Archive for the ‘Metaphors’ Category

When Do Natural Language Metaphors Influence Reasoning?…

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

When Do Natural Language Metaphors Influence Reasoning? A Follow-Up Study to Thibodeau and Boroditsky (2013) by Gerard J. Steen, W. Gudrun Reijnierse, and Christian Burgers.


In this article, we offer a critical view of Thibodeau and Boroditsky who report an effect of metaphorical framing on readers’ preference for political measures after exposure to a short text on the increase of crime in a fictitious town: when crime was metaphorically presented as a beast, readers became more enforcement-oriented than when crime was metaphorically framed as a virus. We argue that the design of the study has left room for alternative explanations. We report four experiments comprising a follow-up study, remedying several shortcomings in the original design while collecting more encompassing sets of data. Our experiments include three additions to the original studies: (1) a non-metaphorical control condition, which is contrasted to the two metaphorical framing conditions used by Thibodeau and Boroditsky, (2) text versions that do not have the other, potentially supporting metaphors of the original stimulus texts, (3) a pre-exposure measure of political preference (Experiments 1–2). We do not find a metaphorical framing effect but instead show that there is another process at play across the board which presumably has to do with simple exposure to textual information. Reading about crime increases people’s preference for enforcement irrespective of metaphorical frame or metaphorical support of the frame. These findings suggest the existence of boundary conditions under which metaphors can have differential effects on reasoning. Thus, our four experiments provide converging evidence raising questions about when metaphors do and do not influence reasoning.

The influence of metaphors on reasoning raises an interesting question for those attempting to duplicate the human brain in silicon: Can a previously recorded metaphor influence the outcome of AI reasoning?

Or can hearing the same information multiple times from different sources influence an AI’s perception of the validity of that information? (In a non-AI context, a relevant question for the Michael Brown grand jury discussion.)

On it own merits, a very good read and recommended to anyone who enjoys language issues.

Master Metaphor List

Friday, June 13th, 2014

Master Metaphor List (2nd edition) by George Lakoff, Jane Espenson, and Alan Schwartz.

From the cover page:

This is the second attempt to compile in one place the results of metaphor research since the publication of Reddys‘ ‘The Conduit Metaphor’ and Lakoff and Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By. This list is a compilation taken from published books and papers, student papers at Berkeley and else where, and research seminars. This represents perhaps 20 percent (a very rough estimate) of the material we have that needs to be compiled.

‘Compiling’ includes reanalyzing the metaphors and fitting them into something resembling a uniform format. The present list is anything but a finished product. This catalog is not intended to be definitive in any way. It is simply what happens to have been catalogued by volunteer labor by the date of distribution. We are making it available to students and colleagues in the hope that they can improve upon it and use it as a place to begin further research.

We expect to have subsequent drafts appearing at regular intervals. Readers are encouraged to submit ideas for additions and revisions.

Because of the size and complexity of the list, we have included a number of features to make using it easier. The Table of Contents at the beginning of the catalog lists the files in each of the four sections in the order in which they appear. At the beginning of each section is a brief description of the metaphors contained within. Finally, an alphabetized index of metaphor names has been provided.

What I haven’t seen at George Lakoff’s website are “subsequent drafts” of this document. You?

Nowadays I would expect the bibliography entries to be pointers to specific documents.

It was in looking for later resources that I discovered:

The EuroWordNet project was completed in the summer of 1999. The design of the database, the defined relations, the top-ontology and the Inter-Lingual-Index are now frozen. EuroWordNet)

I wasn’t aware that new words and metaphors had stopped entering Dutch, Italian, Spanish, German, French, Czech and Estonian in 1999. You see, it is true, you can learn something new everyday!

Of course, in this case, what I learned is false. Dutch, Italian, Spanish, German, French, Czech and Estonian continue to enrich themselves and create new metaphors.

Unlike first order logic (FOL) in the views of some.

Maybe that is why Dutch, Italian, Spanish, German, French, Czech and Estonian are all more popular than FOL by varying orders of magnitude.

I first saw this in a tweet by Francis Storr.

Legendary Lands:…

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

Legendary Lands: Umberto Eco on the Greatest Maps of Imaginary Places and Why They Appeal to Us by Maria Popova.

From the review:

“Often the object of a desire, when desire is transformed into hope, becomes more real than reality itself.”

