People have known about metaphor for millennia. Until recently,
metaphor was seen as a linguistic device in which you call one thing by the name of another thing that it’s similar to.
But in their 1980 book Metaphors We Live By, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson proposed a new explanation… if metaphor is only based on similarity, then you should be able to metaphorically describe anything in terms of anything else that it resembles. But Lakoff and Johnson observed that metaphor wasn’t used haphazardly, but rather, systematically and coherently.
You don’t metaphorically describe any thing as anything else.
Metaphor is unidirectional, from concrete to abstract.
Morality is more abstract than cleanliness. And you can’t reverse a metaphor. “He’s clean” means he has no criminal record, but “He’s moral” wouldn’t be used to mean that “he bathed recently”.
Metaphorical expressions are coherent with one another. Consider understanding and seeing. All metaphorical expressions coherently cast aspects of understanding in terms of specific aspects of seeing. You always describe the… understood idea as the seen object, the act of understanding as seeing, the understandability of the idea as the visibility of the object… the aspects of seeing you use to talk about aspects of understanding consistently map to each other.
This led Lakoff and Johnson to propose that metaphor was deeper than just the words… the reason metaphorical language exists and the reason why it’s systematic and coherent is that people think metaphorically. You don’t just talk about understanding as seeing; you think about understanding as seeing…
You talk metaphorically because you think metaphorically!
Yes. That’s how I learn new concepts. Metaphor is also my mnemonic for later recall.
But I’ve been reading, quite often lately, that my cognitive (epistemological?) process is seriously flawed. Reductive. Simple-minded. How nice to see that in 1980 it was okay to do what I do! I hope it hasn’t been disproved, not reproducible now!
If so, if I am denied my metaphors, I may be be forced to resort to similes. Did Lakoff and Johnson have anything to say about similes, I wonder…
Reductive? As used by Madonna recently, to describe Lady Gaga’s musical originality, or lack thereof? No, not exactly. If I were Madonna, I would have chosen to say derivative instead of reductive.
Honestly, I don’t know what I would have said! It wasn’t a fun question. I like many songs by Lady Gaga and by Madonna. But the Lady Gaga song-in-question does seem quite similar to Madonna’s song of 15+ years earlier. It is awkward, because Madonna probably doesn’t want to play the copyright game, nor be called out for making accusations in a live interview. Yet she doesn’t want to feel forced to lie, and compromise herself, not at this point in her life.
Reductive may be the superior word choice after all! It avoids the legal connotations of derivative, which is a good thing! Yet it allows Madonna to make her point.
I don’t think this has anything to do with cognition, metaphor nor Lakoff and Johnson. Maybe I have a slight anti-SOPA hangover…. Yesterday was intense!