Love is blindness. Life is a highway.
It’s not just Bono and Tom Cochrane who use metaphors. You do. Every day, as your whole frame of reference for many concepts—this can help you learn new things quickly, but also open you up to being tricked by people who want you to think a certain thing.
My son—2 years and 4 months—used his first metaphor today, as he stood back and admired the pile of plush toy animals he had made on the bed.
‘It’s a forest of animals!’, he announced.
This is a similar cultural usage to several other expressions:
It’s a jungle out there.
An urban jungle…
Welcome to the jungle…
(A jungle—a great word derived from Hindi—is a type of forest, and can be used to mean ‘a lot’, ‘chaos’, or ‘lots going on’.)
My son arrived at his metaphor by himself. Almost as if his brain was wired to think this way.
Linguists George Lakoff and Mark Johnson—in their book, Metaphors We Live By—talk about how, culturally, metaphors exist not just in a single expression, but in a whole paradigm.
Take, for example:
Happy is ‘up’.
Sad is ‘down’.
This is universally applied to the language we use to talk about these concepts.
He’s as high as a kite.
She’s down in the dumps.
I’m starting to pick up.
That really gave me a lift.
His heart fell.
Her spirits rose.
Metaphors are all around you, and they might be the key to how humans manage to learn so quickly.
They’re also exploited by advertisers, who can seed ideas because humans think associatively—that is, when we think of 1 thing, we almost instantly think of other related things. (Try naming a child: Any name that triggers a memory of anyone you didn’t particularly like—real or fictional—is out…) Another—metaphorical!—term for this is ‘shotgun thinking’. (See, you’ll remember that now.)
Advertisers do this to get around the laws that prohibit them from making claims that are not literally true.
Be on the lookout when you see claims like ‘all natural ingredients’. People associate ‘natural’ with concepts like ‘healthy’ and ‘fresh’… and from there it’s not much of a leap to the idea that that jar of product will help you lose weight.
Sugar and fat—and snake venom and E. coli—are natural too.