Anatomy of Metaphors - the Ultimate Guide to Creating a Powerful Metaphor
Anatomy of Metaphors:
the ultimate guide to creating
a powerful metaphor
by LUCIA TREZOVA
Prague, April 2014
Metaphor is originally a figure of speech
based on resemblance = one thing is used
to refer to another thing in order to show or
suggest that they are somehow similar.
METAPHOR IS A TYPE OF ANALOGY
„Knowledge is power“
„You are my star“
EACH METAPHOR CONSISTS OF TWO
ELEMENTS: A TARGET AND A SOURCE
Both: target and the source are part of, in principle, infinitely
expanding networks of related meanings, necessary for producing
metaphors, called connotations.
The target is what we try to
describe, to make a meaning
of by using metaphor.
The source is a „vehicle“, the concept
that is used to predicate something
about the target.
domains: the target
domain and the
The target and the source are parts of networks of connotations.
Consider the metaphor: „LOVE IS A BATTLEFIELD“
„Love“ is a target „ Battlefield“ is a source.
These networks of connotations are based on
individual meanings and cultural meanings.
Love concept includes connotations
such as: „lovers“ and „passion“, and
„sex“, „inspirations“, „creativity“,
„respect“, „marriage“, „children:, but
also „sacrifices“ and „cheating“,
„disappointment“, „reason to revenge“,
„losses“, „grief“, „misery“, etc.
Battlefield concept includes
connotations such as: „war“
„soldiers“, „victims“, „wounds“,
„pain“, „sorrow“, „victories“,
„defeats“, „weapons“, „fighting
strategies“, ally-making, etc.
By metaphor we are
invited or forced
to see and think of
a TARGET „A“ in terms of a SOURCE „B“
...BECAUSE „A“ IS LIKE „B“
To understand the metaphor „Love is a battlefield“ we
must make an imaginative leap to recognize the
resemblance to which a metaphor alludes.
Thus, using and understanding metaphors involves a
function of „transference“ - transferring certain
qualities from one object – the source to another object –
THE FUNCTION OF TRANSFERENCE
from „Battlefield“ to „Love“
There must be some sort of similarity between the
target and the source which enables metaphor-making.
That is, at least one feature, of all their features, the source
and the target must have common.
This common feature tightly associated with the source is
then projected = mapped into the target.
THE FUNCTION OF MAPPING
from „battlefield“ .......................... to „love“
war making victims, causing losses
and misery, being costly in terms
of material or in terms of lives,
= A HIGH CHANCE OF BEING
... to be a victim of grief love
causing depression, losses
= A HIGH CHANCE OF BEING
When the mapped feature is recognized and transferred,
then all meanings related to both domains: the source
category and the target category must be called in a play.
That is, each category is mentally expanded to include
connotations linked to it: all emotions, attitudes,
knowledge, etc. creating the dense networks of meanings.
THE FUNCTION OF EXPANDING CATEGORIES
RELATED AND INTERCONNECTED MEANINGS
ENABLE US TO CONSTRUE THE WHOLE
TO CONSTRUE A METAPHOR REQUIRES 3 STEPS:
1. Identify mappable feature common for the source and the target
3. Put the meaning of a mapped feature into the dense network of
other related meaningsassociated with both: the target and the
source domains - in order to make inferences
Expanding categories and making inferencesProjecting mapped
2. Project mappable feature/s to the target
These networks of connoted meanings must be „stored in our heads“ in
order to produce or to understand the metaphor.
Some of them are purely personal, some are widely shared: cultural.
SHARED MEANINGS ARE CRUCIAL...
Individual meanings are rooted in a
specific person’s background, his/her
personal experience, education,
autobiographical history, beliefs,
knowledge of a particular person,
Cultural meanings are rooted in
culture of a specific society: in its
values, norms, in hegemonic
knowledge and attitudes, based on
history of society, its literature, art,
To construe a metaphor for the wide audience „shared
meanings“ – those known to both: to producer of metaphor as
well as to its interpreter are the crucial. Those shared meanings
are, therefore, mainly cultural connotations.
Sometimes metaphor suggest mapping the single feature, but mostly, it
is not an isolated feature, but a number of features which might be
mapped. It is up to interpreters which feature they decide to project on
Since mappable features are not always made explicit, different
interpreters may select different features for mapping and therefore infer
slightly or vastly different meanings.
Even the same mapped feature may lead to different meanings because
of specific personal connotations for the interpreter.
Moreover, if the interpreters may not recognize a mapped feature they
will not catch the meaning of the metaphor at all.
