Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

A blog about words, wordplay, and etymology, with slightly more than occasional political rants.

Monday, January 2, 2012

On returns

Well, I have eaten, drunk, purchased, and received far too much, and here I am, finally able to sit in one place long enough to blog.
The holidays were a whirlwind as they always are. For those of you who aren't aware, Jeremy and I have more family than anyone has any business having... my dad was one of 8 children in his family, my mother one of 7, Jeremy's mom was one of 6 and his dad was one of 5. Which means, among other things, that there are a heck of a lot of leftovers in our fridge, despite the fact that we barely managed to visit with half the members of our families. The rest of y'all are just going to have to come to us, because I am tired. Oh, and lucky; maybe the luckiest lady in the world to have such a surplus of amazing people to love. 
I've had James Geary's book I is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How it Shapes the Way We See the World on my bookshelf for a very long time. So long, in fact, that I can't remember why I bought it, and whether I bought it before or after I wrote this post, which was about some research being done at Stanford about the power of metaphor at shaping our thoughts.
Anyway, I have a heaping helping of books sitting on my bookshelf; it has just occurred to me that if I started reading right now, taking breaks only to work and sleep, I would probably not be able to read all of the books in my house  before I died. Of course, Jeremy's entire bookshelf worth of Dungeons & Dragons-type gaming books would probably take up most of that time. But I digress as usual.
Anyway, I'm finally getting to I is an Other, and it's blowing my mind (that expression being, of course, a metaphor). It says that we use about one metaphor for every 10-25 words we speak. You're probably making the same face I made when I read that, so as proof, I'll offer the same example that Geary does. The following comes from an Australian weather forecast, with all the metaphors in italics:
Perth is in the grip of a heat wave with temperatures set to soar to 40 degrees Celsius by the end of the week. Australia is no stranger to extreme weather. Melbourne was pummelled with hailstones the size of golfballs on Saturday. Long term, droughts, bushfires, and floods have all plagued large swathes of Queensland...
I think he missed one, actually. I think the wave in heat wave would also be a metaphor. And looking at the origin of the word wave... the word descends from words that refer to the movement of water, so applying the word to the motion we make with our hands is kind of a metaphor too. 
In fact, looking back just at previous posts on this blog I'm struck with the number of words that began their lives as metaphors:
The word sincere probably comes from words meaning from one growth, or something that was pure, not a hybrid. 
Robot comes from a Czech word for slave. Monster from the word for omen. Gorillas get their name from a mythical tribe of hairy people. 
So really, metaphor goes even deeper than that which we can see on the surface. Using the Online Etymology Dictionary as a microscope, we can see even more metaphors teeming under the surface:

  • Grip descends from a word meaning handful or sheaf
  • Temperature comes from the idea of being tempered from an earlier word meaning to moderate.
  • Extreme ultimately descends from a word meaning on the outside.
  • Weather, if broken down to the root we on which the original Proto-Indo-European word was formed, descends from a word meaning to blow.
Even metaphor comes from an earlier word meaning to transfer. And with that, my mind is even further blown.

From the ruins of a burned down building in
downtown Canton. At the time I remarked that
I felt like I was taking pictures of a giant metaphor.


Anonymous said...

That's a great picture.

Brigid Daull Brockway said...

Thanks, Joshua! This is pretty typical of downtown Canton. It's not a very pretty place.