Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Power of the Metaphor

   It is impossible to argue, even for the most masterful of rhetoricians, the power of the metaphor. Now that’s an interesting statement, feel free to challenge me on it. The fact of the matter is our language is so steeped in metaphors, unless you take an excruciating amount of time looking back at what was just said, there’s a good chance you’ll probably miss them. Even in the past sentence ‘steeped’ is a metaphor (not to mention ‘excruciate’ or ‘miss’), for you can’t ‘steep’ ideas into words in the same way you can steep flavor into tea. No one, however, would read that sentence and seriously object to the thought of steeping language with metaphors; because it is metaphors which makes it possible to communicate to others.

   A metaphor, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is ‘a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them (as in drowning in money).’ Simply put, a metaphor is a mode of speaking which says two different things are similar in order to create a new perspective, or mental picture, on an issue. By looking at language in the same way one looks at tea, it is easy to see that it is metaphors that create its flavor. And boy, that flavor is powerful.

   What I mean by metaphors containing power is that by utilizing them, you create vivid images in your audiences’ mind that makes it easy to understand what you’re meaning. With it, complex ideas are made simple, and the mundane suddenly become interesting. ‘Metaphors help make sense of the world.’ (Cate Palczewski, Richard Ice, and John Fritch, “Language”)

   Think of people who were great speakers, chances are they were experts at the metaphor. For example, in his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, Martin Luther King Jr. speaks on the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, and says “This momentous decree came as a great beacon of light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice.” With that statement, one can easily understand the difficulties the African Americans faced at the time of the Proclamation’s signing, and why they were looking hopefully at this ‘beacon of light of hope’ (Emancipation Proclamation) to alleviate those who had been ‘seared in the flames of withering justice’ (slavery), the mental pictures are obvious. If injustice is just as painful as being seared over a fire, it’s easy to see why someone would want hope of your situation improving!

   If we continue later in his speech, he argues that if his demand for rights were not met, a “whirlwind of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.” Understanding was unanimous, and his cry for rights was eventually met. MLK and any other great speaker understands that like seasoning to taco meat, metaphor is what packs the punch in language. And if you’re able to effectively use metaphor, you’ll be able to move nations, and persuade just about anybody.

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