We are all familiar with metaphors that we learn in English class. They help us describe objects and our experiences by comparing them to other things.
“The stars were diamonds in the night sky”
“His mind was whirling all day long”
“The baby’s eyes were deep blue pools”
They’re not literally true – stars aren’t actually diamonds – but the image of a twinkling diamond helps us picture what the stars looked like.
But not all metaphors are just creative sentences we can use in poems and stories, many of them are used so often that we don’t even realize they’re metaphors, that they’re not literally true.
“We all slept deeply that night”
“I’m feeling down today”
“The past is behind us now”
These expressions are so common that they don’t seem like metaphors, we think that they are literally true. But they are simply metaphors – comparisons we use to describe things.
When you had a good night’s sleep did you wake up sunk deeply into your bed? When you feel sad do you become smaller than everyone else? When you turn around do you see your past behind you? No! They are just comparisons that help us understand what it means to sleep well, to feel sad, or for something to be in the past. It’s amazing how much we need metaphors to describe our lives.
Discuss: Can you think of some metaphors we use so much that we don’t realize they are not literally true anymore?
Think about these groups of metaphors we use often:
Arguments are wars:
“He attacked the arguments well”
“She defended her point”
“There is a weakness in his argument”
“That’s a smart counter-argument”
Time is money:
“It was time well spent”
“Doing it that way saved me hours”
“I invested hours into that project”
“It cost me ten minutes to take that route”
Arguments are similar to wars: there are different sides who are trying to win, and each point is like an attack, so we use the metaphor to help us describe what an argument is like.
Equally, because time has similarities with money – there’s a limited amount of it and we have to think about how to use it – we use the metaphor to help us describe what ‘spending’ or ‘wasting’ time is like.
But arguments aren’t literally wars and time isn’t a literally physical thing that we own and use like money. If we think of arguments as wars, using phrases like “I destroyed your argument” will escalate a debate or discussion instead of trying to cooperate and reach a solution.
And if we think of time as money, then maybe we will get anxious when we are not being ‘productive’, “throwing time down the drain”, when sometimes it’s okay to sit and stare at the clouds.
Discuss: Can you think of other metaphors we could use for arguments and time that will help us think of them in a less harmful way?
(Featured image by Candy18 at 123rf.com)