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Metaphors We Live By

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  5,614 ratings  ·  518 reviews
The now-classic Metaphors We Live By changed our understanding of metaphor and its role in language and the mind. Metaphor, the authors explain, is a fundamental mechanism of mind, one that allows us to use what we know about our physical and social experience to provide understanding of countless other subjects. Because such metaphors structure our most basic understandin
Paperback, 276 pages
Published 2003 by University of Chicago Press (first published 1980)
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Gary Jaron Concepts are packaged in metaphoric language. Concepts are summarized statements of ideas and inspirations that require structured language to articul…moreConcepts are packaged in metaphoric language. Concepts are summarized statements of ideas and inspirations that require structured language to articulate, explain and elucidate what is the potential packaged in the concept. This is what the authors were trying to explain. Our primary concepts are body based metaphors.(less)
Kevin O'hara Lakoff's book is mentioned in the Hero's Journey by Robert Dilts and Steve Gilligan while pointing out that our fundamental language is metaphorical -…moreLakoff's book is mentioned in the Hero's Journey by Robert Dilts and Steve Gilligan while pointing out that our fundamental language is metaphorical - a child thinks in metaphor and story long before he thinks literality.(less)

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Understanding One’s Native Tongue

It turns out there were really good existential reasons for paying attention in primary school English. All that business about grammar and figures of speech is actually essential for getting on in the world quite apart from speaking proper. This classic from the 1970’s shows why this is so in an entertaining and convincing way.

Language is a odd thing. It looks like something neutral, a tool for doing things, some good, some not so good depending on its user. But
I first read parts of this book nearly 20 years ago. I meant to get my hands on the whole thing back then too and read it from cover to cover, but for one reason or another I never seemed to get around to it. This is a pity, as it is the sort of book I really ought to have read in full back then and perhaps again a couple of times since. This really is an interesting book.

The main idea is that rather than metaphors being curious literary devices, that they in fact are central to how we understan
Jan 28, 2009 rated it liked it
This book is very frequently quoted by linguists - I just looked it up on Google Scholar, and found a staggering 13517 citations. Nearly everyone has at least glanced through it, and the ideas have permeated the field.

There was a nice Lakoff-related moment during one of the invited talks at a conference I attended during the summer. The speaker, who was giving an excellent presentation on loan-words related to food, hadn't been able to resist putting in a slide where he glanced at an interestin
Jul 07, 2012 rated it liked it
Here are my reading notes. I thought the book was fine. Mostly interesting in the first half. The rest of the book contains a lot of repetitive statements and circular phrases.

# The metaphor as a concept
The way we talk is peppered with metaphors. For instance, we talk of debates the way we talk of warfare.

These metaphors often extend beyond a simple idiom and define a whole system of thought. For instance, we think of time as money -- as a commodity -- and so we use a slew of expressions like "b
Morgan Blackledge
Feb 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
I got quite a nutritious repast out of this, though the didactic presentation and excessive repeating of elements of their arguments stuck in my throat sometimes. Already you may detect me using a metaphor of reading as a meal of food. Which builds on another metaphor of ideas as objects that can be conveyed as through a conduit (a throat). I can’t think without metaphors, so some of the edifice here is often preaching to the choir (to lean on another metaphor). Yet I was inspired how the author ...more
This is a book that is going to shed a new light on the seemingly trivial subject of metaphors. The beginning of the book wasn’t exciting to me, so I almost put it down. It felt too basic and uninspiring. Luckily, the authors were probably just warming up the reader before getting into some serious matters. As the book progressed, things like conceptualization, linguistics and psychology started to intervene, and it eventually became a very interesting read.

The way most of us think about metaph
Jul 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This book changed my life. It has short chapters, 5-10 pages. you can get most of what you need from chapters 1-3 and the epilogue.

It explains the structure of metaphor. Turns out, at least for me, that theory is metaphorical, language is metaphorical, life itself is metaphorical.

So what does that do for us? It makes it possible to realize the perspectivism is not an ideal to shoot for in some pristine Kantian space, but the very quantum material of social life.

In this recognition, I found a
Oct 01, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Bob Bork
I probably wouldn't have picked up this book on my own. I was assigned it in college and hated it so much I never got beyond chapter 4 or so. (The margins of these early pages are so filled with embarrassing personal notes and stream of consciousness ramblings that I would be too embarrassed to sell it or give it away.) Whereupon it sat on a shelf until, lo all these years later, I decided to give it another shot.

