We Are Fighting a Systematic Cultural Metaphor

Last night I began reading George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By. By page 7, it became clear that this was a valuable addition to my “I have read it” list.

In the book, they develop the idea that all humans live entrenched in metaphors. We use these metaphors as an anchor for our thoughts and beliefs. For example, when we are learning something new our brain searches for a pre-existing metaphor to which we can tie the new concept. If we find something readily accessible, we are golden. If not, we struggle to either search or try to add the new concept to the overall databank. The latter is made even more difficult when the new idea is incompatible with our current metaphors. This is where VeraSage comes in.

The first example of a powerful cultural metaphor Lakoff and Johnson use is Argument is war. They cite many example of how we use the metaphor of war to describe our arguments. For example, “He attacked every weak point in my argument; her criticisms were right on target and; you disagree? Ok, shoot!”

The second example blew me away — Time is Money. Here are all their examples:

  • You’re wasting my time.

  • This gadget will save you hours.
  • I don’t have the time to give you.
  • How do you spend your time?
  • The flat tire cost me a hour.
  • I’ve invested a lot of time in her.
  • You’re running out of time.
  • You need to budget your time.
  • Put aside some time…
  • Is that worth your while?
  • He’s living on borrowed time.
  • I lost a lot of time when I got sick.
  • Thank you for your time.

Notice that these are all metaphorical concepts. They are not the only way to conceptualize time, but they are common to our culture. The authors point out that there are cultures where time is none of these things. O to live in such a culture!

I sure hope Lakoff and Johnson tell me how to change other people’s metaphors.

N.B. — I went back and italicized all metaphorical language I used in this blog post. I counted nine!

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