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Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal About the Mind

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  1,017 ratings  ·  68 reviews
"Its publication should be a major event for cognitive linguistics and should pose a major challenge for cognitive science. In addition, it should have repercussions in a variety of disciplines, ranging from anthropology and psychology to epistemology and the philosophy of science. . . . Lakoff asks: What do categories of language and thought reveal about the human mind? O ...more
Paperback, 632 pages
Published April 15th 1990 by University of Chicago Press (first published 1987)
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 ·  1,017 ratings  ·  68 reviews

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Jul 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
If this book was a couple of hundred pages shorter I would recommend it to just about anyone. The central idea is both interesting and important – but I think the book isn’t quite sure about who its audience ought to be and this gets in the way. I didn’t quite finish the last of the case studies, he did warn it would be long, but I lost the thread and figured I had gotten all I needed from the book by then, anyway.

I’ve been reading a few books lately that have questioned how the categories we us
Jan 28, 2009 rated it liked it
This book certainly shows you why linguistics is so damn hard: there is an almost infinite number of ways in which concepts can turn out to be related.

The title refers to Dyirbal, an native Australian language, where women, fire and dangerous things all end up in the same category, Balan. I just looked this up, to check that I remembered correctly why the Hairy Mary Grub is also Balan. You see, it gives you a painful rash that feels like sunburn, and sunburn is of course related to the sun, and
Nov 19, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: linguistics
A car is usually a self-powered four-wheel vehicle 3-5 meters long that encloses a driver and one to four passengers. This definition is not exhaustive; there has been a three-wheel car, an eight-wheel car; a racecar seats no passengers; early horseless carriages did not enclose the driver and the passengers. Yet the definition describes the prototypical car in the minds of most speakers of English. When asked to draw a car, they would draw something like the prototypical car and not a three-whe ...more
Oct 21, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sociology
It's not about women or anything feminism related. Rather, it's AMAZING book about cognition and categories of thought. ...more
Roy Kenagy
Feb 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Essential reading for librarians - cognitive categorization theory. How real people (as opposed to librarians) classify stuff. Hint: we're not even close. ...more
Apr 01, 2013 added it
Shelves: 2013, nonfiction
I can't in good conscience rate this book. Strictly speaking, I neither "read" nor "understood" it in its entirety. But I'm definitely not an objectivist. Lakoff and I are experiential realists.

We keep it real. Experientially.

"The theory of cognitive models, as we will be describing it, is concerned with conceptual structure. But structure alone does not make for meaningfulness. Experientialism claims that conceptual structure is meaningful because it is embodied, that is, it arises from, and is
Dave Peticolas
Nov 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Great book. It's not an easy read, but it was well worth it for me.

How do we think? From whence do our concepts come and how our they structured? Is language a separate, independent "module" in the brain or is it tied into our other concepts and vice versa? How does syntax relate to semantics? How does semantics relate to truth? How does the body relate to the mind? How well does the traditional view of logic and truth match up with our lived experience?

Lakoff explores all of these questions in
David Dinaburg
Dec 22, 2013 rated it it was ok
At one point during The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: after the crossbow; after the pale woman; after the death of the crew; the Mariner shifts from being repulsed by the ocean’s strange creatures to being entranced by them, even though he is still under a curse that can trace some semblance of causality back to an oceanic animal. In spite of, or possibly because of, said curse, he can finally see the beauty inherent in the world and bestows blessings on all of creation. With that selfless, point ...more
Jun 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
I picked up this book because I knew Lakoff is an opponent of Chomskyan linguistics. He, among others, established a new school of thought, Generative Semantics, which challenged the assumptions of the mainstream in generative linguistics, and I thought I would read this book to know more about his way of thinking.

I think the book is an important one not only for those trained in functional linguistics but more importantly for those trained in formal linguistics, like myself. It's hard to spot t
Dec 04, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book has a lot of interesting information about categories and how they related to human cognition and language. However, it is from the early 90s and voraciously advocates the prototype model of categories, which I think, while useful, has limited application to cognition as a whole. It did provide a useful insight into some of the history of how categories have been viewed and studied across the decade.

