The Usage Of Too Many Metaphors And Metonymy Can Make Your Paper Less Effective


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We often use metaphors in our written and spoken languages to show one thing within terms of another. It is sometimes very useful to use a different set of words and phrases to compare one thing with another. Your language can become more colorful if combined with different bodies of speech on the background of simple words and sentences. Another figure of speech which is widely used in our language is metonymy. However, metonymies are used to emphasize contiguity between two referents, while metaphors are mainly used to show similarity between two.

The use of metaphor, either verbally, or in written discourse, to describe scenes & explain events in the world around us is very common, its use enables us to understand & experience one type of thing within the conditions & terms of another, whereas metonymy is the use of one entity to refer to another that is related to it, & includes ‘synecdoche’ where the part stands for the whole, Lakoff & Johnson, (1980:36).

According to Lakoff & Johnson, (1980: ix) metaphor is ever-present, in language, as well as thought & action. They, along with Pinker, (1997: 352 et seq) perceive human thought processes to be metaphorical in nature; Pinker also suggests that some metaphorical concepts have grown to be so common, across the whole range of speech acts & other events that we experience, that they are no longer recognizable to the layman as metaphorical expressions, so entrenched within our everyday language use have they become. According to this insight into metaphor, it can be seen as one of the principal methods by which language evolves, Jaynes, (1990), moreover, repetition of a metaphor can bring it into ordinary language, eventually warranting a dictionary entry.

As metaphor is so deeply rooted within our everyday language use, it would be surprising if written discourse was free of metaphorical expression. In fact, on reading through various types of texts, very few, if any, can be said to be totally free of metaphor &/or metonymy, even those texts written by ‘realists’ who abhorred metaphor, such as Hobbes & Locke, were littered with it, Chandler, (2001). Although many examples of metaphor are not immediately obvious as such, this is generally because they have become so familiar, so prevalent, within everyday language use that they have ceased to be seen as metaphor; the connotations of these metaphorical expressions are clear because of their familiarity.

We often resort to metaphor when we encounter something unknown, or perceive something that is difficult to comprehend or communicate, according to Jaynes, (1990) we integrate these experiences to ‘schemas’ that are already available to us, which we adapt to cope with these new experiences. To quote Jaynes, (1990: 52) “Understanding a thing is to arrive at a metaphor for that thing by substituting something more familiar to us. " From this, it could be said that if one were to attempt communication of something new or complex, without the use of metaphor, then this lack of familiar reference could inhibit comprehension, that, in fact, metaphor can increase the efficiency & intelligibility of a text.

In agreement with Lakoff & Johnson, among others, it would seem that the use of metaphor is so deeply rooted within our system of communication that it would be difficult to describe anything, either verbally, or through written discourse, without the use of metaphor, in fact, it could be said that the use of metaphor enhances the understanding of a text, adds to the significance of what is being communicated, by referring to easily understood previously

known concepts, especially when attempting to convey new information. The additional descriptive information that is established with the use of metaphor can add emotive connotations aid evaluation of a concept. Also, a less familiar metaphor may be understood due to the contextual information available & the receiver's ability to extrapolate from this.

Conversely, understanding of various metaphorical expressions may depend on the culture one is accustomed to; it is possible that certain instances of metaphor, especially novel but even conventional, which are perfectly clear in meaning within the language (culture) they originate from, may or may not translate clearly into another language or culture. A good example of this comes from a recent crime/comedy novel by Brookmyre, (2002) to quote, “the leader, ‘Jarry', commenced the robbery with the words ‘Alakazammy, stairheid rammy’. " Brookmyre often writes using a combination of English words & Scottish colloquial terms. Stairheid actually means top landing or top floor (of a tenement) & is a metaphor for face, face being the ‘top landing', whereas rammy is a violent disturbance or free for all, (Scots-online). In the text, ‘stairheid rammy’ refers to a face to face conflict, this is not an immediately familiar metaphor (to an English person) without reference to a Scots/English translator, but as the speaker (a Scotsman) in the text notes, “The stairheid rammy part is familiar to anybody who's ever witnessed an argument up close. ", therefore, although stairheid rammy as a metaphor, is not clear (to an English person), to a Scotsman it is obviously a clear & effective metaphor for an argument or disagreement.

Metaphors are also often found to underline major theories of science & philosophy, & studies of scientific terminology by MacCormac, (1971) have revealed that the use of terms such as force & mass function as metaphors, e. g. “But at the lower particle energies […] W+, W- & Z0 would acquire large masses, making the forces they carry have a very short range. " , Hawking, (1996:93) Out of context, this makes absolutely no sense at all, but within the context of the book these terms have perfectly clear meanings & are efficient in describing the concepts of weak nuclear force & radioactivity.

According to Lakoff &Johnson, (1980:4) the language of argument within the concept ‘argument is war’ is literal, not fanciful, poetic or fanciful. A good illustration of the concept ‘argument is war’ can be found in journalistic comment on political discussion.

