Metaphor is integral not just to language but to understanding.
So goes the influential book Metaphors We Live By, published in 1980 by a book by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. The book suggests metaphor is a tool that enables people to use what they know about their direct physical and social experiences to understand more abstract things like work, time, mental activity and feelings.
It is a short and approachable book that nonetheless introduced and spread the idea of just how pervasive metaphor is in human language. It helps writers and editors process our phrase choices.
Below I share my notes from the book for future reference.
- “Most of our ordinary, conceptual system is metaphorical the nature” not a trivial but major component
- What if Instead of war we compared arguments to dance?
- Michael Reddy’s conduit metaphor: ideas are objects; linguistic expressions are containers and so communication is sending
- “Time is money” and other familiar examples are structural metaphors, and we also have orientational metaphors like “happy is up; sad is down”
- In 1974, William Nagy produced research on orientation: Unknown is up; known and settled is down; this is strange in comparison to happy also being up but it’s from different experiential bases
- Ontological metaphor: like inflation is an entity or mind as machine
- Metonymy: one entity to refer to another, and synecdoche is one example of metonymy in which part stands for the whole
- Time is a moving object that moves toward us and time is stationary and we move through it
- “Harry is in the kitchen; Harry is in the Elks; Harry is in love” spatial, social and emotional
- Prototypical causation: a paper airplane is a different thing than the sheet of paper it was made of
- Sometimes we use our voices to extend metaphor: we say “he is biiiiiiiiig” to mean really big (morphological)
- The spacing of words matters in meaning too. For example, the second has less distance between words and so it implies Harry actually knows Greek
- “I taught Greek to Harry.”
- “I taught Harry Greek.”
- Dwight Bolinger: A paraphrase can never mean the exact same because subtle word changes carry meaning
- “Myth of objectivity”
- Kant: objectivist in his belief of universally moral rules
- Authors say their argument that “metaphor “as an agent of subjectivism and therefore as subversive of the quest for absolute truth”
- Challenges Chomsky’s belief that grammar and linguistics as branch of psychology but independent because meaning is something different
- Don’t like objectivist but don’t want subjectivist; offer experientialist myth
- Why do we want to visit a celebrity’s house? Two metaphors: The home stands for the person and physical closeness is personal closeness
- Love is collaborative art
- Labor as resource doesn’t distinguish: “for all the labor statistics, there is none on meaningful labor.”