On metaphors

July 15, 2011 § 2 Comments

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a review of James Geary’s I is an other, a new book on the place of metaphors in language. This quote from Geary was well received –


Metaphor conditions our interpretations of the stock market and, through advertising, it surreptitiously infiltrates our purchasing decisions. In the mouths of politicians, metaphor subtly nudges public opinion; in the minds of businesspeople, it spurs creativity and innovation. In science, metaphor is the preferred nomenclature for new theories and new discoveries; in psychology, it is the natural language of human relationships and emotions.


Although I wouldn’t go as far as someone like Derrida, I think there is definitely value in the work of someone like George Lakoff who advanced the idea that metaphors are a conceptual (not merely linguistic) construction. His forays into political science, through things like conservative concepts of the paternal state versus progressive concepts of a maternal state, are pretty useful.


§ 2 Responses to On metaphors

  • Nina Mehta says:

    I really appreciate this post and will check out the book. Metaphors are a really powerful (conceptual) design tool as well.

    Good Metaphor
    The trashcan on our computers is a metaphor to help us understand something is being removed from the computer. We don’t need to know what the processor is doing, we just need to understand the file was gone.

    Bad Metaphor
    ‘Circle’ is a bad metaphor for google’s new social network. A circle is a closed shape, it suggests that everyone in is sharing the same space and the content distributed throughout the space is shared.

    I’m interested in Lakoff’s metaphor on the paternal and maternal states.

    • Thanks for this comment Nina. Your point about “circle” as a bad metaphor in design is very apt. I haven’t been able to put my finger on what Google+ is lacking or where they went wrong exactly, but this is a great starting point.

      Here’s a blog post by Lakoff that does a good job of explaining the paternal/maternal difference between Conservatives and Liberals – http://georgelakoff.com/2011/02/19/what-conservatives-really-want/
      (do a quick search for “father” and you can start reading from there)

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