METAphorically speaking...


We are all storytellers. Starting from that time when, as a kid, you tried to explain yourself after spilling your juice over your sister’s dress, up until your are elder, when stories become a living source of memories your share with your grandchildren, stories are tireless dancers that leave footprints wherever they step. If you think about it thoroughly, stories form part of our every day interactions. Also, they travel everywhere: from a political bureau to a school classroom or a casual conversation on the street.

Mastering the art of story telling is easier for some people than for others, but it is recurrently a literary devise that we use to explain the world around us. Accompanying stories we usually use metaphors. The word metaphor comes from the greek meta (“after” or “beyond”), and pherein (“to bear” or “to carry”). A metaphor consists of carrying the meaning of a word or phrase to another. Metaphors are used interchangeably in many disciplines, and although they can be veils over bad arguments, they may also constitute the substance of a good explanation. Let’s think about some common examples. If you’ve ever took a course on basic Economics, you are probably familiar with the supply and demand curves, depressions, equilibriums, competition…. These are all powerful metaphors that portray important economic principles. In the same way, a computer scientist explaining a coding language uses metaphors of things we are familiar with, in order to make himself clear.

Also, we are all poets. We usually use analogies and similes to model stories. Referring to the eye as a camera, or the DNA as a spiral staircase makes the case. Statistics are figures of speech in numerical costume. And even in Mathematics! Numbers tell stories, and stories impart meaning.

And it doesn’t ends here: we are all novelists. Books do not reproduce the world; they evoke it. We all face the challenge of speaking about the unspoken and filling in the “missing text” in every day’s discourse. As the philosopher Max Black points out: “a memorable metaphor [or story], has the power to bring two separate domains into cognitive and emotional relation by using language directly appropriate to the one as a lens for seeing the other”.

But, why is this important? Well, because tales well told endure forever; they fly across time and space, spreading meaning and encouraging action. This is why I consider writing and rhetoric as important tools to entail a valuable and systematic conversation… After all, these conversations constitute the foundations of knowledge, creativity, innovation and discovery.

*Image by Kirsty Hough

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