Metaphors or Figures of Speech?
Tue, 20 Dec 1994 08:40:27 -0600

I'd like to offer another perspective on the dialog about mental models
and metaphors. We had a student from Germany live with us for several
months this summer, and found ourselves having to explain _many_ uses
of sports metaphors. Phrases such as 'in the home stretch', 'three
strikes and you're out', 'getting to first base', and 'game plan' all
pervade our everyday language. And many make no sense to someone not
familiar with the American sports scene.
So from these instance and many others, do we conclude that American
(not English-speaking!) life is governed by sports metaphors? Or that
thinking about American life is governed by the sports metaphor? Or
that Americans tend to view life as a sporting event?
I think you could make a strong case that at some point these
things cease to become metaphors, and become just words. Many people
use 'gameplan' as one word instead of simply using 'plan'. Perhaps
some people have done some research which indicates that the metaphor
simply sinks beneath our consciousness and stills affects our
I think we recognize the dangers of metaphors. Their strength is
that they come with a rich set of connections in a network of
understanding. And that is precisely their weakness, too. I try
to use more than one metaphor whenever I try to explain something
to my colleagues ot students for just that reason. With regard to
the forest-and-trees phenomenon, I think we need to think in terms
of several dimensions for analogies or metaphors: we have a
generalization vs specialization dimension, a whole vs part
dimension, a time dimension, and probably several other basic
dimensions to consider (suggestions appreciated!).

Michael Ayers