For most people, metaphors are just figures of speech, or as George Lakoff and Mark Johnson state, “a characteristic of language alone” (3). But what most don’t realize is that we use metaphors in our daily lives to express more than just words. Lakoff and Johnson, along with Lea Povozhaev, agree that “metaphor is pervasive in everyday life, not just in language” but also as a “means to specifying thought and feelings as it manifest for an individual” (Lakoff and Johnson 3; Povozhaev 45). Lakoff and Johnson organize so-called conceptual metaphors into the following categories: structural, orientational, and ontological. These conceptual metaphors are how we understand and view our actions, thoughts, and emotions.
Structural metaphors, as Povozhaev puts it, are “one concept structured by another” (56). While these types of metaphors can be useful, Lakoff and Johnson offer the idea of highlighting and hiding to help get an idea of how people use them. When people do this, they focus on one part of the metaphor but forget the other aspect of it and they can develop a “focused understanding by way of shared entailment” (Povozhaev 56). Choosing to focus on one aspect of the metaphor enables us to understand only half of what is being said.
Orientational metaphors are unlike structural ones as they organize “a whole system of concepts with respect to one another” (Lakoff and Johnson 14). Povozhaev says that these types of metaphors “suggest much about the cultural expectations, values, and norms … and their physical, bodily orientation in the world” (56). These metaphors use the idea of spatial relationships. We come to understand these types of metaphors from experiences with the mind, the body, and the world around us. These ideas can also come from a cultural standpoint. But within one metaphor, there are variations of these concepts. They can all exist together in one big metaphor. Having these different variations can allows us to look at the metaphor at different angles.
The last type of conceptual metaphor that Lakoff and Johnson speak about is ontological metaphors. These types of metaphors help us in “understanding our experience in terms of objects and substances [that allow] us to pick out parts of our experience and treat them as discrete entities or substances of a uniform kind” (Lakoff and Johnson 25). Personifying things can help us understand them better and “categorize them, group them, and quantify them—and, by this means, reason with them” (Lakoff and Johnson 25). When we think of something as an entity or substance, we can connect with the different sides of whatever that something is.
- Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson. Metaphors We Live By. University of Chicago Press, 1980.
- Povozhaev, Lea. “Metaphor as Emotive Change: A Triangulated Approach to Thought, Language, and Emotion Relatable to Aristotelian Sensate Perception.” Rhetoric Review, vol. 32, no. 1, 2013, pp. 44–63.