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

4.1  ·  Rating details ·  821 Ratings  ·  55 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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Trevor
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
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Manny
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
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Jenn
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.
Ilya
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
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.

Essay review for LS classification course: http://bitly.com/x00tw5
Fernando
Jul 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Mi título favorito en un libro de lingüística :P
Sarah
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
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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
...more
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
James
Jan 26, 2018 rated it liked it
This book is probably excellent for researchers or things, but for the casual reader it's got a few problems:

1. Spends WAY too much time defending itself against the current ways of doing things.
2. Spends WAY too much time talking about the problems of the current ways of doing things.
3. Feels like it's stumbling around on itself at times --- as in, at least to me, it seemed to meander around a point until it finally got to it, and, by that point, I was no longer interested in the point itself.
...more
Mallory
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
...more
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.
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.
Audra
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.
Kimmo
Feb 20, 2012 added it
Lakoffs is quintessential reading about semiotic-thinking
Peter Morville
Sep 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: intertwingled
This book made my head hurt. In a good way. It's the best book about classification I've read. Brilliant!
Shane
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
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.
Larissa
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.
Stefan
Aug 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Hard read. But insightful.
Ross Cline
Mar 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
way over my head
Stefan
Nov 10, 2016 rated it liked it
I've not idea why I've picked up this book, probably it was available for £1 at a closing sale of Greenwich second-hand bookshop and I've recalled the tile from someone referring to works of Hilary Putnam in a review of the Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values. I know nothing about linguistics, what is more due to the complexity of subject (UCL allows 10 different postgraduate programs) and its low utility to myself I tend to actively avoid it. However, I muddled thr ...more
Casey
Jul 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I found this book to be amazing. Thick, solid, heavy reading. It isn't something you would choose to read on the beach, or snuggled up in a blanket before a fire. (Probably not at any rate). It is, however, a book that explores categorization, prototype theory and cognition using linguistics as the vehicle.

It is more than 20 years old so there is doubtless more recent and current information about cognition. However, if you aren't up on it, this is certainly not a bad place to start.

The final 3
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Abraham
Jul 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is a well-written, fascinating book about the way that our minds categorize the world around us through metaphor, metonymy, and other grammatical tools.

I haven't read such a overwhelmingly academic book since college, and I'm sure I wouldn't have slogged through it if not for reading it with a book club (Ethan and Matt). I'm glad I did stick with it, because it is very interesting. It's the kind of book where as you are reading it, you say, "yes, that's right, yes, oh, I never thought of i
...more
Chris Branch
Aug 31, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
I can't remember the last time I started a book and didn't finish it, but that's going to have to be the case with this one. It's been sitting on my bedside table for more than a year now; I've made it to page 120, and I'm afraid for me it's coming across as extremely tedious and pedantic, with convoluted arguments and more than one conclusion that is pretty clearly a stretch. I'm interested in psychology and linguistics, really, I am! So it shouldn't be hard to hold my interest with a book on t ...more
Kieran Hamilton
Feb 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: linguistics
Although prototype theory is no longer current, Women, Fire and Dangerous Things, offers valuable insight into the development of cognitive linguistics. With full explorations of the methodology and experimentation used, it gives a full description of the development of the theories and hypothesis expressed. It is this certainly comprehensive in its treatment of the subject matter. Undergraduate readers are encouraged to rather read a Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics, as they are equally as com ...more
Alexi Parizeau
Mar 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This was quite the brain workout, especially since I harboured many unexamined assumptions. So for me to disentangle my thinking and verify that my research aligned with Lakoff’s arguments was both exhausting and rewarding. I read it in a single sitting spanning 3 days (with pitstops to eat, sleep and contemplate), and by the end it felt like I had spent weeks with this tome. It was a wonderful experience!
Tissuereligion
Feb 04, 2013 rated it it was ok
The book is kind of old, and the whole premise of "classical categories" not really being a good way of philosophizing/thinking is kind of obvious (though I feel like he sort of misrepresented it), and the rest of it was... ok. I think I'll probably go back and read the first half of the book on types of categories again in the future; I imagine it could be useful to educators or people designing UIs.
Evan Donovan
Apr 06, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: people interested in linguistic, cognitive science, and philosophy of language
Shelves: recent-reads
The case studies are a bit overwhelming, but the earlier part, in which Lakoff develops the implications of his "embodied mind" thesis for linguistic/cognitive categories is fascinating. His review of the literature appears comprehensive and his synthesis is compelling. Though I don't agree with Lakoff's politics generally, I view him as a co-belligerent in the fight against positivism.
Hoby
Aug 10, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: ux
Now truth be told I never finished reading this.. nor do I think I will ever have the patience to. But in reading what I have and keeping it on hand as a reference - I think it's an excellent book on how humans conceive of what we perceive, one of the best I've seen.

I only gave it a 3 because it is so very dry to read. But the concepts are first-rate.
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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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