Reflections in a Metaphor


Asking people to consciously elicit metaphorical language can be a sure way of them displaying stock still and mouth clamped shut behaviour. There they are, the first metaphors of this blog; stock still = tree trunk still and clamped shut speaks for itself! Deliberate pun, get it! (Apologies for the attempted humour from an unaccomplished comedienne.)

One of the ways I know of eliciting metaphors is to ask very specific questions;

“What’s that like?”

“That’s like what?

The “like” in the question gives the brain an instruction to search for comparable answers. Some brains are more attuned to using metaphorical language than others. Metaphor may not be their chosen “meta-programme,” or means of processing and expressing language.

Keith, (the laughter guy), gave a nice explanation about a hypothetical person working as a statistician, who by very nature of his/her job may not use metaphorical language as a means of communicating. However, language is always used and understood in context, and we pondered about what language our statistician would use with his/her partner or children.

I gave the group an exercise to find metaphors within the five senses, (or representational systems as the NLPers call them). Fifteen divided by five senses equals three people per group; perfect.

Group 1 Auditory, Metaphors (Hearing)
Group 2 Gustatory Metaphors (Tasting)
Group 3 Kinaesthetic Metaphors (Touching/Feeling)
Group 4 Olfactory Metaphors (Smelling)
Group 5 Visual Metaphors (Seeing)

Lots of brain cogs began turning and I listened as words and metaphors rolled and cascaded and swirled around the room:

“Her hair was a cascading waterfall.” (V,K,A)
“Grasp the nettle.” (K)
“Adding spice to life.” (G,V)
“Cold hands warm heart.” (K)
“He growled his opinion.” (A)
“Time is ticking away.” (A)
“Fizzing with excitement.” (A,V)
“Her diary spoke softly of who she was.” (A)
“Smells sweet.” (O,G,K)

There were many metaphors forthcoming during the ninety minutes. It became noticeable that a metaphor understood as “Visual” by one person, would be experienced as Auditory or Kinaesthetic by some one else.

Thus highlighting the infinite interpretations and meanings we experience in our metaphorical landscapes.

It is but a miracle that human beings understand each other at all. Thankfully, we have tools beyond language that assist us with our communicating.

A lady pointed out one of my example visual metaphors;

” I see what you mean.”

She said, “This is not a metaphor, this is just a statement.”

In future presentations and workshops I will be bringing a prize for the person who spots the deliberate mistake.

Is she right?

I went on to explain how the GCSE textbook definition of what a metaphor “is” and how it differs considerably with academic definitions. It depends upon which linguistic theory one believes or prefers as to whether metaphor is metaphor (or not). There are brave souls who claim that “all words” are metaphors, and further still those who claim all actions and behaviours as metaphorical too, but we won’t go there, at least not today, lest we lose our way (or find it), in metaphor.

I defy all of those boffins in all of those universities to classify and clarify to their hearts’ content, but in my opinion Metaphor is by its very nature indefinable and therein lies its infinity, its simplicity and its mystery waiting to be discovered.

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