Celebrated Italian novelist, philosopher, essayist, literary critic, and list-lover Umberto Eco has had a long fascination with the symbolic and the metaphorical, extending all the way back to his vintage semiotic children’s books. Half a century later, he revisits the mesmerism of the metaphorical and the symbolic in The Book of Legendary Lands (public library) — an illustrated voyage into history’s greatest imaginary places, with all their fanciful inhabitants and odd customs, on scales as large as the mythic continent Atlantis and as small as the fictional location of Sherlock Holmes’s apartment. A dynamic tour guide for the human imagination, Eco sets out to illuminate the central mystery of why such utopias and dystopias appeal to us so powerfully and enduringly, what they reveal about our relationship with reality, and how they bespeak the quintessential human yearning to make sense of the world and find our place in it — after all, maps have always been one of our greatest sensemaking mechanisms for life, which we’ve applied to everything from the cosmos to time to emotional memory.

Eco writes in the introduction:

Legendary lands and places are of various kinds and have only one characteristic in common: whether they depend on ancient legends whose origins are lost in the mists of time or whether they are an effect of a modern invention, they have created flows of belief.

The reality of these illusions is the subject of this book.

Definitely going to the top of my wish list!

I suspect that like Gladwell‘s Tipping Point, Blink, Flop (forthcoming?), it is one thing to see a successful utopia in retrospect but quite another to intentionally create one.

Tolkien did with the Hobbit but for all of its power, it has never, to my knowledge, influenced a United States Congress appropriations bill.

Perhaps it is more accurate to say that successful utopias are possible but it is difficult to calculate their success and/or impact.

In any event, I am looking forward to spending serious time with The Book of Legendary Lands.

PS: For the library students among us, the subject classifications given by WorldCat:

  • Geographical myths in literature.
  • Geographical myths in art — Pictorial works.
  • Geographical myths.
  • Art and literature.
  • Geographical myths in art.

I haven’t gotten a copy of the book, yet, but that looks really impoverished to me. If I am looking for materials on reality, belief, social consensus, social fabric, legends, etc. I am going to miss this book in your library?


Experimenting with visualisation tools

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

Experimenting with visualisation tools by Brian Aitken.

From the post:

Over the past few months I’ve been working to develop some interactive visualisations that will eventually be made available on the Mapping Metaphor website. The project team investigated a variety of visualisation approaches that they considered well suited to both the project data and the connections between the data, and they also identified a number of toolkits that could be used to generate such visualisations.

Brian experiments with the JavaScript InfoVis Toolkit for the Mapping Metaphor with the Historical Thesaurus project.

Interesting read. Promises to cover D3 in a future post.

Could be very useful for other graph or topic map visualizations.

Mapping Metaphor with the Historical Thesaurus

Monday, June 24th, 2013

Mapping Metaphor with the Historical Thesaurus: Visualization of Links

From the post:

By the end of the Mapping Metaphor with the Historical Thesaurus project we will have a web resource which allows the user to find pathways into our data. It will show a map of the conceptual metaphors of English over the last thousand years, showing links between each semantic area where we find evidence of metaphorical overlap. Unsurprisingly, given the visual and spatial metaphors which we are necessarily already using to describe our data and the analysis of it (e.g pathways and maps), this will be represented graphically as well as in more traditional forms.

Below is a very early (in the project) example of a visualisation of the semantic domains of ‘Light’ and ‘Darkness, absence of light’, showing their metaphorical links with other semantic areas in the Historical Thesaurus data. We produced this using the program Gephi, which allows links between nodes to be shown using different colours, thickness of lines, etc.

Light and Darkness

From the project description at University of Glasgow, School of Critical Studies:

Over the past 30 years, it has become clear that metaphor is not simply a literary phenomenon; metaphorical thinking underlies the way we make sense of the world conceptually. When we talk about ‘a healthy economy’ or ‘a clear argument’ we are using expressions that imply the mapping of one domain of experience (e.g. medicine, sight) onto another (e.g. finance, perception). When we describe an argument in terms of warfare or destruction (‘he demolished my case’), we may be saying something about the society we live in. The study of metaphor is therefore of vital interest to scholars in many fields, including linguists and psychologists, as well as to scholars of literature.

