Exploring context by metaphor

In today’s post, we’re going to explore what a metaphor is, and how they are used to pass on an abstract idea or concept to an individual by reference.

In order to first understand what a metaphor is, we have to define it. According to Dictionary.com, a metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action that it does not literally denote in order to imply a resemblance, for example: he is a lion in battle.” Let’s break that down. Metaphors allow an individual to pass on an idea or concept through language via contextual reference. You’re contextually representing an idea or concept and relaying it to the individual listening/reading, allowing them to reference it in their own unique way based upon their understanding. Therefore, if we have the metaphor “he is a lion in battle”, it could mean a myriad of things, depending on how the individual perceives in. It is a contextual reference to a concept. The individual is not literally a lion in battle. The metaphor is comparing the individual’s combat style to that of a lion in battle. That could mean that the person is very aggressive in combat, or it could mean that they fight until there is nothing left in them to fight. Metaphors are very unique in this way. They live through language, allowing them to be temporal, giving individuals a contextual reference to a concept or idea. Understanding what a metaphor is representing allows a metaphor to refer to but not teach a concept or idea. It allows the individual to think about what is being represented in a way that is relative to them.

There are different ways that metaphors can function. Metaphors can work with music, giving a listener contextual empathy – a sad sounding song will infer that the mood or theme is solemn, or sorrowful, but the slightest change in a succeeding note can completely change that empathetic response. Music is very powerful in this regard – not only can we add lyrics to accompany the inferred empathy associated with a certain musical arrangement; we can amplify that empathy by adding metaphor through lyrics. Adding metaphors via lyrics gives a song a human contextual reference, allowing the song to resonate personally within an individual.

One of the most prominent ways we are taught metaphors growing up is through poetry. Poetry is rich with literary device manipulation: alliteration, similes, hyperboles, etc. The one that seems to be lost upon most individuals while growing up is metaphors. In order to fully appreciate what a metaphor is referencing, one must have experienced something akin to what is being referenced. Let’s take apart a simple metaphor: “He drowned in a sea of grief”. At a first glance, without relating anything, it would appear that this man had drowned in a “sea of grief”. Well, that is impossible. Nobody can drown in a sea of something that is “invisible”. Let’s put a human element to it. What is grief? Grief is, according to Dictionary.com, “keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret”. So this wonderful metaphor, “sea of grief”, is stating that this man was wrought with sorrow, a much more elegant way of relating to an individual that “this man was really sad”. Using metaphor in this way allows individuals to relate on a personal level. When they understand what a metaphor is inferring, they can successful understand what an individual is relating, making the metaphor more meaningful to the reader. It allows the reader to experience the contextual reference in their own, unique way.

Akin to yesterday, I will be ending here with another video. This video is from the TED-Education channel, and is a great explanation of metaphors:


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