Re: virus: Eye of the Needle

Brett Lane Robertson (
Sun, 14 Sep 1997 02:01:34 -0500


At 04:41 PM 9/13/97 -0700, you wrote:
>On Sat, 13 Sep 1997, Brett Lane Robertson wrote:

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

B>> 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.

E>"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).

B: The problem here may be our definition of metaphor--while some see
metaphor as a more vague term for something, I see it as a more specific
term. Words which are used often and in different contexts seem to loose
their specificity ("Good day" for example has come to mean hello, how are
you doing, nice to see you, it's time for me to be leaving, good bye, etc).
The "metaphorical" significance of "good day"--from a modern perspective--is
it's usage to mean "good" (not bad) "day" (not night). Because of this
distinction, I see "sewing metaphors" to be a more concrete form of the term
than the things which they have come to mean. When you say that we have
metaphors for communication and thought, you seem to be implying that
communication and thought are primary and "metaphor" is "just another way of
looking at things".

Why would we have "metaphors" for textiles, manufacturing, etc.? From my
perspective, we have concrete examples of language which pre-date modern
usage...which is to say that we don't go out looking for modern examples
upon which to hang language. We do not have a meaningless language and
certain categories within which it tends to fall so that we might find a
metaphorical significance: We have a significant language, all of which
has derived from "one" very basic need. Like numbers were derived from
marks on sticks with the specific purpose of keeping track of supplies (or
not, I haven't given this too much thought); words were derived from
something specific...and I am suggesting that as ancients sewed (more
ancient than weaving?) they realized relationships between needles and
threads and materials and gave those relationships sounds passing both the
process of sewing and the sounds along as a pre-verbal history of language.
Our "metaphors" for language are therefore more properly "concrete
historical roots" of language which we are re-discovering.

E> 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.

B: Sorry, I do not believe in historical "accidents". If something is
related there is a reason for that relationship. I have studied the
relationships passed on to us through the use of song--an idea which
applies to things being homophonic--and noted that each sound describes a
relationship...that things which sound alike have similar spatial metaphors.
The "Doe a deer...ray a drop of golden sun" song tells us that musical
sounds and the verbal sounds associated with notes have spatial significance
(The "ah" sound in "fa" is a spatial metaphor for "a long, long, way to run"
from point a to a distant spot in a linear direction: The "ee" sound in
"ti" is related to the fluidity of tea and the distinctivity of bread...a
relationship between relativity and quantums). Though this is just a theory
and it could refer to 8 distinct spatial relationships--doe as female and
receptive, re as essence (drop of sun), mi as reflexive (a name I call
myself), fa (linear), so (needle and thread), la (repercussive), ti (fluid
and distinct) da--or do (whether circular or continual); the fact that notes
and sounds most likely predate "etymology"--and the consistency of the facts
to this observation--suggests strongly to me that there is more than
accident to homophonological similarities--and that "sewing" is THE metaphor
which describes the concrete roots of language.

E>I quote Webster's Ninth New Collegiate:

E>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]

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

E>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.

B: Perhaps you are an entomologist? Like there are grammars and words
which make up language, there are sounds and symbols which make up words.
Entomology is the study of symbols (words)? What is the study of sounds
(grammars)? I think that both studies are valid...but I think that
grammarians will discover more universally significant relationships than
entomologists (the history of sounds are MUCH more ancient--I am assuming).

E>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!

B: What is "meaning"?

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

B: I'm starting to notice your signature attachments and am finding much
food for thought!


B: ps..."point" also seems to refer to the point of a needle--again related
to sewing. What was your objection to placing this word within a sewing
model? And which category did you think it was more appropriate for?

Rabble Sonnet Retort
To spot the expert, pick the one who predicts the job will
take the longest and cost the most.

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