Author Topic: Language and metaphor  (Read 9630 times)

Lenin McCarthy

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Language and metaphor
« on: March 17, 2012, 10:28:10 pm »
Language is loaded with metaphor. Time is money. Ideas are buildings. Life is a journey. Good is up, bad is down. Anger is a hot fluid in a container. They're not necessarily the right ones. A while ago I read about a tribe in South America who talk about the future as being behind them, and the past as being in front of them. Sort of makes sense, considering we can "look at" the past and not-so-much the future. We walk backwards into the future, our eyes fixed on the past, as the (supposedly) Maori proverb goes.

Perhaps replacing the current underlying metaphors present in our language with radically different ones could provide us with a completely different reality tunnel?
There's a little problem here, though. The ideal would be to create an entire new, weird-ass language. Most likely, I would be the only speaker of that language. And what's the purpose of a language if you can't use it to communicate? Even if I were to start using metaphors like TIME IS AN INCREASINGLY CROWDED SEGREGATION ERA BUS AND YOU'RE A NEGRO ("This has been a very fun night. Unfortunately I have to leave now because whites want my seat and I'm not a temporal Rosa Parks.") and LIFE IS A GRAPE ("One day we will all meet the grape-stone. Christians believe that Jesus Christ sacrificed himself to give all humans stoneless grapes.") in everyday language, people would have difficulty understanding me. Anyway, I think just being aware of the fact that these metaphors are there can provide us with some perspective. Using the underlying metaphors of our language creatively, for instance by stretching them ad absurdum ("the Art Deco marble columns of Marx' theory about money are sloppily crafted"), can help us and others become aware of them, and recognize that other metaphors could potentially be just as fitting in their place.

Thoughts?
« Last Edit: March 17, 2012, 10:35:24 pm by Lenin McCarthy »

Placid Dingo

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Re: Language and metaphor
« Reply #1 on: March 18, 2012, 02:30:03 am »
Yeah, metaphor is useful. You get to a point where you cant stretch a metaphor further though and need to back off, change it around.

I actually read the time thing before and agree with it. It makes more sense than 'facing the future' I almost visualise myself falling back into time staring into the past looking for clues of how to deal with the next thing.

The chicken. I don't know what it's called, but there's an idea that what we know is unreliable because we only know what we've learned from experience and our experience is limited to, well, our experience. Chicken eats, poops, lays an egg, has a dust bath. Ever day for a year. What part of it's life indicates that it will be chopped up and tasty? Nothing. But, talking about experience is harder than talking about a chicken (I got this story from Black Swan by Talib, whose title is itself a metaphor for the unpredictable).

Often if I get stuck thinking with one metaphor I move to another.
If sheep entrails could in any way be related to the weather, i.e. sheep trails only originate where it rains, then you could use it as an accurate model for discerning what the weathers going to be like. Either, sheep shit makes it rain, or raining makes sheep shit. Sheep don't shit "randomly" sheep shit after they eat, it doesn't rain "randomly" it rains after water collects in the atmosphere.

Oysters Rockefeller

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Re: Language and metaphor
« Reply #2 on: March 18, 2012, 03:59:42 am »
The past being in front of us...rather brilliant.

I've always been a huge fan of the metaphor. I would argue, though, that just as often as metaphors limit the reality we experience, they open us up to parts of our reality we weren't aware of.

I don't know if radically different metaphors would give us a "reality tunnel" without a lot of comparable instances, but it could change things a lot. If you study other languages at all, they kind of have a similar thing going on. Or maybe thats the product of overall cultural difference...
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LMNO

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Re: Language and metaphor
« Reply #3 on: March 19, 2012, 01:32:41 pm »
Let's not forget that language itself is a metaphor.

Mesozoic Mister Nigel

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Re: Language and metaphor
« Reply #4 on: March 19, 2012, 02:32:26 pm »
Let's not forget that language itself is a metaphor.

How so?
“I’m guessing it was January 2007, a meeting in Bethesda, we got a bag of bees and just started smashing them on the desk,” Charles Wick said. “It was very complicated.”


LMNO

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Re: Language and metaphor
« Reply #5 on: March 19, 2012, 02:48:36 pm »
In their most pedantic sense, words are tangible things that represent intangible ideas -- to overuse an example, if I say "a leaf fell off the tree," the words "leaf" "fell" and "tree" describe collective agreements, and not the precise physical objects as the progress through space-time.


Yes, I know how that sounds.  I apologize.

Mesozoic Mister Nigel

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Re: Language and metaphor
« Reply #6 on: March 19, 2012, 03:16:00 pm »
In their most pedantic sense, words are tangible things that represent intangible ideas -- to overuse an example, if I say "a leaf fell off the tree," the words "leaf" "fell" and "tree" describe collective agreements, and not the precise physical objects as the progress through space-time.


Yes, I know how that sounds.  I apologize.

In the most pedantic sense, I cannot agree with the idea that words are metaphors. I'm sure I will regret delving even deeper into philosophical wankery, but words are symbols. Metaphor is the description of a tangible idea used to represent a less tangible idea. A leaf is tangible, the word "leaf" is conceptual, so that runs counter to the idea of metaphor. Words are not metaphor any more than numbers are metaphor.
“I’m guessing it was January 2007, a meeting in Bethesda, we got a bag of bees and just started smashing them on the desk,” Charles Wick said. “It was very complicated.”