Key questions about metaphor remain to be answered; for example, how did metaphors arise? Which domains of experience are most prominent in metaphorical expressions? How have the metaphors available in English developed over the centuries in response to social changes? With the completion of the Historical Thesaurus, published as the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary by OUP (Kay, Roberts, Samuels, Wotherspoon eds, 2009), we can begin to address these questions comprehensively and in detail for the first time. We now have the opportunity to track how metaphorical ways of thinking and expressing ourselves have changed over more than a millennium.

Almost half a century in the making, the Historical Thesaurus is the first source in the world to offer a comprehensive semantic classification of the words forming the written record of a language. In the case of English, this record covers thirteen centuries of change and development, in metaphor as in other areas. We will use the Historical Thesaurus evidence base to investigate how the language of one domain of experience (e.g. medicine) contributes to others (e.g. finance). As we proceed, we will be able to see innovations in metaphorical thinking at particular periods or in particular areas of experience, such as the Renaissance, the scientific revolution, and the early days of psychoanalysis.

To achieve our goals, we will devise tools for the analysis of metaphor historically, beginning with a systematic identification of instances where words extend their meanings from one domain into another. An annotated ‘Metaphor Map’, which will be freely available online, will allow us to demonstrate when and how significant shifts in meaning took place. On the basis of this evidence, the team will produce series of case studies and a book examining key domains of metaphorical meaning.

Conference papers from the project.

What a wickedly topic map-like idea!

Metaphor Identification in Large Texts Corpora

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

Metaphor Identification in Large Texts Corpora by Yair Neuman, Dan Assaf, Yohai Cohen, Mark Last, Shlomo Argamon, Newton Howard, Ophir Frieder. (Neuman Y, Assaf D, Cohen Y, Last M, Argamon S, et al. (2013) Metaphor Identification in Large Texts Corpora. PLoS ONE 8(4): e62343. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0062343)


Identifying metaphorical language-use (e.g., sweet child) is one of the challenges facing natural language processing. This paper describes three novel algorithms for automatic metaphor identification. The algorithms are variations of the same core algorithm. We evaluate the algorithms on two corpora of Reuters and the New York Times articles. The paper presents the most comprehensive study of metaphor identification in terms of scope of metaphorical phrases and annotated corpora size. Algorithms’ performance in identifying linguistic phrases as metaphorical or literal has been compared to human judgment. Overall, the algorithms outperform the state-of-the-art algorithm with 71% precision and 27% averaged improvement in prediction over the base-rate of metaphors in the corpus.

A deep review of current work and promising new algorithms on metaphor identification.

I first saw this in Nat Torkinton’s Four short links: 14 May 2013.

Metaphorical search engine finds creative new meanings

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Metaphorical search engine finds creative new meanings

From the post:

TYPING “love” into Google, I find the Wikipedia entry, a “relationship calculator” and Lovefilm, a DVD rental service. Doing the same in YossarianLives, a new search engine due to launch this year, I might receive quite different results: “river”, “sleep” and “prison”. Its creators claim YossarianLives is a metaphorical search engine, designed to spark creativity by returning disparate but conceptually related terms. So the results perhaps make sense if you accept that love can ebb and flow, provide rejuvenating comfort or just make you feel trapped.

“Today’s internet search tells us what the world already knows,” explains the CEO of YossarianLives, J. Paul Neeley. “We don’t want you to know what everyone else knows, we want you to generate new knowledge.” He says that metaphors help us see existing concepts in a new way and create innovative ideas. For example, using a Formula 1 pit crew as a metaphor for doctors in an emergency room has helped improve medical procedures. YossarianLives aims to create new metaphors for designers, artists, writers or even scientists.

The name is derived from the anti-hero of the novel Catch-22, as the company wants to solve the catch-22 of existing search engines, which they say help us to access current knowledge but also harm us by reinforcing that knowledge above all else.

Sounds too good to be true but good things do happen.

What do you think?

That’s What She Said: Double Entendre Identification

Sunday, May 1st, 2011

That’s What She Said: Double Entendre Identification by Chloé Kiddon and Yuriy Brun.


Humor identification is a hard natural language understanding problem. We identify a subproblem — the “that’s what she said” problem—with two distinguishing characteristics: (1) use of nouns that are euphemisms for sexually explicit nouns and (2) structure common in the erotic domain. We address this problem in a classification approach that includes features that model those two characteristics. Experiments on web data demonstrate that our approach improves precision by 12% over baseline techniques that use only word-based features.

