A War of Words in the Discourse of Trade: The Rhetorical Constitution of Metaphor

A War of Words in the Discourse of Trade: The Rhetorical Constitution of Metaphor

A War of Words in the Discourse of Trade: The Rhetorical Constitution of Metaphor

A War of Words in the Discourse of Trade: The Rhetorical Constitution of Metaphor


This study by Phillip Eubanks challenges traditional accounts of metaphor and significantly expands theories of "conceptual" metaphor by examining Trade Is War metaphor as it occurs in concrete discourse.

Although scholarly interest in metaphor as an aesthetic, linguistic, and cognitive phenomenon has long endured, Eubanks is among the first to consider metaphor in its sociohistorical role. Questioning major accounts of metaphor from Aristotle to the present, Eubanks argues that metaphor is not just influenced by but actually is constituted by its concrete operation.

Far-reaching in its implications for our understanding of metaphor, Eubanks's premise enables us to see metaphor as a sweeping rhetorical entity even as it accounts for the more localized operations of metaphor of interest to linguists, philosophers of language, and cognitive scientists. Providing a new model of metaphoric functioning, Eubanks reconsiders the most promising account of metaphor to date, the notion of "conceptual metaphor."

Eubanks focuses on the conceptual metaphor Trade Is War- a metaphor found wherever people discuss business and commerce- to develop his rhetorical model of metaphor. He analyzes Trade Is War as it occurs in the print news media, on television discussion shows, in academic works, in popular nonfiction and novels, in historic economic commentary, and in focus group talk. While these examples do reveal a rich variety in the make-up of Trade Is War, much more than mere variety is at stake.

Trade Is War is implicated in an extended and rhetorically complex conversation with other metaphors and literal concepts: trade is peace, Trade Is a Game, Trade Is Friendship, Trade is a Journey, and Markets Are Containers. The recognition and analysis of this constituting conversation furthers a reevaluation theory. What also emerges, however, is a valuable portrait of the discourse of trade itself, a discourse that depends importantly upon a responsive interchange of metaphors.


Metaphor has been studied for a long time and from many perspectives. But it is only in the last two decades that many of us have ceased to think of metaphor as mainly fanciful decoration that adorns literary texts and high-flown rhetorical speeches. Before that, even the most enlightened commentators routinely treated metaphor as special language. in contrast, most important theorists today have come to think of metaphor as fundamental to thought.

The best of the cognitive theories of metaphor is “conceptual metaphor theory, ” first outlined by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson in Metaphors We Live By. Since then, the importance of conceptual metaphor theory has been well established by subsequent work from Lakoff, Johnson, Mark Turner, and a growing number of researchers in linguistics, philosophy, and literary study. As Lakoff and Johnson observe in their recent book, Philosophy in the Flesh, converging evidence from numerous perspectives makes it difficult to deny that conceptual metaphors are real and can explain a good deal about the way we think and speak.

To summarize briefly, conceptual metaphor theory asserts these key things: First, most metaphors are instances of larger cognitive structures called conceptual metaphors. For example, if we say that our love relationship has hit a roadblock or that our marriage has been smooth sailing, we cannot say so without recruiting the overarching metaphor Love Is a Journey. Love Is a Journey structures specific locutions by providing them with a constraining image schema that includes a starting place, a path, and an ending place. Love Is a Journey also encompasses many aspects of journeying that can be applied to love, such as the possibility of impediments, the hope for adventure, and the possibility of psychological or spiritual change in the course of travel. Second, once we observe that specific metaphors are supported and constrained by conceptual metaphors, we are forced to observe that everyday and literary metaphors work in much the same way. From a structural perspective, there is little difference between someone's speaking mundanely of the road to ruin and Robert Frost's speaking poetically of the road less traveled; both are instances of Life Is a Journey. Third, conceptual metaphors have cultural consequences. More specifically, conceptual metaphors do not just viv-

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