Literal or metaphorical, fact or fiction?

Gerald Vankoeverden gvk at CIACCESS.COM
Sat Aug 1 02:57:49 UTC 1998

Alicia's questionnaire on metaphorical interpretations got me going on
another wild tangent.

         Let's look at her first sentence "He is a car."

        Let's say we interpret this as a response to a question about a
title from a Walt Disney movie, i.e. "Who is Herbie?".  Then the metaphor is
"a car".  We are asked by the speaker to imagine a car as representing 'him.'

        But it can also be interpreted as though talking about a child
playing at being a car or a someone who is so obsessed with cars that he
does, thinks and talks about practically nothing else.  In these two
instances, the metaphor is "is a car", or 'being a car'.  The speaker wants
us to imagine "being a car" as representing the child or car-nut.

        In the case of the 'Herbie' interpretation, the metaphor is our
abstract idea of a car.  It is limited to the object of the sentence by
itself.  But in the latter two cases, the metaphor has been extended to
include both the verb and object, both action and content.

        How does the speaker of the phrase "He is a car" influence us to
decide whether to choose the limited metaphor or the longer one?

       What is interesting to me is the difference in intonation of saying
"He is a car."  In the 'Herbie' instance, the emphasis is on the subject and
object: i.e. "'He' is 'a car'".; whereas in latter two instances, the
emphasis is on the verb "is", i.e. "He 'is' a car.".  In the first, its as
though the subject and verb are put into the same unit, isolating the
object.   In the second, the subject is isolated out, with the verb joining
with the object.

       (Of course, we could go one step further, and find an interpretation
that will make the whole sentence -subject, verb and object- combine into
one metaphor.  This is what the highest poetry aspires to.  But any attempt
at it with such a prosaic line as "He is a car," would sound rather ridiculous.)

        Has anybody ever heard of classsifying metaphors by the extent to
which they include the subject, verb and object?


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