Re: virus: Eye of the Needle

Eva-Lise Carlstrom (
Sun, 14 Sep 1997 15:18:54 -0700 (PDT)

On Sun, 14 Sep 1997, Brett Lane Robertson wrote:

> 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".

Actually, if you go to the archives and look up my notes on George
Lakoff's lecture (or I can forward them to you if you prefer), you'll get
a much more accurate picture of my views on metaphor. I do consider
metaphor to be central to thought, and to be our primary way of
understanding things like language that cannot be directly sensed as, say,
a rock can.

I agree with you on the importance of metaphors, and in particular
manufacturing metaphors, for how we think about communication; I disagree
with the examples you find telling.

> >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.

Uh, yes...there's a reason, but it has nothing to do with the meaning of
the words. It has to do with the history of sound shifts in Old and
Middle English as they developed into the modern language.
Let me ask you something: When you find a similarity between two
items in one respect, do you always assume they must be associated in
other respects?
Fish and whales have similar body structures and both live
underwater. This does not establish that they are fundamentally the same,
nor that one developed from the other, nor that they are any more closely
associated in essence or history than any other two animals. It
establishes only that they are similar in this one respect of their manner
of adaptation to a watery environment.
Do you understand what I am saying by this example?

The words "so" and "sew" don't sound alike in most languages; if you spoke
a different native language, you would find that the word for "so" didn't
sound much like any other word, or that it sounded like several with
different meanings, or that it sounded like a word with a meaning
totally unrelated to sewing. If in your language, "so" sounded like the
word for "horse", would you conclude that horses were the central metaphor
for understanding causality?

> 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).

Actually, entomology is the study of bugs.

Etymology is the study of word origins. Phonology is the study of sounds.
Phonemics is the study of sounds as they are used in languages (letters,
sounds that are considered distinct from one another in a given language).
Syntactics is the study of grammar. Semantics is the study of meaning.
All are aspects of linguistics.

> >Eva,
> >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!

Food metaphors for thought and communication are also very common. See
Lakoff again. :)

amateur entomologist

PS--If you don't mind my asking, Brett, what is your educational
background? Have you attended classes in anthropology, linguistics, or
psychology? I expect you would find all of the above interesting and
informative, and find that more detailed knowledge of the processes of
linguistic, cultural, and psychological development would help you in
developing and evaluating your hypotheses about metaphor.