I stopped after the first half because I began to find the book tedious, and while it w
Kate O'Neill
Feb 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This book has been an essential piece of my thinking around how we approach the world and frame the concepts we encounter. My work in indexation and taxonomy creation has been heavily influenced by it, and, although it was written well before the digital information onslaught, it continues to provide a relevant framework in dealing with online content and information architecture. A must-read if you want to excel in content strategy.
Aug 23, 2008 rated it really liked it
Truthfully, this fascinating volume is a thick, voluminous and dense read, but utterly revealing. I still have parts of it to read, but it is one of the essentials of morphosyntax and semantics that anyone who loves the mystery of language would be remiss not to have read, at least in part.
Petter Nordal
Oct 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Lakoff's argument is that thinking relies not only on a physical brain, but also on embodied experiences which become metaphors for concepts. A clear headed analysis with far-reaching implicatiions for educators. ...more
Elizabeth Filips
Feb 08, 2021 rated it it was ok
I sigh because this book was not fun in the way the title suggested. In all honesty, I found it quite dry and long, I feel it could have been written in a quarter of the words it took. BUT it did make some interesting points
Feb 20, 2012 added it
Lakoffs is quintessential reading about semiotic-thinking
Peter Morville
Sep 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book made my head hurt. In a good way. It's the best book about classification I've read. Brilliant! ...more
Jan 05, 2021 rated it really liked it
I feel very silly reviewing this book given that it's often highly technical and has an audience of specialists in fields I'm not in. But, on a forum like this, I doubt I'm any more or less qualified than most other commenters, so might as well dive in.

The general point of the book is to argue against treating language just as a bunch of symbols to be pushed around, and instead to show how language is dependent on metaphors and categories in our minds. The first half of the book goes through a l
Sep 17, 2018 rated it liked it
For those who enjoyed Metaphors We Live By, this is a much deeper dive into linguistic complexity. It's an enlightening antidote to the oversimplifying logic of what I gather is conventional linguistics and cognitive theory.

It's also, however, a slog. I think there are two reasons for this. First, Lakoff seems to be addressing an academic audience. There's a lot of detail that seems pretty arcane - not useless, but hard to follow. Second, he has an iterative style: he'll give you a paragraph th
Apr 13, 2018 rated it liked it
As an academic study Lakoff's book is highly regarded as groundbreaking. Unfortunately, not having expertise in linguistics, it is also difficult to read as the author has an overly reliant focus on long lists, and on the use of terminology that is specific to this domain. The book presents reasoned arguments (particularly on the long discussion against objectivism in scientific theory) and carefully blends linguistics with philosophy and psychology with social linguistics, which at times is fas ...more
Ann Michael
Aug 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Not a book for everybody--the lay reader will find it tough going. However, for what it is--an argument about linguistics, especially categories and their functions in grammar and in cultures--Lakoff writes remarkably clearly.

It helps if one has previously read his book(s) on the embodiment of cognition. I recommend Lakoff & Johnson's "Metaphors We Live By" as a start.

At any rate, some fascinating material here if the reader can manage to comprehend the linguistic logic proofs that the author em
Sachin K
Apr 21, 2022 rated it liked it
This book was mentioned in The Practical Guide to Information Architecture by Donna Spencer. So, I thought why not read it.

Phew! This was a very long academic read. It's dense in content.

I don't think I'll actually be able to retain most of it, but I read it because I love linguistics (didn't know the author was a linguist before starting this book) and also currently exploring the field of information architecture.
Nancy Mills
Jun 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Much of it was over my head. It's not as much fun as the title. Some parts were really interesting though. It presupposes you know a bit about linguistics, and it argues a lot about semantics and objectivism and such, which to a layman sounds like splitting hairs and nit-picking. Worth reading, though. ...more
Feb 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very informative. Particularly enjoyed the view of image schemas governing thought and perception. The segments on mathematical logic and Putnam's theorem were additionally interesting from a philosophical perspective. Dragged on for a bit for me to the point where it was hard to remember the main point of a chapter by the time I finished reading. ...more
Emma Berg
Jul 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
George Lakoff uses this book to deconstruct categorization, focusing mainly on a psycho-linguistic approach, which is interesting to read and take into consideration. There are times when he deconstructs a construct to an absurd degree, but he does it very well and it does not detract from the book itself.
Jan 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Not for the non-linguist who wants a fun read. This is a technical book. I read this as part of a portfolio project for my degree, and while I thoroughly enjoyed it, I definitely feel worn out on finally finishing it.
Aug 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Hard read. But insightful.
Jul 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
One of the most difficult books to read, but one of the richest. It's been a decade, and I still think back to something from it or reference it in my head when I work on projects. ...more
Jacob Prazer
Jun 08, 2021 rated it really liked it
Yisu Z.
Jul 28, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Just fantastics. Definitely needs a second or third read.
Nov 23, 2019 rated it it was ok
This book is simply factually inaccurate. Try reading Women are not dangerous things: Gender and categorization by Plaster, Keith and Maria Polinsky. 2007. Pop linguistics/pop linguistic anthropology is the scourge of the Earth.
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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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