Violent metaphors
November 30, 2002 9:27 AM   Subscribe

Caution: Violent metaphors can blow up in your face. This one (see paragraph two)—which I discovered a day or so before the D.C. snipers were apprehended—struck me at the time as a particularly unfortunate demonstration as to why, especially considering this ad agency is based just outside Washington. George Lakoff, an undisputed Heavyweight Metaphorician of the World, turns the tables and uses human metaphors rather neatly to think about 9/11. And apparently, there are workshops that teach how to make nonviolent metaphors more vivid and, the logic goes, make violence less attractive. So, the explosive question: does hostile language encourage conflict or reflect it? Peace out.
posted by micropublishery (10 comments total)
I always liked Clinton's 'focus like a laser beam on the economy,' which is a simile, of course. Never one to miss the opportunity - now we have Bush, who is focusing actual laser beams at countries everywhere.
posted by the fire you left me at 9:46 AM on November 30, 2002

"What I did was stupid, no doubt it was dumb
But the smartest shit I did was take the bullets outta that gun
Cuz I'da killed him; shit I woulda shot Kim and them both.
It's my life, I'd like to welcome y'all to "The Eminem Show"

Sadly, hostile language is everywhere.
posted by Voyageman at 11:06 AM on November 30, 2002

Micropublishery- Both, I think. Language is our reflection of what we as humans collect and restore in terms of our world experiences. Lakoff makes that point in the first few paragraphs of the article. The question doesn't have to have an either/or answer. I believe that we perpetuate and reinforce behavior through language, and specifically metaphor and simile (due to the nature of such devices- i.e.- they are much more effective at persuading people of a particular idea, because to understand a metaphor or simile, one must first have some amount of shared cultural knowledge).
This now gets into a chicken or egg argument (and it always did in my Linguistics classes, too), where the question arises "Where did we get such violent imagery to perpetuate within the stuctures of our language?" Many students turn to anthropology, biology, sociology, etc., and point to the inherent violence within nature, and in our own pasts as humans and protohumans.
So violent language must be okay, then, because it only reinforces what is 'natural' the the species, and indeed, the animal kingdom? I think the original question you asked in your FFP can be deconstructed into "Is our history of violence as a species worth perpetuating?", because, as I have said, I truly trust that language does reinforce the behavior.
posted by oflinkey at 11:18 AM on November 30, 2002

"O'Keeffe & Company delivers a rifle shot at critical business, technology, and investment audiences"

Yes, we should never, ever, use 'rifle shot' as a metaphore becuase some people happend to die in one particular week due to some rifle shots. Rifles are never fired at anything other then people.
posted by delmoi at 11:35 AM on November 30, 2002

The writer of the workshop article herself used a violent metaphor in her article, and I don't think it was a conscious decision:

American English, by contrast, bombards its speakers with hostile language
posted by crazy finger at 12:21 PM on November 30, 2002

on what basis are you deciding that it was not a conscious decision? "bombards" is a very appropriate and lucid verb choice for the sentence in question. i doubt her use of it was accidental.
posted by twentynine at 12:39 PM on November 30, 2002

The choice of metaphor was stupid, but that has nothing to do with the sniper or gun violence. It just doesn't sound good.
posted by Eyegore at 12:55 PM on November 30, 2002

I agree. "Bombards" seemed the appropriate choice for the sentence.
posted by kayjay at 1:18 PM on November 30, 2002

I couldn't read this article, it was like a bombard, it was so long.
posted by luser at 1:32 PM on November 30, 2002

I love my superlative speech to DEATH! My high school English teachers insisted that we should use "active" tense in our writing.

Anyway, sometimes you need to speak down to your audience's level of comprehension, and there's nothing the kids (and thick-headed adults) love more than good, ol' fashioned violence. I believe the White House speechwriters understand this more than anyone, because they see the advantage of using violent metaphors to infuse certain ideas to the crowd.
posted by Down10 at 11:19 PM on November 30, 2002

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