If you're interested in the intersection between linguistics and philosophy, you ou
Mar 20, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: review
In "How Emotions are Made", Lisa Feldman Barrett wrote how concepts, goals, words all help the brain frame any new stimulus it receives and that by reframing concepts and looking at them more objectively, we can reshape what emotions are surfaced, and thus exercise free will. But how does one go about that? In the vast scope of "Metaphors we live by", we get an answer to that too.
Metaphorical concepts are so ubiquitous in our thoughts and deeds that we don't even realise they exist, let alone t
Jul 09, 2019 added it
Shelves: linguistics
Gather 'round kids, it's time for a true story. When I was 20 or so, I ate a couple grams of magic mushrooms at my friend's apartment in the middle of a blizzard, and thought "hey man, it's all metaphors. When people talk about physics or the stock market or whatever, that's like learning a system of metaphors."

This remains the nearest thing I've had to a psychonautic breakthrough, and it remains one I actually believe to this day.

George Lakoff had similar ideas, presumably sans psilocybin. And
Jul 06, 2016 rated it liked it
A classic still very much relevant today—

This very much readable volume is written with an admirable clarity that at the same time doesn't sacrifice academic rigor. To be sure, the authors have a penchant for repeating things, but the repetition is part of what makes this so accessible to anyone interested in the topic of metaphor.

Lakoff and Johnson's argument is simple but far-reaching: metaphor isn't just a literary technique you study (and get bored by) in class. It's a powerful conceptual to
Feb 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
When I first read this book about 25 years ago, I read it with an amateur’s interest in linguistics, and found it very satisfying. Now, rereading as a fledgling author of fiction, I find new opportunities for thought in it that its authors might not even have intended.

In describing the “metaphors we live by,” Lakoff and Johnson present a theory of understanding by which humans comprehend certain concepts by mapping them onto other, more basic concepts. The basic sensory metaphors are based in t
Mar 06, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: linguistics
In a science fiction story by Ursula Le Guin a nonconformist ant writes, "Up with the Queen!" The fictional translators add an annotation that the proper English translation is probably "Down with the Queen!" In English, gaining power is associated with the up direction, and losing it with the down direction, though it might be the opposite in the fictional ant language; "Down with the Queen!" means "Let the Queen lose power!" Lakoff and Johnson argue that such metaphors, or "understanding and e ...more
Wendy Liu
I like the premise - that metaphors structure our understandings of the world - but this book kinda beat it to death (if you’ll excuse the metaphor). Too deep in the philosophy weeds for my liking. I wouldn’t recommend reading the whole thing unless you’re interested in philosophy or linguistics in an academic context.
Nov 25, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Metaphors We Live By is that rare beast of an unmistakeably academic text, pretty strict and rigid, devoid of the tricks and baubles often used in today's science-for-the-masses books, but which somehow keeps you hooked. (Or at least it kept me hooked, and my attention span is pretty feeble these days.)
Lakoff starts with a few examples of metaphorical structures which organize our understanding of abstract concepts ("argument are war", "love is a journey", "ideas are food"), and goes extremely d
Apr 06, 2013 rated it liked it
This book makes a crucial basic point: We can't help but think in metaphors and we live by the metaphors by which we think, and that's okay. It engages in a tremendous amount of definition, categorization, and exemplification that struck me, as a non-linguist, as overkill. Indeed, in the Afterword, the authors retract some of their earlier categorizations as excessive. And, frankly, the take-away for me was limited.

I expect the book is more important than I can appreciate. (The authors certainly
May 28, 2011 rated it did not like it
One of the poorest structured books I've read in a long time. Lakoff and Johnson make big claims but deliver none. The whole thing just comes off as academic masturbation with no real novel insight or reasoning. They present a grand idea with little to no underpinnings. The reader is presented with no dialectic to even consider whether the thesis is accurate or not.

The treatise that metaphors are at once the enabling and limiting factors of conceptual thinking needs an axiomatic foundation of wh
Simon Eskildsen
May 29, 2018 rated it it was ok
The main insight here is that we use metaphors constantly, but some are so ingrained we don't even acknowledge them. For example, "FUTURE IS AHEAD." We think of the future in front of us, but in some cultures and languages, they use "back" and "behind" to describe the future. We think of "POSITIVE IS UP," so that if you're talking about an "upswing" it's usually a good thing. These metaphors are all around us in what verbs and adverbs we use day-to-day. I was hoping it'd go more into how metapho ...more
Feb 11, 2010 rated it really liked it
The point is that everything we think or say is a metaphor. This seems obvious, but the authors' examples constantly catch me off-guard. The afterword, written a few years ago, is important.

