Quotes Are Like Orphans: and Our Need for Metaphors and Similes

Metaphor: a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable to suggest a resemblance.

Primary Metaphor: the basic connection that exist between subjective or abstract experiences such as good and concrete experiences such as up. These two concepts usually correlate in experience, and form the primary metaphor good is up. Thanks, Wikipedia

Well, as we are all diligent English students and we have all read and memorized the articles in our English book, the sentence I address should not be all that foreign.

“In a way quotations are like orphans: words that have been taken out from their original contexts and that need to be integrated into their new textual surroundings”

Okay so not to do exactly what the quote is saying not to do, or call what is actually a simile a metaphor—thine holy grammar Nazis, but why was this sentence necessary? Why did the author of this strange quote feel the need to use a figure of speech to describe this topic to their reader?

The real question is why do humans feel the need to continually use metaphors, similes, and other figures of speech in our written and everyday language? George Lakoff speaks on this subject and specifically how it pertains to thought patterns of conservatives and progressives, but that is way too much of a topic for this blog, look into 0-10 min for the relevant information. George Lakoff on the Political Mind

For starters English language speakers are not isolated when it comes to figures of speech; metaphors and the like are used in thousands of languages across the globe, and they are all used to teach and explain more complex ideas. However, to properly address why metaphors are used, we must first look at why metaphors work in our brains. When we are wee children we haven’t quite gotten this talking thing down, but we are still very in tune with the world around us. Without speech, our other senses take the wheel, particularly sight, everything that we observe as toddlers create the world that we know. Yes lessons are learned all the way up till death, but our base understandings of the world come from these early observations and feelings and in our little toddler brains, these turn into primary metaphors.

Now, although Wikipedia has provided us with a lovely definition of primary metaphor, it’s good to understand just what is behind that definition. So, hopefully we all have a brain, in this brain millions of things are happening at the same time, but it’s cool, your brain’s pretty used to all these reactions and information coming in. When we were infants, our brains were still rapidly processing everything; however, we did not have many of the primal associations that we do now, specifically the circuitry links that cause us to associate things with other things. Through repetition of those things, we form these circuitry links. Let’s take a look at some things: When a baby sees his mother pour water in a glass, he will begin to understand that water poured into a glass will always start at the bottom and rise to the top, never the other way around. Similarly we associate affection with warmth, because when we were children we received affection from warm bodies. Neurologically speaking, these two different things, volume and height, affection and heat, begin in to separate parts of the brain and grow towards each other with repetition until they make a link, and that link is a primary metaphor. By the time we are five or six we have hundreds of these primary metaphors embedded in our brains.

So to answer my own question, we use and understand literary metaphors because they mimic, more complexly, the primary metaphors in our brains. We act on and trust these metaphors in our actions and daily life; after all, would you pour liquids the same every time if you weren’t sure they would always rise from the bottom up? Metaphors relate to how we understand things whether they are used stylistically or literally.

Finally, our little quote: this is a terrible sentence in that the author completely incorrectly defines what it is to be an orphan, while also throwing all empathy for the horror that it is to grow up with neither of your parents to the wind. That said, this quote does use a very important technique while discussing the rather bland topic of quoting, by using such a stark phrase of speech, the author grabs our attention and makes us reread this sentence…Touché.

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