It’s back to school time again, folks. Remember those tired old essay topics from English classes of yore? Write about the person you admire most, tell about your summer vacation, describe a time you overcame an obstacle… Well, my cousin Justine, a sophomore at Clemson University, got one such assignment for her speech class; the topic was “I believe…” Normally that would be a big old yawn, right? But Justine did something creative with it, and I decided to share.
I Believe in Metaphors
by Justine Polomski
I believe in metaphors.
With over one million words in the English language, people should be able to find a few of them to convey anything and everything they want to say. Every word has a meaning, but what if that meaning is not accurate enough? Not true enough? Not powerful enough for your thoughts?
I’ve concluded that individual words with their messy, misguided interpretations cannot articulate every fact, figure, and feeling of the human experience. Life is not as clear-cut and literal as the words we use to describe it, so I believe in metaphors.
People think in thoughts, not in words. Words are just a commonly used tool to translate our abstract thoughts from one mind to the other. But things definitely get lost in translation; just ask anyone ever. If we could take our thoughts as they come and place them directly into another’s mind, everyone would be understood perfectly, and there would be no teenagers making punk music about how no one understands them. But because no one will ever be able to fully comprehend another person’s abstract thought, metaphors are what help us come as close as possible where words may fail.
A metaphor is a direct comparison of two things that have absolutely no business being together. As communicators, we hold the power to draw these unexpected connection lines just because it makes sense to us.
For example, we use metaphor to convey feelings because people have more emotions than words can accommodate. There’s happy and there’s sad, but there’s also millions of unnamed ones: “I feel blue”, “I’m walking on air’’, or just pointing at a half-smushed panini on the road and saying, “My life right now”. I believe in metaphors.
Some metaphors have become so widely used, they are now just clichés: judging a book by it’s cover, the elephant in the room, a slippery slope, a red flag, “Don’t go chasing waterfalls”, whatever that means.
Even society itself uses metaphors all the time to explain its own complexities: the circle of life, time is money, America the melting pot, the glass ceiling, the iron cage. Would we be able to fully comprehend these ideas we live by without metaphor?
In everyday speech, any meaningful insult is always a metaphor in one way or another. And calling someone “low-hanging fruit” or “an actual bag of trash” delivers a heavier blow than any slew of negative adjectives ever could.
Maybe you love something or someone so much more than just a word. So you use a metaphor to let them become something beyond a person. For example, “You are my rock”, “You are my world”, “And Juliet is the sun.” -William Shakespeare.
Or maybe you are trying to explain your love life as “skinny love”, or as a long, convoluted, extended metaphor about stagnant ponds.
Words can be weak, and talking is hard, but getting figurative can sometimes be the only way to go. I believe using any means to say what you mean. I’m Justine and I believe in metaphors.