A highly entertaining paper that examines a particular type of double entendre, which is itself a particular type of metaphor.

The authors note:

A “that’s what she said” (TWSS) joke is a type of double entendre. A double entendre, or adianoeta, is an expression that can be understood in two different ways: an innocuous, straightforward way, given the context, and a risqué way that indirectly alludes to a different, indecent context. To our knowledge, related research has not studied the task of identifying double entendres in text or speech. The task is complex and would require both deep semantic and cultural understanding to recognize the vast array of double entendres. We focus on a subtask of double entendre identification: TWSS recognition. We say a sentence is a TWSS if it is funny to follow that sentence with “that’s what she said”. (emphasis added)

It would be interesting to see a crowd-sourced topic map project on double entendre.

BTW, strictly for non-office enjoyment, see: TWSS, a site that collects TWSS stories.

Music, Essential Metaphor, And Private Language

Saturday, April 23rd, 2011

Music, Essential Metaphor, And Private Language by Nick Zangwill, American Philosophical Quarterly, Volume 48, Number 1, January 2011.


Music is elusive. describing it is problematic. In particular its aesthetic properties cannot be captured in literal description. Beyond very simple terms, they cannot be literally described. In this sense, the aesthetic description of music is essentially nonliteral. An adequate aesthetic description of music must have resort to metaphor or other nonliteral devices. I maintain that this is because of the nature of the aesthetic properties being described. I defend this view against an apparently simple objection put by Malcolm Budd. dealing with this objection will take us into some surprising terrain. We are led to consider issues concerning privacy and the language for describing sensations. In the light of these considerations, I develop the essentially nonliteralist thesis and explore some of its consequences. (emphasis in original)

Zangwill’s article is a good reminder that there are very large areas of human experience that are not amenable to the “Just the facts, Ma’am” type approach. Music being one. Would you believe medicine is another? Zangwill says:

It might seem strange to hold that there is part of reality that cannot be literally described. Is that not an obscure and mystical view? If aesthetic properties are there in the world, surely we should be able to describe them in literal terms, at least in principle. But the idea of a literally indescribable reality is not unfamiliar. If we want to describe tastes, smells, and inner sensations, we will, beyond very simple descriptions, be forced to describe them nonliterally. Indeed, part of the training of doctors is to elicit and interpret metaphorical descriptions of pain, with a view to diagnosis. Nonliteral description is inescapable and irreplaceable in such cases. The same is true in the description of music.

I would add physical sensations, relationships with others, our experiencing of events, etc.

The interesting bits of our lives aren’t describable other than by metaphor.

If you think about it, literal descriptions offer an impoverished view on the world.

One that excludes what is unique to us, our metaphors.

PS: You may also enjoy other papers at Nick Zangwill’s homepage, particularly the one on Negative Properties.

Measuring the meaning of words in contexts:…

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

Measuring the meaning of words in contexts: An automated analysis of controversies about ‘Monarch butterflies,’ ‘Frankenfoods,’ and ‘stem cells’ Author(s): Loet Leydesdorff and Iina Hellsten Keywords: co-words, metaphors, diaphors, context, meaning


Co-words have been considered as carriers of meaning across different domains in studies of science, technology, and society. Words and co-words, however, obtain meaning in sentences, and sentences obtain meaning in their contexts of use. At the science/society interface, words can be expected to have different meanings: the codes of communication that provide meaning to words differ on the varying sides of the interface. Furthermore, meanings and interfaces may change over time. Given this structuring of meaning across interfaces and over time, we distinguish between metaphors and diaphors as reflexive mechanisms that facilitate the translation between contexts. Our empirical focus is on three recent scientific controversies: Monarch butterflies, Frankenfoods, and stem-cell therapies. This study explores new avenues that relate the study of co-word analysis in context with the sociological quest for the analysis and processing of meaning.

Excellent article on shifts of word meaning over time. Reports sufficient detail on methodology that interested readers will be able to duplicate or extend the research reported here.


  1. Annotated bibliography of research citing this paper.
  2. Design a study of the shifting meaning of a 2 or 3 terms. What texts would you select? (3-5 pages, with citations)
  3. Perform a study of shifting meaning of terms in library science. (Project)