The Language of Metaphors

The Language of Metaphors

The Language of Metaphors

The Language of Metaphors


In this ambitious and wide-ranging textbook Andrew Goatly explores the language of metaphor. Combining insights from relevance theory and functional linguistics, he provides a powerful model for understanding how metaphors work in real communicative situations, how we use them to communicate meaning as well as how we process them. This book:* examines the distinction between literal and metaphorical language* surveys the means by which metaphors are realised in texts* locates the interpretation of metaphor in its social context* contains tasks and suggestions for further work.Enlivened by the variety and humour of its real examples, taken from a wide variety of genres; conversation, popular science, advertising, news reports, novels and poetry, this book will provide students of language, psychology and literature with an invaluable guide to understanding precisely how metaphors function.


Common-sense traditional teaching often presents metaphor as an anomaly, an unusual or deviant way of using language, a minority interest, or something you do in literature class. Taking a similar view, philosophers have often wanted metaphor strictly confined to literature, rhetoric and art, because of its supposed dangers to clear thinking. Locke, for example, denounced figurative language as follows:

But yet, if we would speak of things as they are, we must allow that… all the artificial and figurative application of words eloquence hath invented, are for nothing else but to insinuate wrong ideas, move the passions, and thereby mislead the judgment, and so indeed are perfect cheat.

(Essay concerning Human Understanding, Book 3, ch. 10, p. 105)

He is explicit about the desirability of metaphorless language, and implicitly assumes the possibility of a philosophical language without metaphor.

Over the last thirty years, however, philosophers, psychologists and linguists have begun to agree that metaphor is not something that can be easily confined, but is an indispensable basis of language and thought. The quote from Locke paradoxically provides evidence for this. Arguably “move”, “mislead” and “cheat” are being used metaphorically, “eloquence hath invented” is a case of personifying metaphor, “insinuate” depends upon a metaphor borrowed from Latin, where its literal meaning is ‘work its way in, penetrate’, and literally we “allow” actions rather than propositions.

If, as I believe, metaphor and the mental processes it entails, are basic to language and cognition, then a clearer understanding of its working is relevant, not just to literature students, but to any students. Flick through the index of any of your textbooks and you will find plenty of terms which are metaphorical when you stop to think about them. An economics text, taken at random off my shelves, provides in its index balance of trade,

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