Quotes from Metaphors We Live By

George Lakoff ·  276 pages

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“Another example of how a metaphor can create new meaning for us came about by accident. An Iranian student, shortly after his arrival in Berkeley, took a seminar on metaphor from one of us. Among the wondrous things that he found in Berkeley was an expression that he heard over and over and understood as a beautifully sane metaphor. The expression was “the solution of my problems”—which he took to be a large volume of liquid, bubbling and smoking, containing all of your problems, either dissolved or in the form of precipitates, with catalysts constantly dissolving some problems (for the time being) and precipitating out others. He was terribly disillusioned to find that the residents of Berkeley had no such chemical metaphor in mind. And well he might be, for the chemical metaphor is both beautiful and insightful. It gives us a view of problems as things that never disappear utterly and that cannot be solved once and for all. All of your problems are always present, only they may be dissolved and in solution, or they may be in solid form. The best you can hope for is to find a catalyst that will make one problem dissolve without making another one precipitate out. [...] The CHEMICAL metaphor gives us a new view of human problems. It is appropriate to the experience of finding that problems which we once thought were “solved” turn up again and again. The CHEMICAL metaphor says that problems are not the kind of things that can be made to disappear forever. To treat them as things that can be “solved” once and for all is pointless. [...] To live by the
CHEMICAL metaphor would mean that your problems have a different kind of reality for you.”
― George Lakoff, quote from Metaphors We Live By


“one can be both free and economically secure while leading a totally meaningless and empty existence.”
― George Lakoff, quote from Metaphors We Live By


“Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature.”
― George Lakoff, quote from Metaphors We Live By


“New metaphors are capable of creating new understandings and, therefore, new realities. This should be obvious in the case of poetic metaphor, where language is the medium through which new conceptual metaphors are created.”
― George Lakoff, quote from Metaphors We Live By


“Fourth, the system of conceptual metaphors is not arbitrary or just historically contingent; rather, it is shaped to a significant extent by the common nature of our bodies and the shared ways that we all function in the everyday world.”
― George Lakoff, quote from Metaphors We Live By



“LABOR IS A RESOURCE and TIME IS A RESOURCE are by no means universal. They emerged naturally in our culture because of the way we view work, our passion for quantification, and our obsession with purposeful ends. These metaphors highlight those aspects of labor and time that are centrally important in our culture. In doing this, they also deemphasize or hide certain aspects of labor and time. We can see what both metaphors hide by examining what they focus on. In viewing labor as a kind of activity, the metaphor assumes that labor can be clearly identified and distinguished from things that are not labor. It makes the assumptions that we can tell work from play and productive activity from nonproductive activity. These assumptions obviously fail to fit reality much of the time, except perhaps on assembly lines, chain gangs, etc. The view of labor as merely a kind of activity, independent of who performs it, how he experiences it, and what it means in his life, hides the issues of whether the work is personally meaningful, satisfying, and humane. The quantification of labor in terms of time, together with the view of time as serving a purposeful end, induces a notion of LEISURE TIME, which is parallel to the concept LABOR TIME. In a society like ours, where inactivity is not considered a purposeful end, a whole industry devoted to leisure activity has evolved. As a result, LEISURE TIME becomes a RESOURCE too—to be spent productively, used wisely, saved up, budgeted, wasted, lost, etc. What is hidden by the RESOURCE metaphors for labor and time is the way our concepts of LABOR and TIME affect our concept of LEISURE, turning it into something remarkably like LABOR. The RESOURCE metaphors for labor and time hide all sorts of possible conceptions of labor and time that exist in other cultures and in some subcultures of our own society: the idea that work can be play, that inactivity can be productive, that much of what we classify as LABOR serves either no clear purpose or no worthwhile purpose.”
― George Lakoff, quote from Metaphors We Live By


“The heart of metaphor is inference. Conceptual metaphor allows inferences in sensory-motor domains (e.g., domains of space and objects) to be used to draw inferences about other domains (e.g., domains of subjective judgment, with concepts like intimacy, emotions, justice, and so on). Because we reason in terms of metaphor, the metaphors we use determine a great deal about how we live our lives.”
― George Lakoff, quote from Metaphors We Live By


