Lakoff & Johnson, Metaphors We Live By

          HMXP 102

          Thanks to Dr. Matt Fike for this material

The Authors

          Lakoff and Johnson are cognitive linguists.

          They study the relationship between thought, language, and action (as in the piece that you read for today).

          A key question for them is the following:  How do language and thought influence each other?

          Example:    (Different concepts/actions re: “new home features”)

Definition of “Metaphor”

          What is L&J’s definition of “metaphor”?

        See page 8.

        What do they mean by “metaphorical concept”?

        See page 9.

L&J’s Definitions

          Metaphor:  See Human Experience 8:  "The essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another."

          Metaphor:  "An analogy identifying one object with another and ascribing to the first object one or more of the qualities of the second" (Harmon and Holman, A Handbook to Literature).  A comparison between two things without the use of "like" or "as."

          A metaphorical concept is a sentence like “Argument is war.”  It is a complete thought, rather than a mere image.  L&J prefer the term metaphorical concept because metaphor is part of our conceptual system; metaphor is not just an image but also a complete thought; and as such, metaphor has an impact on action, for action arises from thought.

Review of Plato

          What is Plato’s main metaphor?

          What sub-metaphors does he use?


          What is Plato’s main metaphor?

        Education is (like) leaving a cave where appearances are distorted.

          What submetaphors does he use?

        Dragging someone up to the light

        Turning around

        Upward journey


        Light and darkness

L&J on the First Iraq War

Important points from "Metaphor and War:  The Metaphor System Used to Justify War in the Gulf" (Part 1):

          Secretary of State Baker: S. Hussein “sitting on our economic lifeline.”

          The occupation of Kuwait = a "rape," a "kidnap"

          War = crime:  "murder, assault, kidnapping, arson, rape, and theft"

          War = a competitive game (chess) or a sport (football, boxing); emphasis on "strategic thinking"

          "War is politics pursued by other means."

          War = a fight between two people

          War = a fairy tale:  villain (Saddam), victim (Kuwait, US), hero (US), magic (weapons)

          War = medicine ("surgical strikes")

          Politics = business

          The state = a person

          Well-being = wealth

          Strength for a state = military capability

          Maturity for a state = industrialization

          Goal of the war = to "push Iraq back out of Kuwait," to "deal the enemy a heavy blow" or a "knockout punch"

          Risks = gambles


          What is L&J’s main point in our text?  See if you can pinpoint it. 

          L&J’s Main Point

          See Human Experience 2:  "Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature. … Our concepts structure what we perceive, how we get around in the world, and how we relate to other people.  Our conceptual system thus plays a central role in defining our everyday realities.”

Outline of the Text

          First section:

        Main idea (previous slide)

        Example:  “ARGUMENT IS WAR” vs. argument is a dance (8).

          Second section:

        Main ideas:  “there are often many metaphors that partially structure a single concept”; metaphors overlap (9)


An Example of How This Works

          Get into groups and explore metaphors that are used to discuss the presidential primaries and caucuses.

          Complete the following sentence as many times as you can:

            (Argument is war.)

Politics is______________.

          Politics is…

          A contest

          A race

          A journey

          A boxing match


          A horse race

          A gauntlet

          A ritual

          A plane ride

          A fireworks show

          A physics experiment

          A roller-coaster ride

          A revolution

          A structure

          A geological event

          A sailboat race

Next Step

          Take one of these metaphors and identify submetaphors.


        Politics is a boxing match.

        One candidate scores a knock-out punch.

Why Is This Important?

          Why is it important to realize that when we describe something, we do so in terms of something else?

          Complete the following sentence:

            It is important to understand the role of metaphor in human communication because ______________.



L&J’s Answer

          Pages 8-9:  "We talk about arguments that way because we conceive of them that way—and we act according to the way we conceive of things” (my emphasis). 

          How would you act differently if you conceived of arguments as a dance?

          What does this statement mean to you?

Expanding L&J’s Point

          Thought à language à action à habit à character à destiny. 

          Be careful of your thoughts because they can manifest in language and in action!  Thoughts can shape your reality!

In Other Words

          Saying that “thoughts are things” means that thought energy can influence the world around us.

          These three words may be the most important lesson of the entire semester.  As you think, so will you also be.

          In other words, your “self” is a product of your thoughts.

