Figuratively speaking—what your metaphors reveal about you

Metaphors act as perceptual filters.

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Did you Much of the time we hardly notice that we are using metaphors at all and yet, a study by Pollio (1977)1 found that English speakers used on average three thousand metaphors and seven thousand idioms per week.” The non-recognition of metaphors (in colloquial speech) comes partly from long habit with words that were derived from ancient and unfamiliar language and partly from incuriousness and indifference.” Once we become consciously aware of the symbols by which we express ourselves and interact with our world, we can, by that same token, begin to consciously direct our communication towards the ends we seek. Although the metaphor has assumed the form of an umbrella term for several forms of distinctly different figures of speech, it is acceptable to subsume all such figurative language under the banner of metaphorical language. Visual metaphors work in a similar manner, the icons making sense within accepted structures and domains.

For example consider how would you interpret the message the meeting has been moved forward’? Has the meeting been moved to the previous day, or perhaps it has been moved a couple of hours later on the same day?

The psychological effects of an emotion as well as its . For example, the collocates of embarrassment are blush with, flush with, squirm with.

We use metaphors primarily to express an idea in a picturesque and visual way. Metaphors and other figurative language can also be used in certain elliptical modes of expression that are not picturesque, but employed for the sake of brevity, rebuke, satire, pathos, or diplomacy.

The metaphor is a Trope. The difference between a Figure and a Trope is that, while the Figure ennobles and enlivens a word without changing the sense of the word, the Trope involves the changing of the word or sentence from its proper signification to another meaning, which is still in keeping with the etymology of the word.

The standard definition of metaphor is based more or less on Aristotle’s formulation. By this definition, the metaphor is nothing but a deviant or dyadic movement that shifts meaning from one word to another” it is a transference of meaning from one word over another”

Metaphor is the transposition of a noun from its proper signification, either from the genus to the species, or from the species to the genus; or from species to species, or according to the analogous.Aristotle

Thus the conventional view of the metaphor is that it is a literary extra device, only to be employed by artistically elite poets. By this definition, the literal is substituted for the figurative insofar as the figurative bears similarities to the descriptive predicates associated with the literal. The metaphor is thus little more than word substitution.

The third mode, that using words in a metaphorical sense, is widely prevalent, a mode of which necessity was the parent, compelled by the sterility and narrowness of language; but afterwards delight and pleasure made it frequent; for as a dress was first adopted for the sake of keeping off the cold, but in the process of time began to be made an ornament of the body and an emblem of dignity, so the metaphorical use of words was originally invented on account of their paucity, but became common from the delight which they afforded.Cicero

Metaphors must be fitting, meaning that the figurative or non-literal entity must fairly correspond to the literal or signified thing. Aristotle uses the term epiphora in order to explain the operation of the metaphor and it’s

The contemporary view as proposed by Martin Heidegger, Paul Ricoeur, and Jacques Derrida sees the metaphor as a primary vehicle for the disclosure and creation of new forms of meaning”. According to Jacques Derrida and Paul Ricoeur, symbols and metaphors act as the primary interpreters of reality. At its most elementary level, usage of metaphor involves the amplification and extension of meaning. These mental excursions result in a certain amount of disorder, but also in the discipline that the limits of the words’ etymologies import. These mental excursions are the wellspring of creativity, for indeed, it is one of the paradoxes of art that the structure, form, and convention liberate the artist. They are necessary to keep us evolving under changing conditions in our environment.

To give force of expression to our thoughts. We use a noun or word that is assigned to a specific object or action for another object or action.

He was inflamed with anger

She is burning with desire

These modes of expression have passed into common parlance as the collocates of certain nouns. Müller distinguishes these juxtapositions as radical metaphors—those that the vast majority have deemed befitting because there was no other way to express themselves. There are, however, those transferrances that lend themselves to spiritual concepts—“those abstruse significations that come not under the cognisance of our senses” (Locke).

Every word which is used to express a moral or intellectual fact, if traced to to its root is found to be borrowed from some material appearance. Right means straight; wrong means twisted. Spirit primarily means wind; transgression, the crossing of a line; supercilious, the raising of the eyebrow. We say the heart to express emotion, the head to denote thought; and thought and emotion are words borrowed from sensible things, and now appropriated to spiritual nature. Most of the process by which this transformation is made, is hidden from us in the remote time when language was framed; but the same tendency may be daily observed in children. Children use only nouns or names of things, which they convert into verbs, and apply to analogous mental acts. Emerson, Language.

