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Monday, September 2, 2013

Metaphors of Everyday Life

Ordinary language is the graveyard of dead metaphors. Ricoeur says as often as he says anything that metaphor is what you will not find in the dictionary. Thus he draws the line between metaphoric and literal expression, between those metaphors that have not (yet) ossified into a plain meanings and those that have. For his purpose this is perfectly legitimate. In a larger sense it creates a problem in that all the fundamental corpses of literal language can be (in theory) spontaneously reanimated. We never know if it’s truly dead or merely catatonic. Whether it is truly dead but can rise as a zombie. (This carving of a man out of wax seems sincere.) And there are a number of metaphors at the fuzzy border of the line of the dictionary, passing back and forth, not quite settling into death or sleep. And finally, for anyone deeply immersed in language and the history of language, the implicit metaphors are not dead at all. (I see dead—metaphors. Ghosts.) He laughs at the claim that the typhoon decimated the population.

It’s in part because language’s dead metaphors are never yet quite dead to all readers and yet dead beyond recall to others that sentences are so hard to nail down.

Moreover the study of metaphor yields, eventually, the realization that the ordinary language we use literally every day to make plain and unambiguous meanings is really just a collection of dead, half dead, playing dead and merely sleeping metaphors that create a bizarre monster of meanings in whose belly we live and which, but for myriad accidents of history, might have been entirely another monster.

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