Re: virus: Eye of the Needle

Eva-Lise Carlstrom (
Sat, 13 Sep 1997 16:41:47 -0700 (PDT)

On Sat, 13 Sep 1997, Brett Lane Robertson wrote:

I think I almost understood that needle and thread bit, as far as it

> ps...I am looking for (and will probably send) another piece I wrote on the
> sewing metaphor and how certain words (sew, thread, point--as in "So, what
> is the point to this thread") imply that ancient peoples used the example of
> sewing to teach communication.

"Sewing" metaphors for communication or thought are a subcategory of
"manufacturing/creating" metaphors for communication or thought, which are
in fact common at least in Western thought (and covered in my notes on the
Lakoff lecture). I don't personally see any special standing for sewing
in particular, though I could argue for a special role for weaving. "Thread",
referring to a "line" of discussion in a conversation or mailing list, is
clearly textile-based. I don't think, however, that "point" in your
example relates to the sewing model; I think it's probably derived from a
different model within the metaphor of thought-as-manufactured-object.
And as for "so" and "sew", there is no etymological relationship--the fact
that they are homophonic is an accident of history.

I quote Webster's Ninth New Collegiate:

so adv [ME, fr. OE swa; akin to OHG so, L sic (so, thus), si (if), Gk
hos (so, thus), L suus (one's own)--more at SUICIDE]

sew vb [ME sewen, fr. OE siwian; akin to OHG siuwen, L suere]

The two words come from words with entirely different sounds and meanings
in Middle and Old English, and have come to sound the same only in modern
English, through the course of various sound shifts English has undergone
in its development.

You're on much firmer ground arguing for the survival of metaphors from
ancient cultures that rely on the *meaning* of words, rather than on their
current sounds or spellings. Looking for recurring communications
metaphors can be very interesting!

who now has something she can say when people ask what she's doing with
her linguistics degree