Metaphors We Live By- by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson

In Shakespeare’s As You Like It, the melancholy Jaques declares: “All the world’s a stage/And all the men and women merely players.” This is a celebrated use of metaphor, a figure of speech in which one thing is used to describe another. As one of the central structural elements in human thought it is the habit, or process, of thinking of one thing ‘in the clothes’ of another.

Metaphor is a technique apparently as old as language itself; it is present in the earliest surviving work of literature, the Epic of Gilgamesh. Homer developed it into an art form, and his invention of the epic simile was picked up by later writers including Milton. In the Middle Ages the device of allegory underpinned much of French and English writing, while the Metaphysical poets employed increasingly elaborate metaphorical conceits in the sixteenth century. In the age of the novel the metaphor once again evolved, while the Modernist writers used it to subvert their readers’ expectations. In this book by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson the hypothesis is that the mapping between conceptual domains corresponds to neural mappings in the brain. So how metaphor operates is ‘hard-wired’ into the brain. This has been a highly influential contribution to cognitive science.

Reach also for Metaphor ( by Terence Hawkes which is on the same subject but from the point of view of literary criticism. Enquire at your local library.

Also listen to the excellent discussion on the Radio 4 ‘In Our Time’ episode (45 minutes) on the history of metaphor available at the link  With Steven Connor – Professor of Modern Literature and Theory at Birkbeck, University of London; Tom Healy – Professor of Renaissance Studies at the University of Sussex; and Julie Sanders – Professor of English Literature and Drama at the University of Nottingham. First broadcast Thursday 25 Nov 2010.

242 pages in University of Chicago Press paperback edition.

ISBN 978-0226468013

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