We think in conceptual metaphors

In the book The Metaphors to Live By, the authors observe that we think and write and communicate in conceptual metaphors. Here are a few examples:

  • Conscious is up, unconscious is down: Get up. She rises early in the morning. He fell asleep. He's under hypnosis. He sank into a coma.
  • Good is up, bad is down: We hit a peak last year, but it's been downhill ever since. Things are at an all-time low. He does high-quality work.
  • Argument is a building: That is the foundation of our theory. The theory needs more support. The argument is shaky, it falls apart. We need to construct a strong argument.
  • Argument is a battle: Your claims are indefensible. He attacked every weak point. His criticisms were on target. We need to aim for concision. They have a strategy.
  • Argument is a container: Your argument doesn't have much content. That argument has holes in it. His objections have less substance. Your arguments are empty.
  • Argument is a journey: We have set out to prove that. So far, we've seen that theories will not work. We will proceed in a step-by-step fashion. We have arrived at a conclusion. We are at a crossroad.
  • A problem is a body of water: He dived into the problem. He immersed himself in the problem. The problem is murky. Finally the answer surfaced.
  • A problem is a region in a landscape: We've got to explore this problem. Let's map out the problem before doing anything else. We're heading in the right direction. The solution lies far ahead.
  • Ideas are food: That's food for thought. We don't need to spoon-feed our students. This is the meaty part of the paper. There are too many facts to digest.
  • Ideas are cutting instruments: That's an incisive idea. That cuts right to the heart of the matter. He's sharp. He has a razor wit.
  • Ideas are plants: The seeds of his ideas were planted in his youth. She has a fertile imagination. Mathematics has many branches. Here's an idea I'd like to plant in your mind.

It turns out there are catalogs of conceptual metaphors. We use them all the time. For example, also in the man pages.

Would you like to connect? Subscribe via email or RSS , or follow me on Twitter!