What are metaphors? What are some examples

Recognize metaphors and see through their thought-guiding effect


The word "metaphor" has its origins in Greek and literally means "transfer" or "transport". In the metaphor, an expression is transferred from the area in which it is usually used to another. For example Traffic island will the island Transferred from the meaningful area of ​​water landscape to the meaningful area of ​​transport structures. One therefore speaks of an “image donor”, ​​the area of ​​origin of the metaphor, and the “image recipient” or target area. Strictly speaking, metaphors express something absurd, because traffic islands are not real islands (cf. Strub 1991). However, there is a difference between the literal use of the expression (the real island) and the metaphorical use (the traffic island) Similarities (analogies). Both islands are closed off from the outside and are protected from water and trafficflow washed around.

Dead metaphors

Some metaphors have lost their transference character due to their frequent use and are no longer understood as metaphors but as direct expressions. Examples: Table leg, auricle, Spine. Such dead metaphors can also be found in abundance in the language of landscape: Arm of the river, Headland, Mountain ridge, Estuary, Lake district, City center, Townscape, Settlement area, Business location, close to nature, ecological cycle, Food and transport network. Hardly anyone thinks of a transference when these words are used, for example when expressing themselves Arm of the river to a comparison with a human arm. But such dead metaphors can get through reflection "revived" as metaphors, made conscious as transference. This is how the term derives from surface (e.g. Settlement area) from the geometry that power (e.g. Landscape performance) from economics etc. Metaphors are only really dead when their areas of origin are no longer recognizable and have to be reconstructed in terms of linguistic history. So became the word head originally used as a name for a curved bowl, similar to the English. word cup, which today still refers to a drinking cup.

Metaphor or direct expression?

Whether a word is a metaphor or a direct, literal expression cannot be clearly determined in the same way as the question of a noun or an adjective. An expression is only a metaphor if it is understood as a transference in its context of use. The metaphor therefore presupposes the awareness of an ambiguity. An example: The Swiss Post advertising slogan “Parcels always arrive well” can on the one hand be understood literally: parcels are delivered reliably. When placed in the context of human relationships, the expression “arrive safely” also takes on a metaphorical meaning: parcels are fun. The ambiguity is what makes the slogan so charming. Also a word like Acreage can be understood both as a metaphor and as a direct expression. who the surface understands it as a transfer from geometry, understands the expression Acreage metaphorically.[1] The digital dictionary of the German language shows the word since the first decade of the 20th century (www.DWDS, 16.3.16). In a context of use, for example in planning or research, words such as Recreation area, Agricultural land, Settlement area hardly understood as living metaphors. Wherever they are needed on a daily basis, they are usually just as “dead” as the tableleg, the bottlesneck or the riverpoor. This "overlook" of the metaphors may be due to the fact that they have become established in the scientific linguistic communities and are perceived as direct terms. Interest in the geometrical quantification of the landscape in research and planning may also strengthen the impression that the named landscape is synonymous with a surface is. How to recognize dead metaphors and what value the awareness of dead metaphors has, we deal with in section 2.

Metaphors fill vocabulary gaps and shed new light on what is known

Why are there metaphors at all? Metaphors are often found where a literal expression is missing (so-called. Catachresen). Examples are technical innovations for which a name is missing: Imageumbrella, Computermouse, Windparks or the slidestunnel agriculture (see Figure 1).

Metaphors can also shed new light on what is already known. Words like agrarianroom and recreationalsurface show a landscape that was previously about as Fields or Meadow was known in a new light and reinterpreted it. Such a metaphorical word creation is e.g. Landscape servicethat the landscape a Serve and a Afford subordinated. The examples show: metaphors also work as Means of knowledge. They help us to grasp new phenomena in language or to reorient already known ones. Specialization: Metaphors as bridges between everyday and specialist knowledge

Types of metaphors

Metaphors occur in different linguistic form on. Here are some of them:

  1. as a noun (genitive metaphor / noun metaphor or composition metaphor)

    the Comb of the mountain, on Foot of the mountain that shoulder of the mountain. Variation of this type: Mountain ridge, Headland, Recreation area. A literal part of the word is combined with a metaphorical part, from which an overall metaphorical meaning arises. country = literal reference to landscape, tongue = Body part metaphorically related to landscape.

  2. as a verb (verb metaphor)

    country knock down, Forest manage, Veal to produce. A metaphorical verb is related to a literal noun.

  3. as an adjective (attributive metaphor)

    cut up Landscape, scarred Landscape, unproductive Fields. An adjective from a meaning alien to the landscape is used to metaphorically describe the landscape. to cut → scissors, knives; pitted → wound healing; unproductive → economy

  4. as equation (predication metaphor)

    This meadow is the capital of the community. Equation by the verb be. Other forms of this type: the mark Switzerland, the business location Basel, the resource Landscape, the agglomeration as Bacon belt, a riverside landscape as capital. A variant of the compositional metaphor (No. 1): A noun is equated with a noun that comes from another area of ​​meaning according to the pattern x = y. More precisely, an equation that leaves out the verb "to be". I.e. Switzerland (is) a brand.

