Top Four Metaphors of Everyday English

If this topic seems unclear to you, allow me to shed some light. You may see metaphors as literary devices, but in fact, our everyday language is full of them, and they are among the keys to speaking English like a native, or just enjoying the play of our language.

A great thing about everyday, or 'conceptual,' metaphors, like UNDERSTANDING IS SEEING, is that they allow us to say many different things, like I think you're starting to get the picture, and this article is opening your eyes to a new way of seeing language!


This concept makes us describe ideas as dimbrightfuzzybrilliant, and colorful.  It means that we can illuminatedifficult concepts, if you see what I mean.  This is one of the most productive metaphors in most languages.


Have you every been possessed by a feeling? Had fear or infectious humor enter into youoverpower you, or knock you out?  Struggled with anger or gotten sick with envy? Apparently our language encodes the fact that we often feel pushed around, or worse, by our emotions, so we apparently think of them as dangerous opponents.


You've heard 'life is a journey' before, but look at what we actually say: I took a wrong turn in life, so I think I've got to put on the brakes, and grab the steering wheel, because I was going too fast.  I'm betting the vehicular version of the 'life is a journey' metaphor is particularly common in America, land of cars.  We can also stumble on the path of life, get lost, and find sign-posts and landmarks in our lives. Until we reach our final destination of course.


You should turn this one over in your mind for a moment.  Have you taken an old forgotten idea off the shelf, dusted it off, and taken a better look at it from all sides? Let me just throw this one out there; we think of ideas as hand-sized objects.  We grasp them, toss them around, and even juggle them!

Well, those four, among hundreds, of 'conceptual metaphors' may get you started; it's fun to discover them by listening to people.  And if I've turned you on with this idea, you can look for a copy of Metaphors We Live By, by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, the linguists who first noticed them.

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Dave Child

Dave is the founder of, and has been building websites since the early 90s. He's one of those fortunate people who gets to do what he loves for a living.


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