Lakoff’s Embodied Mind Thesis

          If thought is metaphorical, then truth is not a direct reflection of reality. Truth is not an artifact (something fixed for all time); it is a construct.  (Who constructs it?)

          We make our own reality by thinking in certain ways:  "Our concepts structure what we perceive, how we get around in the world, and how we relate to other people.  Our conceptual system thus plays a central role in defining our everyday realities." 

          We understand abstractions in terms of our own bodies as well as objects and events in the physical world.

          So truth results from a relationship between the perceiving mind and the perceived object or idea.


          If you take the ideas on the previous slide to their logical extreme, what point emerges?




          There is no Truth, only perspective.  This is the position called “relativism.”  Everything is relative to something else (in this case, the perceiving mind).

          As in our discussion of Plato, what is Truth (an absolute, an artifact waiting to be discovered), and what is truth (a perspective, something relative)?  What is the difference between truth-as-artifact and truth-as-construct?

          The truth of everything you have believed to be true your entire life—including the Bible—is now open for doing exactly what Plato says:  namely, turning around and getting a clearer perspective. 

Truth vs. truth

          Can you think of any Truths on which we can all agree?

          What if there is nothing that occupies in our lives the same position as the Forms/Ideas in Plato?

          What if there is no such thing as truth-as-artifact?

What Does This Mean to You?

Activity: Zen Demonstration

      Student:  Great teacher, I have come to learn from you.

      Teacher:  (Sizing up pupil)  I see.  Welcome, please come in.

     Student sits down.  Master prepares tea.

     Teacher:  Would you care for some tea?

     Student:  Yes I would, Master

     Master pours tea slowly, until cup is overflowing.  Student in shock.

    Student:  Master, my cup is overflowing.

    Master:  Then how am I to teach you?


            Spend 5 minutes writing about the significance of this little story for you.  Do you see connections to types of education that Plato identifies? 

          What is YOUR metaphor for education?

            Source:  The HMXP website

The Point and the Moral

          The Point:  If you think you already know the Truth, how can you learn anything from this course?

          What metaphor does the Zen Demonstration employ?

        Container metaphor.

         Not “The ‘Banking’ Concept of Education” (Paulo Freire):  your education is not about the deposits of information that professors make for the purpose of coercion or control.

        You are not receptacles; you are cocreators:  this is a metaphorical concept that arises from the notion that action arises from thought and from language.

          The Moral:  It is important to keep an open mind as regards the ideas in our book and the kind of writing that the course requires.


          What kind of metaphors do professors and students use to describe paper grading?

          Note the Difference


        “Nuke ’em all, let God sort ’em out.”

        “Your writing is the disease.  I’m the cure.”

        “He blew me out of the water.”

        “He bled all over my paper.”

        “He trashed my paper.”

        “He butchered my paper.”

Professor as Rambo


        “Yeah, I’ll be hard on you, but think of it this way:  each paper is a hurdle that prepares you to clear the high bar (future work and final exam) at the end of the semester.”

        “May I lend you a helping hand?  Give you a boost?”

                        Professor as coach and 


The Implications

          Remember:  thoughts à language à action à habit à character à destiny. 

          So the kind of experience we have relates directly to how we think.

          Here is the problem:  Seeing the same thing from different perspectives often causes conflict.

          Can you think of any examples?

Example:  Terrorism

          Terrorists believe that jihad, holy war against the infidel (the United States), is justifiable. 

          Their metaphors: Terrorists are holy warriors, heroes, and martyrs.

          Americans generally believe that a religiously motivated war is wrong.

          Our metaphor:  Terrorists are ___________ (fill in the blank).


          How can nations and peoples get along if one person’s hero is another person’s criminal?

          “Something that appears evil to one nation may be regarded as good by another nation” (C.G. Jung, CW 10, 862/457).

Another Example

          What metaphors do men and women use to describe dating and relationships?

          See next slide.

Dating and Relationships
(Complete this chart.)




Question about Couples

          Could it be that couples do not get along because they have different metaphors for their shared experience?

Further Exploration

          You can write a paper about a metaphorical pattern in your own life.

          Example from a previous student’s paper:  “My family is a house.”  Or this:  Matt Groening, Work Is Hell.  Or THIS:  “Dating is a game.”

          But be sure to EVALUATE your pattern and ask yourself whether you benefit from it or not.