Metaphors and Persuasion

By Van Patten, Jonathan K. | South Dakota Law Review, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Metaphors and Persuasion

Van Patten, Jonathan K., South Dakota Law Review


Persuasion is not a completely rational process. Some would say that, in many instances, it is mostly non-rational. (1) This is why stories are so important in the process of persuasion. (2) Stories connect with the subconscious mind in ways that a strictly rational argument can never touch. (3) Stories speak directly to the listener's deeply embedded values; they resonate with and shape the listener's moral infrastructure. (4) Stories help to make sense of things in a way that invites the listener to affirm the truth of the story and its application to present circumstances. (5) In addition to stories, there is another, often more common and efficient way to reach the same level where decisions are made--metaphors. Metaphors are compact stories.

A good story usually takes some time to set up. The storyteller sets the scene, introduces the characters, directs the action from problem to resolution, and may comment on the meaning of the story. Metaphors (6) can make a point in a single phrase or sentence. In its compact version, it may take the listener by surprise. The point works swiftly, before the listener has a chance to set up defenses. An effective metaphor's humor and insight has a way of getting past the normal resistance of a listener. Brevity, humor, creativity, and insight provide great camouflage for the true nature of metaphor, which is argument. A skillfully delivered metaphor does not feel like argument. It is like the soft-sell. It reaches down to the subconscious without seeming to lecture or demand.

In his book, The Culture Code, Clotaire Rapaille discusses the process of tapping into the subconscious mind by focusing on cultural imprints or meanings associated with products or relationships. (7) These meanings are not found in what people say, at least not initially. (8) They are found through exploring impressions, expressed after a substantial time spent in digging through memories stretching back to early childhood. (9) In other words, it takes time to break through the rational level to reach the emotional level to discover what people really value. From this process, Rapaille formulates "culture codes" that provide access to these fundamental imprints. (10) In somewhat the same way, metaphors provide access to these imprints, meanings, and values.

Metaphors are an important part of the language of popular discourse. They are used in almost every context. Whether in politics 4(e.g., Inaugural Addresses (11)), advertisements, (12) preaching, (13) or sports talk, (14) metaphors are commonly used to express ideas in terms of common values. Metaphors are effective because they speak to a common level of understanding. They utilize material from everyday life and invite the listener to participate in a non-threatening manner, i.e., internally and privately. Compare, for example, the use of metaphor, which invites silent agreement in the mind of the listener, with the more public and demonstrative use of: "How many of you would agree with the statement that there are too many lawsuits these days? Raise your hands, please." The latter part, a staple of voir dire, seems, to this reserved Dutch person, as overly intrusive or invasive, thereby generating discomfort and possible resistance, whereas the former allows for agreement without bullying or group pressure. (15)

Metaphors can also take the extended form of a story, such as a parable or allegory. Because there is a greater length of time required to complete the story, it is important to start strong in order to bring the listener in. The use of humor, a point of interest, or a story within a story may serve this purpose. The storyteller should not abuse the position as speaker and assume agreement, even when "preaching to the choir." (16) Members of a "captive audience" can generate resistance to the speaker's message on that fact alone. Extended metaphors can be powerful because they build along the way as each reference point, often a metaphor itself, solicits agreement that will lead to the ultimate conclusion.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

Metaphors and Persuasion


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.