[Lexicog] "lamb" as a metaphor

Patrick Hanks hanks at BBAW.DE
Fri May 7 14:11:29 UTC 2004

Attached is a file (in two formats) with a selection of allusive uses of "lamb" in English extracted from BNC.
(Sorry, it's only English...)

In addition to the clich├ęs you mention, English has:
  a.. like a lamb to the slaughter
  b.. meek as a lamb
  c.. gentle as a lamb
  d.. innocent as a lamb
  e.. helpless as a lamb
  f.. mild as a lamb
  g.. like a little lost lamb
  h.. a sacrificial lamb (is this different from a scapegoat?)
  i.. the lamb of God
  j.. the paschal lamb
  k.. He took it like a lamb.
  l.. [The month of] March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.
  m.. etc.
Lambs also collocate interestingly with "lions", "eagles", "wolves", "foxes", and "dogs".

Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of uses of "lamb" in English are as a mass noun -- lamb 
as meat ---  closely followed by lamb(s) -- count noun -- as farm animals.  The file 
appended here represents about 1% of the total. 

In English, as in Russian and (I suppose) other European languages, this word is 
shot through with Christian and Judaic religious imagery.  Whether one is a Christian 
or not, one cannot deny the influence of the Bible -- specifically the Wycliffe and 
King James versions of the Bible -- on the phraseology of English from the 16th 
century to the present day.

The word "intertextuality" springs to mind. 

I would expect something similar in Arabic and Iranian. Am I right? 
Islam, after all, is one of the three "heavenly" religions.

But then, to echo Fritz's question, what about cultures which, historically, have 
other religious norms?  Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian, Shintoist, etc.  Are prototypical 
lambs any different in such cultures?


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Fritz Goerling" <Fritz_Goerling at sil.org>
To: "lexicographylist yahoogroups" <lexicographylist at yahoogroups.com>
Sent: Thursday, May 06, 2004 8:50 PM
Subject: [Lexicog] "lamb" as a metaphor

> What is associated with the image "lamb" when predicated of a person
> in your language (not only English?
> I can only think of "pious as a lamb" (lammfromm) in German.
> To my knowledge in English you can say "as innocent as a lamb"
> or "as docile/quiet/obedient as a lamb". And it can be
> used with reference to someone who you are fond of and who
> is gentle and lovable.
> Fritz Goerling
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