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Critical Response to Lackoff and Johnson’s Metaphors Essay

The metaphor is central to human thought. Clearly this is the principle thesis presented in Metaphors We Live By (1980). Indeed, the thesis is contained very clearly within the title of the text. Yet, perhaps the most striking point about the argument presented by these two linguists is expressed in the idea that language is a powerful weapon of force by which human beings live and through which they interact.

“Argument is war” is one statement that expresses this idea quite clearly and is supported by the various examples of argumentative speech that use verbs associated either with physical conquest and overpowering, or with the direct opposite, destruction and overpowered weakness. One of the most compelling aspects of the argument in Metaphors (1980) is the notion that people subconsciously integrate poetic imagination and elaborate rhetoric into their speech, despite the often mundane everyday tasks about which their thoughts and actions revolve. The role of language, then, is deeply questioned.

The underlying problem is how we, human beings, relate to the world and each other. The argument from Lackoff and Johnson may be that we conceptualize our lives and thus we relate to the world around us in a conceptual way. There is, however, a difficult in thus attempting to analyze our use of language using language. After all, definitions and functions of words, the very focus of linguistics, all play an integral role in the analytical process of the human mind. It’s something like the linguistic version of the chicken and the egg. Which came first, concepts or language?

When we say that time is money and use expressions like, “you’re wasting my time”, could it be that the notion that time is money emerged as an actual practical consideration and subsequently developed into a conceptual notion? Just as the example of the “apple-juice-chair”, an apparently absurd phase in general, can have a viable meaning in a given context, it seems plausible that metaphorical concepts such as “time is money” and “argument is war”, leading to the extension of the metaphor in language such as “you’re wasting my time”, could simply have received their contextual relevance over time.

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