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Thinking in metaphor
Thread poster: Jacek Krankowski
Jacek Krankowski  Identity Verified
English to Polish
+ ...
Feb 4, 2003

What follows is to examine the relationship

between language and mind which is a legitimate interest for a linguist, regardless of his political views:

Fighting Words:

The War Over Language

by Jon Hooten

(...) Since many of us have not experienced the sights and sounds of war firsthand, we think about war rather thoughtlessly.(...) Our popular culture thinks nothing of invoking the language of conflict to describe most any topic. Pick up the morning\'s paper and browse through the headlines: \"Mayor Defends New Budget.\" \"Media Blitz Saves Kidnapped Girl.\" \"Farmers Battle Summer Drought.\" \"Browser War Heats Up.\" \"Champ\'s Left Hook Right on Target.\"

Consider again the numerous, non-militant ways in which the word \'bomb\' is used: \"Frat brothers get bombed on a Saturday night.\" \"Your new car is \'da bomb.\" \"Did you see that comedian bomb on Letterman last night?\" \"The quarterback threw a long bomb to win the game.\"

While we have haphazardly sprinkled our language with war\'s metaphors, is it

possible that we have collectively forgotten how to think clearly about the literal phenomenon? Can the collective linguistic turn from the literal to the metaphorical be without consequence? (...)

Definition aside, the latter half of the 20th century has seen a proliferation of non-war-like wars. The war on poverty that Lyndon Johnson waged in the \'60s was an elaborate public policy initiative. The war on drugs that swelled in the \'70s and \'80s became a tsunami of agencies, non-profit organizations, police action and international diplomacy. The Cold War, fought with national ideologies, economic posturing and infinite defense budgets, festered without any combat or mass casualties (at least among the superpowers) throughout the latter half of the 20th century before finally coming to a head in the mid-\'80s. (...)

Like the war on drugs, the war on terrorism is another overarching metaphor. Terrorism, like drug use, is an act unique to humanity, an action which will always be with us. To war against terrorism is to war against an enemy that does not exist in only one place, that cannot be controlled by laws, that

will perpetually be reborn in creative and wily ways. Terrorism grows out of the fecund social and cultural and economic and religious and psychological slough that is civilization. Like the drug war, the war on terrorism can never be won. (...)

In a famous article ( appeared just before the first Gulf War, linguist George Lakoff

( wrote, \"It is important to distinguish what is metaphorical from what is not. Pain, dismemberment, death, starvation, and the death and injury of loved ones are not

metaphorical.\" Acts based on a metaphor will mirror the metaphor. Warring words will become warring deeds (...)\"



Not only is destroying other human beings rationalized and justified through

metaphorizing them into creatures, into microorganisms needing to be eradicated, but moral obstacles are also overcome by euphemizing the weapons of destruction and the pain, suffering and death that their use would bring. The brutality and inhumanity of our policies and practices are hidden behind

euphemisms. During the Vietnam war, when government officials talked of \"regrettable by-products,\" they meant civilians killed by mistake; \"pacification\" meant the forcible evacuation of Vietnamese from their huts,

the rounding up of all males, the shooting of those who resisted, the slaughtering of domesticated animals and the burning of dwellings; \"incursion\" meant another invasion of another country; creating a \"sanitized belt\" meant forcibly removing all the inhabitants of the area being

\"sanitized,\" cutting down the trees, bulldozing the land and erecting

\"defensive positions\" with machine guns, mortars and mines. \"By-products,\"

\"pacification,\" \"sanitized belts\" -- such language hides the truth that human beings are dying and families are being destroyed.



From The Language of the Vietnam War Dictionary:

BIRD: any aircraft, usually helicopters

BOUNCING BETTY: explosive that propels upward about four feet into the air

and then detonates

BRING SMOKE: to direct intense artillery fire on an enemy position

COMIC BOOKS (FUNNY BOOKS): military maps

FIRECRACKER: artillery round incorporating many small bomblets which are

ejected over a target area and explode in \'bouncing-betty\' fashion almost

simultaneously; name comes from the fast popping sound (best heard at a


FREEDOM BIRD: any aircraft that took you back to the \"world\" (U.S.A.).

ROCK \'N\' ROLL: to put a M16A1 rifle on full automatic fire

(THE) WORLD: United States

More about linguistic violence: (war and peace)

About thinking in metaphor:

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Berni Armstrong  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:07
+ ...
Timely subject Feb 5, 2003

Without getting too political... this is a timely subject Jacek, which deserves a great deal more exposure at this particular time when decisions affecting the lives of millions are about to be taken by people who twist words to mean what they wish them to mean.

After Clinton redefined \"sexual intercourse\" can any of us really trust any politician to understand the difference between metaphor and reality?

Thank you for an interesting topic,


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