“Another example of how a metaphor can create new meaning for us came about by accident. An Iranian student, shortly after his arrival in Berkeley, took a seminar on metaphor from one of us. Among the wondrous things that he found in Berkeley was an expression that he heard over and over and understood as a beautifully sane metaphor. The expression was “the solution of my problems”—which he took to be a large volume of liquid, bubbling and smoking, containing all of your problems, either dissolved or in the form of precipitates, with catalysts constantly dissolving some problems (for the time being) and precipitating out others. He was terribly disillusioned to find that the residents of Berkeley had no such chemical metaphor in mind. And well he might be, for the chemical metaphor is both beautiful and insightful. It gives us a view of problems as things that never disappear utterly and that cannot be solved once and for all. All of your problems are always present, only they may be dissolved and in solution, or they may be in solid form. The best you can hope for is to find a catalyst that will make one problem dissolve without making another one precipitate out. And since you do not have complete control over what goes into the solution, you are constantly finding old and new problems precipitating out and present problems dissolving, partly because of your efforts and partly despite anything you do. The CHEMICAL metaphor gives us a new view of human problems. It is appropriate to the experience of finding that problems which we once thought were “solved” turn up again and again. The CHEMICAL metaphor says that problems are not the kind of things that can be made to disappear forever. To treat them as things that can be “solved” once and for all is pointless. To live by the CHEMICAL metaphor would be to accept it as a fact that no problem ever disappears forever. Rather than direct your energies toward solving your problems once and for all, you would direct your energies toward finding out what catalysts will dissolve your most pressing problems for the longest time without precipitating out worse ones. The reappearance of a problem is viewed as a natural occurrence rather than a failure on your part to find “the right way to solve it.” To live by the CHEMICAL metaphor would mean that your problems have a different kind of reality for you. A temporary solution would be an accomplishment rather than a failure. Problems would be part of the natural order of things rather than disorders to be “cured.” The way you would understand your everyday life and the way you would act in it would be different if you lived by the CHEMCAL metaphor. We see this as a clear case of the power of metaphor to create a reality rather than simply to give us a way of conceptualizing a preexisting reality.”
― George Lakoff, quote from Metaphors We Live By


“Charles Fillmore has observed (in conversation) that English appears to have two contradictory organizations of time. In the first, the future is in front and the past is behind:        In the weeks ahead of us . . . (future)        That’s all behind us now. (past) In the second, the future is behind and the past is in front:        In the following weeks . . . (future)        In the preceding weeks . . . (past) This appears to be a contradiction in the metaphorical organization of time. Moreover, the apparently contradictory metaphors can mix with no ill effect, as in        We’re looking ahead to the following weeks. Here it appears that ahead organizes the future in front, while following organizes it behind.”
― George Lakoff, quote from Metaphors We Live By


“Since future times are facing toward us, the times following them are further in the future, and all future times follow the present. That is why the weeks to follow are the same as the weeks ahead of us.”
― George Lakoff, quote from Metaphors We Live By



“We are proposing that the concepts that occur in metaphorical definitions are those that correspond to natural kinds of experience. Judging by the concepts that are defined by the metaphors we have uncovered so far, the following would be examples of concepts for natural kinds of experience in our culture: LOVE, TIME, IDEAS, UNDERSTANDING, ARGUMENTS, LABOR, HAPPINESS, HEALTH, CONTROL, STATUS, MORALITY, etc. These are concepts that require metaphorical definition, since they are not clearly enough delineated in their own terms to satisfy the purposes of our day-to-day functioning.”
― George Lakoff, quote from Metaphors We Live By


“The heart of the objectivist tradition in philosophy comes directly out of the myth of objectivism: the world is made up of distinct objects, with inherent properties and fixed relations among them at any instant. We argue, on the basis of linguistic evidence (especially metaphor), that the objectivist philosophy fails to account for the way we understand our experience, our thoughts, and our language. An”
― George Lakoff, quote from Metaphors We Live By


“Not surprisingly, the social reality defined by a culture affects its conception of physical reality. What is real for an individual as a member of a culture is a product both of his social reality and of the way in which that shapes his experience of the physical world. Since”
― George Lakoff, quote from Metaphors We Live By


“physical. In other words, we are understanding one thing in terms of something else of the same kind. But in conventional metaphor, we are understanding one thing in terms of something else of a different kind. In “Inflation has gone up,” for example, we understand inflation (which is abstract) in terms of a physical substance, and we understand an increase of inflation (which is also abstract) in terms of a physical orientation (up). The only difference is whether our projection involves the same kinds of things or different kinds of things.”
― George Lakoff, quote from Metaphors We Live By


“Aristotle, on the other hand, saw poetry as having a positive value: “It is a great thing, indeed, to make proper use of the poetic forms, . . . But the greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor” (Poetics 1459a); “ordinary words convey only what we know already; it is from metaphor that we can best get hold of something fresh” (Rhetoric 1410b).”
― George Lakoff, quote from Metaphors We Live By



About the author

George Lakoff
Born place: in Bayonne, New Jersey, The United States
Born date May 24, 1941
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