In this Issue
Letters to the Editor
Write to Us
Spread the Word
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
If you develop the habit of thinking about language in this way, you will be able to learn and remember new vocabulary more effectively.
In the next issue you can find out more about different
types of metaphor.