It made sense to reuse our words for symbols for our intellectual phenomena, which kept the language compact and economical. Throughout the history of languages, and English in particular, there has been an all pervading shift from external to the inwardness of subjective experience. This was necessary in order for us to keep evolving under changing conditions and to apply analogous principles to new things.

Men naturally sought to abridge this labour of multiplying words in infinitude; and, in order to lay less burden on their memories, made one word, which they had already appropriated to a certain idea or object, stand also for some other idea or object, between which and the primary one they found, or fancied, some relation.

Hugh Blair, Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres

Metaphors form the mechanism by which we take apart and reassemble experiences using conceptual building blocks. Metaphors are deeply ingrained in our psyche and are directly related to how we think about established ideas. They are the spontaneous utterance of the human mind. Therein lies the difference between a Metaphor and a Simile—which is deliberate, elegant, and apropos the situation at hand; a product of the analytical facilities of the mind. With the metaphor, according to Cicero, we pass over what is common, to acquire what is new and foreign. Every metaphor is addressed to the senses, and especially the sight, which is the keenest of them all”(Cicero, de Orat, lib. iii.). The human mind descerns colours and shapes in ideas or notions and attempts to trace out a scheme of thoughts over matter. The process gratifies both the fancy and the understanding, as the imagination roams freely over the path trodden by the intellect, transcribing novel forms into the material realm. Metaphor is thus, Gertrude Buck says, the necessary stage through which speech must pass on its way to literalism.” Metaphors are entirely constructed from relations that subsist between nature and objects and human life, man’s innermost thoughts and feelings in particular. The sounds of nature were articulated as vocables, which were then moulded into the names of the objects that produced them. By analogy, these names would be applied to other objects which did not produce those sounds. Later, in a much advanced stage, these primitive vocables were passed on to emotions, feelings, and sentiments.

What is all language but metaphors recognized as such, or no longer recognized? still fluid and florid, or now solid grown and colourless? Non-metaphorical style you shall in vain search for; is not your very attention a stretching-to?Carlyle

According to Max Müller, in the early days of our history, names only existed for external objects and phenomena. Abstract, intellectual, or spiritual concepts did not enter the mind of early man. When such thoughts and feelings entered the consciousness of the individual, the name of the material object that suggested itself most strongly to the mind was adopted for the spiritual thing. Owen Barfield corroborates this fact in his study of the effect of the Reformation on our vocabulary

Thus religion itself, which had formerly been used only of external observances or of monastic orders, took on at about this time its modern, subjective meaning. Now it was that piety, differentiating itself from pity, began to acquire its present sense. Godly, godliness, and godless are first found in Tyndale’s Writings, and evangelical and sincere are words which have been noted by a modern writer as being new at this time and very popular among the Protestants. Owen Barfield

Thus through long habit with words that were derived from other languages or borrowed from tenuous resemblances, over many centuries and across many lands, we have ceased to recognise their provenience. The ambiguity is not a fault in the language. However, making abstractions under the guise of current figures of speech is unacceptable.

Language is metaphor, and language is also deeply hypnotismic. If you know someone’s metaphors, you know them. If you change your metaphors, you change who you are—instantly.

Not to ornament

Although according to Quintillan we use figures to represent the impressions of emotions: that a man is inflamed with anger, burning with desire, and has fallen into error. I contend that these emotions evoke those very same effects upon the body.

What figurative language revels about our perceptual structures”

Because, everyday expressions are instances of metaphor.

Though there are many figurative words or phrases which have passed into general use, each one of us tends to use certain metaphors as analogies for the deep inner connections we have made.

Gummere said, Psychology of Poetics: whenever we speak of abstract ideas, we unconsciously render them using concrete words. Deep thought” or cool determination”.

organ language” as a means of stacking realities. Organ language” refers to all of the words in our language which serve multiple duty as names of parts of our anatomy or physiological functions and as descriptions of other experiences.

…could not stomach…” Similarly, people have a lot of gall,” give thumbnail sketches,” get pissed off,” are heels,” gird their loins and arm themselves,” are nosey,” tongue tied,” and cheeky,” need elbow room,” give lip service,” and have heart.” Organ language is especially useful in telling metaphors designed to aid a client with a problem which manifests itself as some form of physiological disorder.


  1. Polio et al.