The book begins with the metaphors of "time is money" and "arguement is war". Respective examples are: "Is it worth your while?" and "Disagree? Go ahead, shoot". Lakoff and Johnson make the point that societies exist in which time is not a resource- sitting on a hammock is not "wasting time". Also there are c
Nick Arkesteyn
Oct 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This amazing book will have you questioning everything that comes out of your mouth. A simple statement like, "My friend is "in" the race or "in" love will have a completely different meaning. In so far as the human mind can not understand things like events or emotions in concrete terms. It has a difficult time understanding abstract concepts. So in order to make sense of a friend that is "in" love or "in" a race we turn the event or the emotion into a contain with boundaries.

We see love as a
Adrian Colesberry
Apr 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book was published in the early 70s but is still a relevant, compact and powerful attack on Cartesian dualism, the proposed split between mind and body that has plagued us for centuries.

(Not all Descartes's fault as I understand. Socrates came up with the idea of the soul as some pure realm of ideas. Then the Christian's picked it up once it became obvious that the end was not quite as nigh as they were hoping so the preservation of body promised by Paul in Corinthians seemed more and more
May 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book was recommended to me originally by my Yoda, my o captain my captain, and part of what enamoured me was just that: the sensation of 'assigned reading'. I often miss being in the classroom in the role of a student and reading something completely foreign, of feeling my mind creak, of feeling someone else's passion for the ideas seep through your skin. I also genuinely enjoyed the central tenets of the book, though I also needed to remember the pre-post-modern writing context and I think ...more
Dan Slimmon
This book packed a lot of ideas into my mind, which expanded and stretched my mind, ultimately blowing my mind. It'll take me a long time to digest these ideas, which I found palatable but very chewy. ...more
Nov 06, 2015 rated it it was ok
Soul crushingly boring and repetitive.
Tiago Faleiro
Aug 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy, owned
This book was fantastic. I was already very intrigued by metaphor, especially as I learned more about religious symbolism and started seeing it everywhere. I was looking to dig into the topic and this was perfect.

First of all, metaphors aren't specific instances of language. If you think of something metaphorically, you may think of something like poetry. But metaphor goes deeper than that, it really is entrenched in language in a way that you can't easily see.

And not only is language full of me
Mar 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
The basic idea argued by Lakoff and Johnson (L&J) in Metaphors We Live By is that most, if not all, of our reasoning about abstract concepts is done through metaphors. These metaphors conceptually link the domain of abstract concepts to the domain of concepts that are closer to our everyday bodily experiences. This link allows us to determine the logical entailments in the more abstract domain by comparison to the cause and effect relationships in the concrete domain of how we physically interac ...more
Oct 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing

Imagine a culture where an argument is viewed as a dance, the participants are seen as performers, and the goal is to perform in a balanced and aesthetically pleasing way. … Perhaps the most neutral way of describing this difference between their culture and ours would be to say that we have a discourse form structured in terms of battle and they have one structured in terms of dance.

In English, an argument is most often talked about—and crucially thought about—in terms of war. We attack weak p
Ken Rideout
Nov 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Although weighed down by academic prose and a bit of a slog to read, this book is transformative in the impact it can have on your life. Although already aware of Lakoff's work in political language and mathematical language, coming back to this seminal book was still eye opening for me. For someone who has yet to think really hard about language in this way, I think it could be transformative and make you a better person. (Hence the five stars)

"Metaphor is as much a part of our functioning as o
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George Lakoff is Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at UC Berkeley and is one of the founders of the field of cognitive science.

He is author of The New York Times bestseller Don't Think of an Elephant!, as well as Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, Whose Freedom?, and many other books and articles on cognitive science and ling

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“Another example of how a metaphor can create new meaning for us came about by accident. An Iranian student, shortly after his arrival in Berkeley, took a seminar on metaphor from one of us. Among the wondrous things that he found in Berkeley was an expression that he heard over and over and understood as a beautifully sane metaphor. The expression was “the solution of my problems”—which he took to be a large volume of liquid, bubbling and smoking, containing all of your problems, either dissolved or in the form of precipitates, with catalysts constantly dissolving some problems (for the time being) and precipitating out others. He was terribly disillusioned to find that the residents of Berkeley had no such chemical metaphor in mind. And well he might be, for the chemical metaphor is both beautiful and insightful. It gives us a view of problems as things that never disappear utterly and that cannot be solved once and for all. All of your problems are always present, only they may be dissolved and in solution, or they may be in solid form. The best you can hope for is to find a catalyst that will make one problem dissolve without making another one precipitate out. [...] The CHEMICAL metaphor gives us a new view of human problems. It is appropriate to the experience of finding that problems which we once thought were “solved” turn up again and again. The CHEMICAL metaphor says that problems are not the kind of things that can be made to disappear forever. To treat them as things that can be “solved” once and for all is pointless. [...] To live by the
CHEMICAL metaphor would mean that your problems have a different kind of reality for you.”
“Metaphor is thus imaginative rationality.” 14 likes
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