Dec 282009

Learning to speak ‘merican is like trying to: catch the rain, nail jello to the wall, shoot pool with a rope, fold the New York Times in a high wind, leave New Orleans when a hurricane is coming, change the course of the Niagara Falls with a bucket…

However, one of the fun things about learning to speak ’merican is the metaphors. Here’s a lovely video in which James Geary points out that Elvis Presley was a master, along with some more serious stuff like:

Whenever we give a name that belongs to something else, we give it a whole network of analogies too, and these analogies influence the decisions we make.

 Posted by at 6:02 pm

  14 Responses to “Metaphor shakes things up”

  1. Six metaphors a minute?? Where do they get these stats from??

    Loved these three and will try to slip them into conversation soon:

    “nail jello to the wall, shoot pool with a rope, fold the New York Times in a high wind”

  2. Alex… all language is metaphor, not just the fun little idioms. Every word and sentence is an attempt to make a thought into something concrete, in an attempt to pass it across the ether. Six per minute is a conservative estimate, I should say.

  3. OK, six metaphors a minute – who can communicate that fast? I’m with Alex. At the risk of getting pedantic, I’d like to know how and in what context someone collected those stats? And exactly how were they tallied up? Call me Ms Picky, but too many stats that are tosh get floated about. Eg.
    But that said, Darren, you’ve given me pause for thought. What if it’s not every word and sentence he was totting up, but every hesitation… or nuance in the intonation? Damn, I can see that’s a possibility. OMG. Could it happen that fast? And that phrase ‘We cannot ignore the metaphorical meanings of words.’ keeps running though my mind.

  4. I actually tweeted this video a few days ago, after a friend passed it on to me. It is fun, but you are right to call a cautious BS on the stats – plenty of that about as you say.

    But we cannot ignore the metaphorical meaning of words, because that is all they have! Until ideas can be communicated directly by telepathy, we all communicate by code / metaphor of our language (s).

  5. Metaphor is so powerful – all those analogies words strike. I have a feeling it happens faster over here and sense there’s a greater imperative to keep up, but perhaps I’d feel much the same positioned on the other side of the pond.

  6. Oh Darren, now you’ve got me wondering: maybe metaphors are more powerful over here. But why would that be?

  7. Because they aren’t the ones you’ve grown up with? I was watching a kids show here this morning, with the presenters acting out some Japanese idioms. Surprise can be expressed as cold water dripping in your ear as you sleep, or as the face pulled by a pigeon shot with a bean. Colourful, delightful, but only strange in comparison to our own vernacular because of their unfamiliarity.

    Metaphor is so important it becomes invisible.

  8. “Metaphor is so important it becomes invisible.”
    says Darren.

    It is, yes, but it becomes very visible in another language. I mean, I view English as a very poetic and metaphorical language, just because British metaphors are often different from the French ones. My old teacher used to say that a metaphor(metaphora in greek meaning transport, displacement) is to put a word from one shoulder to another : still a shoulder, but different surroundings, and the interest is in the *mouvement* that is happening, the movement, the displacement, that’s the beauty of metaphors, what makes them lively and fun!
    I enjoyed every single one you mentioned, plus those in the video! I also realised how avid and enthusiastic are my students about metaphors in French. Because metaphors are at the heart of language, life on the move!

  9. Stats may be slightly out but the video is great! As a learner of a language (variety) you instinctively (and perhaps conciously too if you’re a bit of a linguist) become more aware of the metaphors of the language you’re learning. Different languages use different metaphors and it’s only natural that – for ease of communication – a learner unpicks the ones unfamiliar to him/her. There are some metaphors common to languages – cf:

  10. Hi Vicki!

    Wish I would have remembered this video for Elvis birthday a few days ago on January the 8th! He is my mother’s favorite singer, she loves his metaphors. I love how the video throws in some Shakespeare as well!

  11. Oh send her a video link now Shelly – belated birthday presents are always much appreciated – who wants a
    party to stop?

  12. Kati nailed it. Despite the exaggerated claims of frequency – unless the number six was meant as a metaphor, but this accessible video clearly displays the pervasiveness of metaphors and delineates the many types, purposes, and dangers of metaphors.

  13. What a great link, Kati! Thank you so much for that. I didn’t know Macmillan had done that in the dictionary – it’s terrific.

  14. Welcome Eric and thank you som much for stopping by! Yeah, metaphors can be a dangerous double edged sword (Ah, did I just use one without thinking about it?!)

 Leave a Reply