INTERPRETATION OF METAPHORS DEPENDS
PURELY ON THE WORK OF THE INTERPRETER
THIS ALL MAKES METAPHOR THE RISKY WAY OF
What causes that metaphors are understood
and interpreted rather consistently?
4 CONTEXTUAL FACTORS
RECOGNITION OF THE MAPPABLE FEATURES
AND PRODUCTION OF RELEVANT INFERENCES
Metaphors are always pragmatic:
they function is either argue or
persuade or to instruct.
Identifying the goal of the author
is the first clue to interpret the
metaphor: who made it and why.
Metaphors are often highly
ideological: they convey specific
meaning and impose a rigid structure
on the target, but contrary, sometimes
they are poly-semantic and open
to wider interpretation.
OF THE AUTHOR
Genres are formed by
conventions, and the grammar
of the genre, its style, we are
familiar with, gives us important clues
how to interpret the metaphor.
Medium, in which metaphor
occurs, gives us also hints what kind
of a message we might to encounter.
Our ability to read the codes of
different genres as well as codes of a
particular medium correctly is,
GENRE AND MEDIUM
is created by all discourses to
which metaphor alludes, or against
which the metaphor demarks: e.g.
other ads, other brands and their
Broadly speaking – by all other
„texts“ used in the product category,
in neighboring categories, in a product
segment or in a market generally,
which are assumed to be available and
known to the metaphor’s recipient. All
these texts are used as clues to
interpret the metaphor.
Since it is often connotations
rather than denotations which are
mapped from the source to the
target and the source may have very
different salient connotations from one
culture to another, cultural
differences can matter a lot while
interpreting a metaphor.
Specific cultural meanings or
meanings limited to given sub-
culture are often the most important
clues for metaphor’s interpretation.
In advertising business metaphors are often
Multimodal metaphors are those whose
targets and sources are rendered in at least
two different communication channels=
1. visual or 2.written language or 3.spoken
language or 4.non-verbal sounds or
Lets’ analyze the following multimodal metaphor:
There are 2 modes: the pictorial
representation and written words
Metaphor Target: Heineken beer
Metaphor Source: a ventilation fan
Source domain connotations: bars,
nightclubs, „busy days“, films Noir, lone wolfs
– cynical, but honest private eye detectives,
urban setting, femme fatal, love affair, sex,
cigarette smoke, etc...
Common = mapped feature: refreshing
Metaphor is simple: Heineken beer is like ventilation fan - will refresh
you in your gloomy or „hot“ days
Lets’ analyze the following unimodal metaphor:
There is just one mode: the
Metaphor Target: Mini Cooper
Metaphor Source: a boxing glove
Source domain connotations:
box, competition, tough guys,
winners, celebrations, beautiful
women, money, recognition,
Common = mapped feature:
Metaphor is simple: Mini Cooper
is like a boxing glove, rather small,
but able to make a strong hit
Choose your product or your service you
want to depict, explain, describe, make meaningful
by using the metaphor. It will be your metaphor
Decide which benefit, characteristic of your
product or service you want to stress and
highlight by the metaphor.
Select the source (domain) which will
communicate your intended feature best.
Make sure your source domain have at least one
(and that desired feature) common with your
target. It will be your mapped = projected
Remember, that the source domain, apart from
the selected feature, might convey also a
variety of other meanings due to its other
Make sure that any connotation of your
selected source (domain) will not harm your
product or your service image.
Make sure your target domain (product or
service) and the source domain belong to
disparate categories. Talking about your mobile
phone in terms of mp3 player would likely be silly. And
definitely not a metaphor.
Decide on your mode.
Your communication channels might be
visual or written language or spoken language or
non-verbal sounds or music, or employ a
Check the context.
Investigate the local context: how your
metaphor’s meaning fits to the code system of
your market segment or to meanings of the
messages sent by your competitors.
Get to know the potential interpreters of your
metaphor – their culture and also subculture.
Test your metaphor on your target audience.
The fact that you or your creative agency like and understand the metaphor is not
Make sure your audience understands the metaphor.
Make sure the all metaphor’s meanings are in line with
your brand image (neither contradictory, nor harmful).
Make sure the metaphor’s message is perceived as
consistent with the rest of your brand communication.
Use semiotic research, free associations technique, etc.
Be creative. Try to avoid clichés and
Let your lateral thinking fly!
Go ahead and good luck!
Special thanks to Charles Forceville whose work on pictorial
metaphors was extremely inspirative for me.