The psycholinguistics of metaphor

Trends Cogn Sci. 2003 Feb;7(2):92-96. doi: 10.1016/s1364-6613(02)00040-2.


Can lawyers be sharks, can jobs literally be jails, and can dogs fly across lawns? Such metaphors create novel categories that enable us to characterize the topic of interest. These novel metaphorical categories are special in that they are based on outstanding exemplars of those categories, and they borrow the exemplar's name for use as the category names. Thus 'shark' can be taken as a metaphor for any vicious and predatory being. Contemporary research reveals how people can create and understand such metaphors in ordinary conversation, and suggests that we understand metaphorical meanings as quickly and automatically as we understand literal meanings.