Metaphors We Live By

Chapters 4-8

George Lakoff and Mark Johnson

Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003. Print.


Moving from structural metaphors to orientational metapors, this section focuses on how orientational metaphors give spatial orientation to concepts. The authors explain how a culture’s fundamental values are coherent with the metaphorical structure of the concepts in the culture. Priorities are given to values based on the subcultures involved, and we give artificial boundaries to make phenomena discrete,and therefore useful to our purposes. Ontological metaphors arise as a result of our physical experiences and are useful in dealing rationally with experiences. In example, we have entity and substance metaphors, container metaphors, personification, and metonymy.


“IS should be viewed as a shorthand for some set of experiences on which the metaphor is based and in terms of which we understand it” (20). This sentences sums up the explanation given for how language is being used, despite the fact that the experiential basis of metaphors is not well understood. It is demonstrated that the use of specific concepts is dependent on the various experiences that go in to shaping the concept being used. Metaphors are incoherent when based on different experiential bases.

Metonymy serves a referential function, allowing for greater understanding, and for using one entity in place of another. Metonymy is essentially personification, without the implication of human qualities for the comparison. What is done is to take an entity and use a related one in place of it for the purpose of better expression. Another form is synecdoche, where a part of something stands for the whole thing. Metonymy is different from metaphor in that they are not the same type of process; in metaphor we conceive of things in terms of different things, whereas in metonymy we have one entity in place of another.


“Ontological metaphors like this are necessary for even attempting to deal rationally with our experiences” [26]. Are they really, and at the same time, do they not limit our understanding of things? In the example of the mind is a machine, we are looking at a pervasive metaphor of the whole body as a machine, (something that causes all sorts of problems, considering our brain has more in common with the ocean than with a computer). [27]

Does the pervasive quality of some of these metaphors actually disable us culturally from a complete understanding of ourselves and each other?  Are there different ways of expressing ourselves with metaphors that wouldn’t cause so many issues of questions of definition?

Key Words and Phrases:

experiential (19)

ontological metaphors (25)

container metaphors (29)

personification (33)

metonymy (35)

synecdoche (36)

Related Readings:

Nagy, William. 1974. “Figurative Patterns and Redundancy in the Lexicon”. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of California at San Diego.


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