Legislation under threat as upper house takes on the government […] forced to pay attention […] sustaining their opposition […] How far could the unelected upper house take its battle with elected MPs? […] a savvy operator who has formed a formidable alliance with the Lib Dem leader […] stayed up into the early hours negotiating. […] But the battle was a symbol of escalating tensions […] that threatens […] This week's stand-off […] Emboldened, they have stood their ground.

The Guardian, (22/11/03: 13)

All this from one article describing a disagreement between the members of the House of Lords & elected MPs. The use of metaphorical expression emphasizes the level of discord between the two groups, & without the use of these metaphors it would be less easy to highlight the intensity of this conflict. Another example of this common conceptual metaphor can be found in a scientific text book about quantum physics & is a perfect example of Lakoff & Johnson's definition of the concept ‘argument is war’.

Each attack on the Copenhagen interpretation has strengthened its position. When thinkers of the calibre of Einstein try to find flaws with a theory, but the defenders of the theory are able to refute all of the attackers’ arguments, the theory must emerge the stronger for its trial.

Gribbin, (1984:177)

An interesting metaphor from a magazine article about Hungary likens the country to a garment, & although this is an example of novel metaphor the connotation is apparent & Kincses’ use of these additional components enriches the meaning of the text.

Next year, Hungary is set to join the EU, finally aligning itself more with the west than the east. This has long been Hungary's dilemma, says Kincses, who likens the country to “Europe's coat, where left and right, east and west, are buttoned together, where the garment is most vulnerable to wear and tear".

The Guardian Weekend, (22/11/03)

Another metaphorical concept, as described by Lakoff & Johnson, (1980:7) is that of ‘time is money', this is one of those previously mentioned metaphors that are so common that it has almost ceased to be seen as a metaphor, e. g. spending time, saving time, wasting time, “I have been wasting quite a lot of time investigating these sites. ", The Guardian Weekend, (22/11/03:7) “It's more about how I want to spend my time. ", (ibid:25)

The following example of general use of metaphorical expression is included purely for its funniness & needs no explanation.

I once had two giggly young women asking me if they could touch my head, which they did, resoundingly, saying they had “never done a slaphead before".

The Guardian Weekend, (22/11/03)

Orientational metaphors give a concept spatial orientation, such as happy is up, sad is down, Lakoff &Johnson, (1980) “And she chooses without too much concern for the ‘upward trajectory’ of her career. ", The Guardian Weekend, (22/11/03:25)

Metonymy is often more obvious than metaphoric concepts as it usually concerns direct physical or causal associations, it is similar to metaphor, although more focused, being referential & facilitating understanding.

Examples of metonymy seem less common in written discourse, although those that there are seem to be quite effective & understandable within the context they are presented in. “Scores of Labour MPs still plan top-up revolt. ", Evening Standard, (05/01/04) Here ‘top-up’ refers to university top-up fees for students proposed by the government & would be obvious to anyone who reads newspapers or watches the television news. “There'll always be a place for plastic. ", Evening Standard, (19/12/03) Here ‘plastic’ is referring to credit cards, a common & easily understood use of metonymy. “The midfielder was felled in a crunching tackle from his former team-mate Mauricio Taricco, who somehow escaped a second yellow. " The Guardian, (27/12/03) The metonymic use of ‘yellow’ here refers to a yellow card, used as a first warning, & in this case, yellow has a 2nd (metaphoric) definition; being awarded two yellow cards in a game of football is equal to a red card, from which follows expulsion from the game, therefore ‘second yellow’ is a metaphor for a red card. What this example of metonymy (& metaphor) refers to here may not be clear to everyone, but would be immediately apparent to anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of the rules of football.

According to Lakoff & Turner, (1989: xi) metaphor is a tool that is accessible to everyone, even children are familiar with everyday metaphor, they also declare that metaphor aids our understanding of ourselves & the world in ways that no other forms of thought can & that it is essential to our imagination & to our reason. How could we explain & understand new or difficult concepts without recourse to metaphor, without the resource of explaining an event or object in terms of another we would be at a loss when attempting to describe new experiences. In some cases metaphorical expressions are not immediately clear, this would usually be due to language or cultural differences, & within one's own language even novel or unusual metaphors are normally easily understood, often aided by contextual information surrounding the metaphorical expression. This is in accord with Baker, (1992) who maintains that texts by themselves are neither coherent nor incoherent, that the coherence of a text is dependent on the capability of the reader to make sense of it by its relation to what s/he already knows or is familiar with. Wittgenstein, (1953) states that verbal expressions are substitutes for more basic or natural forms of behavior, this too goes well with the opinion that human thought processes are metaphorical in nature; our verbal expressions being extensions of our thoughts, & our attempts to communicate them.

The article was produced by the member of Sharon White is a senior writer and writers consultant at term papers . Get some useful tips for thesis and buy term papers .


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