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Language Interference
Romanian and English –
a mediated partnership

Focus on Language Study:
UK version ¦ US version

New word of the month
New phrasal verbs

Corpora tips
The Web as corpus:
using media sites to present
new or unfamiliar words



by Elizabeth Potter

• Metaphor
• Metaphors about the body
• Metaphors about the weather
• Activity
• Metaphors and the creation of new meanings
• How awareness of metaphor can help your language learning
• Next in the series

You may think that metaphor is only used in poetry and creative writing, but this is not the case. Many words in English have more than one meaning, and these other meanings are often connected to the main meaning in metaphorical ways. Most of the words that we use for describing familiar objects and familiar experiences also have metaphorical meanings. Groups of metaphors come from many different areas of human life.


Metaphors about the body

Some of the first words that you learn in English are for the parts of the body: hand, head, eye, and so on. But these words will sometimes be used in ways that don't fit the meanings that you know:

Could you give Jill a hand with these boxes?
It's very important for us all to put our heads together.
Can you keep an eye on things here until I get back?

If you know only the basic meanings of these words, you will find these sentences strange. Does the first speaker want someone to cut off their hand and give it to Jill, together with the boxes? Does the second speaker want to put their head next to other people's heads? Of course not. The first speaker is asking for help. The second speaker is suggesting that everyone should work together in order to solve a problem. In these sentences, the body parts are being used in ways that are not literal but metaphorical.

Although the sentences above do not refer literally to body parts, their meanings are influenced by the literal meanings. We use our hands to help people, so to help someone is to give them a hand. Our brains are inside our heads, so the head is associated with people thinking. We look at things with our eyes, so if we keep an eye on something, we watch it carefully to make sure that it is being done correctly.


Metaphors about the weather

Most people like sunny weather so, as you might guess, a sunny smile or a sunny nature or personality are good, positive things.

Storms are powerful and impossible to control, so a storm of protest or criticism is difficult to deal with.

Warm weather is pleasant and comfortable, and a warm person is kind and friendly in a way that makes other people feel comfortable.

Cold weather, on the other hand, is often less pleasant, and a cold person is unfriendly and makes us feel uncomfortable.


Have a look in the Macmillan Essential Dictionary at the literal and metaphorical meanings of the following words, and try to find the connections between them:

cool, icy, heated, hot
hail, flood, torrent
to rain, to thunder

Try to think of some more English words connected with temperature and the weather that have metaphorical meanings.



There are many metaphors relating to animals in English. Try to find the metaphorical meanings associated with common animals such as pigs, dogs, moles, and sheep.

Are animal metaphors the same in your language as they are in English? Think of some in your own language, and compare them.


Metaphors and the creation of new meanings

When new words are needed in order to describe things that did not exist before, they are often created by means of metaphor. With the growth of computer technology, we need words to describe many new objects and activities – and most of these new words have been produced metaphorically:

When you want to spend some time surfing the Net, you get connected and start to browse. You notice a website that looks interesting, and use your mouse to click on the link that takes you to the website. The site's home page may have a menu with links to different areas of the site. Having visited the site, you like it so much that you will want to return, so you bookmark it.

The first thing I do when I switch on my computer is to check my mailbox for any new emails. I get about 20 a day but try to keep my inbox as tidy as possible by filing them in a number of different folders.

If you look in a dictionary that is over 10 years old, you will find most of the bold words above. But you will not find the meanings that are used here.

Although a website is not a physical place, we can visit it as we would visit a friend or a place of interest. Similarly, a mailbox can now mean the part of a computer's memory where email is stored. Thinking of it as the physical place where letters written on paper are delivered helps us to understand the technology.


The metaphors that are used in computer language come from many different areas of life. Which areas do the following terms come from?

virus, window, exit, memory, icon


Many computer metaphors come from the language we use to talk about books, the office, and the traditional postal system. Look at the words highlighted in the text above and try to decide whether they fit into any of these categories.



How awareness of metaphor can help your language learning

We use metaphors almost every time we write or speak, often without realizing it. Becoming aware of how language works – a process known as 'language awareness' – is an essential part of successful language learning.

Here are two ways in which awareness of metaphor can help you to increase your understanding of how English works:

When you read a piece of English, notice the metaphors, and think about the ways in which metaphorical meanings are connected with literal meanings.
Try to relate new words and expressions that you come across in your reading to the words you already know. Thinking about the connections between familiar items of vocabulary and new, unfamiliar ones will help you to remember the new meanings you have learned.

If you develop the habit of thinking about language in this way, you will be able to learn and remember new vocabulary more effectively.


Next in the series

In the next issue you can find out more about different types of metaphor.