Metaphors we live by (Part 2)

A few months previously, I wrote an article about the book Metaphors we live by By GEORGE LAKOFF and MARK JOHNSON, citing it as an excellent book about the pervasiveness of metaphors in our everyday language and a very good read in general. Metaphors are a wonderful way of framing our experience and re-framing our views of the world around us. We actually teach how to create and utilize metaphors because we know it will enrich your expressiveness when communicating with those around you.

Metaphoric speech is so pervasive, it seems to go by undetected. For example: Your words seem hollow. I couldn’t grasp your explanation. My mind just isn’t operating today. The seeds of his great ideas were planted in his youth. Life has cheated me. Her ideas have finally come to fruition. He had a raise but fell in status. Do you follow my argument?

Just how useful is it to use metaphors like this in everyday speech? Where else can they be used? Are they able to transcend culture and time? These questions are very subjective.

Normal Conversation

It is useful to use metaphors in everyday speech, as long as you are calibrating for whether you are making sense to your listener. If the metaphor or analogy isn’t making any sense or they are coming too fast or too oblique, then the listeners will be in a spin (another metaphor – confusion, as they spin through thoughts, looking for a valid reference to your metaphor). If they do go into some confusion, they may not be very attentive for a while as they try to find meaning and establish in their minds what is being said to them. (The spin or confusion we call Trans-Derivational Search in NLP)

Where to use Metaphors?

Training and presentations are a great place to use a well thought out and well tested metaphor. Therapists, trainers, presenters, managers, project stakeholders, company owners, sales people, communicators, writers, teachers, mentors, parents, team leaders all use and could use better metaphors. I do say well tested, especially when relating it to teaching to see how well it stands up with usage. Errors that can happen with a mixed metaphor (more than one meaning or ambiguity within the metaphor leads to an unfortunate misinterpretation).

There is a limit to the extent that a metaphor can be taken too, but if the similarities between the two objects or concepts can be focused on, then the metaphor will work. For example, if a human organ is analogous to a factory, then some parts of the description may work – products (produced by the organ to pass to another organ or system), waste (is produced to be processed by another organ), cleaning (may undergo cyclic flushing or resting), workers (within the organ may be present such as microbes, bacteria), but we should not expect that the ‘factory’ is square, has a car park for the workers and one for visitors with a pie and coffee van arriving every morning at 9. The richness of a metaphor in teaching is that the educator/trainer could ask questions like – Could we sell the factory? What would happen if the workers in this factory all went on strike or got the same illness? What if the cleaning or resting doesn’t get done? These great extensions of the metaphor could work very well for health workers who advise or train for instance.

Can they transcend culture and time?

Again, yes and no – it depends. They are sometimes the only way or most efficient way to communicate a concept, and sometimes the meaning is lost through cultural differences, the audience, and time periods…. For example, depending where you are reading this, you may have different reactions:

This may be normal for some people’s mothers, but absolutely off the wall for others’. Everyone knows Facebook?, This would be lost on those without the Internet, or some seniors.
You have to know the passion of a biker and have a concept of heaven, even if you don’t believe in a heaven. toufoula is a youth group dedicated to help improve the quality of life of young children suffering from cancer and blood diseases in Lebanon, so the metaphor is country specific and focussed.

“Every picture is worth a thousand words, but the right metaphor is worth a thousand pictures” – Daniel Pink, 2008

How to get trained in creating Metaphors?. See Language and Influence.

Can metaphors also create limited views?

Continue with Part 3…

Other metaphors to ponder

Continue with Part 4…


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