How metaphors shape our thinking

Metaphors can not only show the familiar in a new light, they basically put the language user on cognitive glasses. This is the example of Traffic island illustrated: an expression that we hardly perceive as a living metaphor. By transferring the island The perception of the object in the target area is put into perspective in a certain way from its area of ​​origin, nature, to the meaning area of ​​traffic structures. We perceive the building in the middle of the street through the island glasses, as if it would be an island. If we do this consciously, we need the word Traffic island in the sense of a comparison: the building in the middle of the street is how an island.[2] Anyone who expresses something metaphorically indicates that what they are saying is only so to say thinks so. He expresses what has been said with reservation as provisional and makeshift. The metaphor opens up a view of the world and at the same time makes one aware of the act of naming as a choice, as a tentative linguistic approach to what is meant. This is at least the case with living metaphors. The metaphor thus expresses the epistemological problem on which the relationship between language and knowledge is based, “namely that every description and every knowledge is a perspective construction, a“ seeing as ”(Debatin 1996, p. 85). This filter principle of the metaphor (we see one in the light of the other) is the reason why metaphor reflection can be particularly productive for the awareness of linguistic perspectives (Black 1996, 70).

But the metaphor is not a comparison. She doesn't say the structure is how an island, but rather equates the building with an island: the metaphor claims the building be an island, and one at that Traffic island. This equation sets a perception filtering in our thinking. We see the road structure filtered through the lens of the island. In this way, the features of the structure that resemble a natural island are emphasized, while those that differ from a real island are faded out and covered. This filter effect of the metaphor is easily overlooked because we understand the metaphor precisely thanks to the similarities (analogies) between the image donor and the image recipient. This filter effect, however, leads to a blind spot in our perception. It hides the dissimilarities (disanalogies) that exist between the image donor and recipient. In our example, one of them is that the Traffic island unnatural, created by humans and "washed around" by traffic and not by water. It is also only a place of passage, not a place of residence. In this way, the metaphor organizes our perception and develops a subtle control of perception. We call this theirs knowledge and thought-guiding effect (Figure 2).

Word fields and metaphor networks

Among the numerous theories of metaphor (Rolf 2005), the cognitive metaphor theory the Americans George Lakoff and Mark Johnson out. It offers particularly rich insights into how metaphors guide thoughts (Lakoff / Johnson 1980). The theory can be explained by the mode of action of the following cartoon (Figure 3). It shows a traffic island with a deck chair, a parasol and a palm tree, a combination of features that we can easily understand as an allusion to the cliché notions of a vacation island.

The example shows that metaphors are a rich repertoire of background knowledge activate and stimulate us to subconsciously transfer entire bodies of knowledge from one area of ​​meaning to the other. Lakoff and Johnson now claim that metaphorical idioms are replaced by so-called conceptual metaphors being controlled. Conceptual metaphors are located on a higher level of abstraction than the individual linguistic metaphors and are often not expressly expressed in words. That is why we are usually not aware of them. To recognize them, we start from the recognizable metaphorical idioms that are used in language about a state of affairs. So we say something like: the traffic flows, the traffic slows down, swells, rustles, to rage etc. Or we jam the traffic, conduct him around or lead him through tunnelsto roar. If we survey these metaphorical ways of speaking about traffic, we find that they systematically go back to ways of speaking about water. Lakoff and Johnson explain this fact that the conceptual metaphor TRAFFIC IS A RIVER is at work in the background of our thinking. It encompasses all of these individual metaphors and forms their common denominator. The conceptual metaphor also makes the image of the traffic island plausible: The building in the middle of the street is therefore called island interpreted because it is dated Traffic flow Is “washed around” and offers pedestrians safety. The traffic island thus resembles a real island in some features.

The conceptual metaphor TRAFFIC IS A RIVER leads us to fall back on our entire experience of water in our understanding of traffic. For example, we notice that water is off drops is that water jammed and diverted can be through Tubes flows and of course that in bodies of water too Islands occurrence.

Lakoff and Johnson claim that conceptual metaphors guide our understanding of a phenomenon. We understand an expression like Drop counter on the Gotthard because the conceptual metaphor TRAFFIC IS A RIVER works in the background of our thinking. Single metaphors like Dropper, Stream, Jamming, Redirect etc. form a network-like context that refers to a higher-level conceptual metaphor. This forms a kind of roof, which takes up the individual metaphors and makes new creations from the same pictorial area understandable for us.

In the column on the left, Table 1 lists ways of speaking about water which, in a metaphorical sense, can also be used as statements about traffic. Metaphorical expressions such as trafficveins and traffic falters indicate a sub-category of the river. They show that traffic is also considered Blood circulation is characterized.

Discourse linguistics has further developed Lakoff's and Johnson's theory and with the so-called Frames connected (Ziem 2008, 378ff). Frames are networks of empirical knowledge that we combine with concepts. An example: We hear an expression like WATER and realize that we can quickly and easily call up certain units of knowledge that are stored in our long-term memory. Such a water frame, for example, forms the knowledge that water flows, flows, jams, Forms waves, Can enclose islands, consists of drops etc. Conceptual metaphors can also be understood as frames that transfer entire stocks of knowledge from the area of ​​origin to the target area and create new ways of thinking there. A sentence like The traffic seeps into the neighborhood streets is understandable, for example, because it contains traffic metaphorically in the frame flow represents.

Conceptual metaphors and frames teach us that metaphorical idioms rarely come alone. They usually appear bundled and cover entire areas of meaning like networks. Two further examples by Lakoff and Johnson can illustrate this connection of metaphorical idioms. So we say z. B. about a love affair:

  • We have come a long way together
  • we have a bumpy road behind us,
  • our relationship is at a dead end
  • we stand at a fork in the road,
  • we still have a long way to go
  • look how far we've come

→ conceptual metaphor: LOVE IS A JOURNEY (Lakoff / Johnson 1980, 115), or in other words: the frame travel being transferred.

For example, when talking about a theory, we say:

  • She stands on solid foundations
  • The theory needs support
  • the theory will collapse
  • the theory is shaken,
  • the theory can easily be shaken.
→ conceptual metaphor: THEORY IS A BUILDING (Lakoff / Johnson 1980, 46), or in other words: the frame building being transferred.