Tom Jacobs of Pacific Standard has uncovered another nifty study of the unconscious influence of basic metaphors of morality, this one having to do with judgments of good and bad, right and wrong: “When faced with an ethical issue, do you tend to come down strongly in one direction or the other? Or do you opt for a more nuanced response? Newly published research suggests the answer may depend, in part, on whether you have been exposed to a metaphorically resonant visual cue. Specifically, it finds greater polarization of opinion among people who have peripherally gazed at a black-and-white pattern.” Read the full article here.
Archive: December 2012
Oscar Wilde’s most enduring epigrams infographic
This entertaining infographic from The Guardian is worth poring over at length…
Still more on the ‘fiscal cliff’ metaphor
This time a podcast from Mike Vuolo at Slate‘s Lexicon Valley, ‘Good Is Up‘, which explores how Lakoff and Johnson’s theories illuminate the persistence of this strange economic metaphor, with contributions from yours truly. Be prepared for a thrilling rush of linguistic vertigo!
Confessions of an aphorism writer, by James Guida
James Guida, whom I blogged about in 2010, has written an interesting piece on The Page-Turner section of the The New Yorker website about the strangeness of being a writer of aphorisms. Guida describes the aphorist as “a dweller in the obscure hinterland between poetry and prose” (“The word ‘aphorist’ alone sounds suspiciously like an insult or type of criminal,” he writes) and goes on to engagingly chronicle the various joys and mild indignities of the vocation. He kindly mentions this website, adding that it’s “curiously popularizing, given the tradition,” a characterization with which I must take issue—not with the description of my site as “popularizing” (I would be delighted if it was!) but with the implication that the aphorism itself is an elite, non-popular or otherwise highfalutin form.
There is a widespread and woefully mistaken opinion that the aphorism is some kind of rare, inaccessible and aristocratic art form (the literary equivalent of opera, perhaps) practiced only by independently wealthy misanthropes, twisted cynics and amoral courtiers. I blame La Rochefoucauld, who was all of these—as well as being one of the greatest aphorists who ever lived. La Rochefoucauld has become the archetype of the aphorist, but he is not really representative of the profession at all. In fact, historically, only a tiny fraction of aphorists have been aristocrats, and the aphorism itself is the oldest and most democratic literary art form on the planet. The American aphoristic tradition in particular is keenly anti-aristocratic and anti-hierarchical; see everything by Twain, Franklin, Billings, Bierce and even Emily Dickinson. Indeed, aphorisms began long before literacy was common, as the world’s heritage of proverbs proves, so the form was ‘popular’ (i.e., accessible to and used by lots of people) from the very start. Though few people immediately recognize the term, aphorisms are in daily use by each and every one of us every single day. Some may be more ‘literary’ than others, but they are all aphorisms just the same.
If you’re interested in pursuing this line of argument further, I addressed this widespread and woefully mistaken opinion about aphorisms in this blog post from August. You can also watch this clip from the first (and so far only) meeting of the World Aphorism Organization (WAO, pronounced WOW!) back in 2008 in which A.C. Grayling, John Lloyd and myself debate whether the aphorism is an elitist craft or fit for the masses. (Thanks once again to that perspicacious spotter of the proverbial Dave Lull, who alerted me to James Guida’s piece.)
Even More on the ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Metaphor
This time metaphor maven himself George Lakoff, on The Berkeley Blog, weighs in (if you’ll pardon the metaphor) on the ubiquitous ‘fiscal cliff metaphor: “There are two morals here. First, metaphors cannot be proposed at will and be expected to work, even if they are intended to fit reality better than existing metaphors. Second, when metaphors are tightly integrated, they are going to be hard to replace and we may have to live by them, as misleading as they may be. The national economic debate will most likely continue to be about the misleading fiscal cliff, not the reality that ‘austerity bomb’ is intended to convey. This is a sad scientific truth.”
More on The ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Metaphor
This one is from The Economist: “One month remains in the battle over impending sequestration and tax increases on Capitol Hill, and no one can settle on the right metaphor to capture just what will happen on January 1st if no deal is reached.” The best metaphor for what’s going on in Washington right now, The Economist writes, is a game of political ‘chicken’. More chicken metaphors can be found here.