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Metaphor ? November 4, 2016

Posted by anagasto in language.
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cheshire-cat

Metaphors are all over everybody’s language. It is an illusion that they are mainly a poet’s domain. A poet uses them  lucidly, that’s all, but in everyday language they are so common that nobody views them as an artifice anymore :

a broken heart
hot salsa
deep thoughts
a superego
a stirring speech
an offhand remark
truth comes to light
things go to hell

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You can’t talk about music, politics, psychology, religion, music, philosophy or any other word-based disciplines  without relying on metaphors.

the “barriers” between “classes”
the “field” of sociology
the government “watchdog”
a “foolproof” system
a “gesture” in politics
a “tool” for the mind
a “key” to understanding
the “source” of many problems…

As soon as you talk about something non-physical, non-material, you have to look for metaphor.

That is the reason why it is so difficult to talk about a melody or a painting without simply saying WOW or LOL.

And especially in words of Latin descent you can often still see their metaphoric or figurative origin:

Con-dition = given at the same time
trans-fer = carry over
translate = carry over

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wonderland

Even children discover rather early that words can be manipulated, secretly or openly, for fun or for war.

They name the teacher Spinach and their slowest classmate Blitz.

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The idea is to turn a common word into a new sock puppet, a new character in the game. —

However, sometimes a metaphor goes on and on for a paragraph or an entire book, and some are famous the world over :  Melville’s Moby Dick, Cervantes’ Quixote, Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, Steinebeck’s The Pearl.

Plato’s cave is  long and  clumsy,  but Heracles’ river¹ and Kant’s dove² are each just a line or two.

Kafka’s  Message from the Emperor³ is less than a page.

And every day  metaphors come as  cartoons:

kite by Ch MaddenThe Kite by Chris Madden

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¹ “You cannot step twice into the same stream”  meaning that all things keep changing and flow by like water in a river.

² “The light dove, cleaving the air in her free flight and feeling its resistance, might imagine that its flight would still be easier in empty space” meaning that metaphysical and religious thinking tends to be delusional because it is not restrained by the need to furnish proof.

³ Below is Kafka’s “Imperial Message”:

 

For the origin of words see http://www.etymonline.com/

The photos are by Jaro and the Kafka translation is from the website of Ian Johnston

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Comments»

1. krimileser - April 5, 2008

There is a rather academic book by Lakoff and Johnson published in 1981with the title “Metaphors we live by”.

The authors, a linguist and a philosopher suggest that our conceptual system is mostly metaphorical.

If you are interested you find more -> here.

2. cantueso - April 5, 2008

To Krimileser:

I am interested, but I know this book, and yes I know that the “conceptual system” is metaphorical. The brother of Henry James seems to have launched the term “dead metaphor” for a term where the metaphorical origin is no longer visible.


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