LMNO

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Re: Language and metaphor
« Reply #7 on: March 19, 2012, 03:17:58 pm »
Oh, I don't think I care to delve any deeper than I already have, as I don't think the resulting conversation would be much fun for either of us.




Incidentally, numbers are metaphors, too.

Mesozoic Mister Nigel

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Re: Language and metaphor
« Reply #8 on: March 19, 2012, 03:22:13 pm »
Oh, I don't think I care to delve any deeper than I already have, as I don't think the resulting conversation would be much fun for either of us.




Incidentally, numbers are metaphors, too.

I disagree with your use of the word "metaphor". You seem to be using it backward.
“I’m guessing it was January 2007, a meeting in Bethesda, we got a bag of bees and just started smashing them on the desk,” Charles Wick said. “It was very complicated.”


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Re: Language and metaphor
« Reply #9 on: March 19, 2012, 03:28:54 pm »
I had a feeling you'd say that. 

Anyway, in terms of the OP, it seems like metaphor relies on common shared experiences, so if you try to come up with new ones, you either end up with "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra", or "Your Majesty is like a stream of bat piss" -- either no one has the slightest idea of what you're referencing, or the positive connections you make appear to be negative to everyone else.

The point being, if you're trying to use these to communicate, they won't work very well.

Doktor Howl

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Re: Language and metaphor
« Reply #10 on: March 19, 2012, 03:29:46 pm »
Not only is the past in front of us, but the future is here.  We're borrowing it, because tomorrow never comes.

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Re: Language and metaphor
« Reply #11 on: March 19, 2012, 04:25:59 pm »
Perhaps replacing the current underlying metaphors present in our language with radically different ones could provide us with a completely different reality tunnel?

Thoughts?

I don't think so.  I think perhaps one can create new metaphors, or, weave new angles into old metaphors.  The thing is, different metaphors work for different people.  Because, of course, different people have different past life experiences and reference points with which to interpret the metaphors.

So starting from scratch and inventing an entire new system of metaphor would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  (HO FUCK, SEE THAT?)

However, perhaps tweaking with existing metaphors sets off some signals for folks that have never been set off before. 

I think that was part of the idea, intentional or not, with BIP.  The BIP metaphor, at its most basic incarnation, has been helpful for many because it can tap into and sync with metaphors and ideas people already understand.  So you get that little poppy, "AHA!" moment.  That is that signal being activated.  A new thought, a new perspective that has some basis in ideas already understood. 
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Oysters Rockefeller

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Re: Language and metaphor
« Reply #12 on: March 19, 2012, 06:32:38 pm »
Perhaps replacing the current underlying metaphors present in our language with radically different ones could provide us with a completely different reality tunnel?

Thoughts?
So starting from scratch and inventing an entire new system of metaphor would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  (HO FUCK, SEE THAT?)

 :lulz:

Yeah, that's more or less along the lines of what I was thinking as well.
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Telarus

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Re: Language and metaphor
« Reply #13 on: March 20, 2012, 03:26:30 am »
LMNO and Nigel's use of 'metaphor' conflict because the conversation lacks clear context. Nigel's using def1 and LMNOs using def2.

   
Google Dictionary search
    1. A figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.
    2. A thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else, esp. something abstract.


Both are using "correct" definitions, but we lack the context to tell which definition is preferred in the current situation (in what way, exactly, are we investigating the intersection of the concepts?)..... Words don't have "inherent meaning", but we can treat them as "things" when we are involved in symbolic manipulation (playing with poetic structure or computer code). Once they are released to transmit their meaning they become LMNO's 'meta-phors', only representative of the meaning. The meaning lies not in the symbols, but in the shared experiences which allow the participants in the communication to receive and integrate the meaning "well enough".

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Placid Dingo

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Re: Language and metaphor
« Reply #14 on: March 20, 2012, 07:48:25 am »
George Orwells talks on this;
Quote
Dying metaphors. A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically "dead" (e.g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves. Examples are: Ring the changes on, take up the cudgel for, toe the line, ride roughshod over, stand shoulder to shoulder with, play into the hands of, no axe to grind, grist to the mill, fishing in troubled waters, on the order of the day, Achilles' heel, swan song, hotbed. Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning (what is a "rift," for instance?), and incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he is saying. Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning without those who use them even being aware of the fact. For example, toe the line is sometimes written as tow the line. Another example is the hammer and the anvil, now always used with the implication that the anvil gets the worst of it. In real life it is always the anvil that breaks the hammer, never the other way about: a writer who stopped to think what he was saying would avoid perverting the original phrase.

And on euphemism, some more comments
Quote
In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, "I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so." Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:

"While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement."

From politics and the English language.
http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/orwell46.htm


If sheep entrails could in any way be related to the weather, i.e. sheep trails only originate where it rains, then you could use it as an accurate model for discerning what the weathers going to be like. Either, sheep shit makes it rain, or raining makes sheep shit. Sheep don't shit "randomly" sheep shit after they eat, it doesn't rain "randomly" it rains after water collects in the atmosphere.