political leaders in terms of 'strict father' and 'nuturant parent' roles. Two basic views of political economy arise from this desire to see the nation-state act 'more like a father' or 'more like a mother'. He further amplified these views in his latest book, THE POLITICAL MIND...

The urban theorist and ethicist Jane Jacobs made this distinction in less gender-driven if not wholly desexualizing terms by differentiating between a 'Guardian Ethic' and a 'Trader Ethic'. She states that guarding and trading are two concrete activities that human beings must learn to apply metaphorically to all choices in later life. In a society where guarding children is the primary female duty and trading in a market economy is the primary male duty, Lakoff posits that children assign the 'guardian' and 'trader' roles to their mothers and fathers, respectively.

Both of these theories suggest that there may be a great deal of social conditioning and pressure to form specific cognitive bias. Anthropologists observe that all societies tend to have roles assigned by age and gender, which supports this view.

Linguistics and politics

Lakoff and Jacobs both devote a significant amount of time to current events and political theory, suggesting that respected linguists and theorists of conceptual metaphor may tend to channel their theories into political activism. Indeed, if conceptual metaphors are as basic as Lakoff argues, they may literally have no choice in doing so.

Critics of this ethics-driven approach to language tend to accept that idioms reflect underlying conceptual metaphors, but that actual grammar, and the more basic cross-cultural concepts of scientific method and mathematical practice tend to minimize the impact of metaphors. Such critics tend to see Lakoff and Jacobs as 'left-wing figures', and would not accept their politics as any kind of crusade against an ontology embedded in language and culture, but rather, as an idiosyncratic pastime, not part of the science of linguistics nor of much use. And others further, such as Deleuze and Guattari, Michel Foucault and, more recently, Manuel de Landa would criticize both of these two positions for mutually constituting the same old ontological ideology that would try to separate two parts of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Lakoff's 1987 work, Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things, answered some of these criticisms before they were even made: he explores the effects of cognitive metaphors (both culturally specific and human-universal) on the grammar per se of several languages, and the evidence of the limitations of the classical logical-positivist or Anglo-American School philosophical concept of the category usually used to explain or describe the scientific method. Lakoff's reliance on empirical scientific evidence, i.e. specifically falsifiable predictions, in the 1987 work and in Philosophy in the Flesh (1999) suggests that the cognitive-metaphor position has no objections to the scientific method, but instead considers the scientific method a finely developed reasoning system used to discover phenomena which are subsequently understood in terms of new conceptual metaphors (such as the metaphor of fluid motion for conducted electricity, which is described in terms of "current" "flowing" against "impedance," or the gravitational metaphor for static-electric phenomena, or the "planetary orbit" model of the atomic nucleus and electrons, as used by Niels Bohr).

Further, partly in response to such criticisms, Lakoff and Rafael E. Núñez, in 2000, proposed a cognitive science of mathematics that would explain mathematics as a consequence of, not an alternative to, the human reliance on conceptual metaphor to understand abstraction in terms of basic experiential concretes.

Literature and conceptual metaphor

"The most recent linguistic approach to literature is that of cognitive metaphor, which claims that metaphor is not a mode of language, but a mode of thought. Metaphors project structures from source domains of schematized bodily or enculturated experience into abstract target domains. We conceive the abstract idea of life in terms of our experiences of a journey, a year, or a day. We do not understand Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" to be about a horse-and-wagon journey but about life. We understand Emily Dickinson's "Because I Could Not Stop for Death" as a poem about the end of the human life span, not a trip in a carriage. This work is redefining the critical notion of imagery. Perhaps for this reason, cognitive metaphor has significant promise for some kind of rapprochement between linguistics and literary study." [2]


  1. e.g. Feldman, J. and Narayanan, S. (2004). Embodied meaning in a neural theory of language. Brain and Language, 89(2):385–392
  • Johnson, Mark (1995) Moral Imagination. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Johnson, Mark (1987) The Body in the Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Lakoff, George & Mark Johnson (1999) Philosophy in the Flesh. New York: Basic Books.
  • Lakoff, George (1995) Moral Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (2nd ed. 2001)
  • Lakoff, George & Mark Turner (1989) More than Cool Reason: A Field Guide to Poetic Metaphor. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Lakoff, George (1987) Women, Fire and Dangerous Things. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Lakoff, George & Mark Johnson (1980) Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

External links