Metaphor is the native language of the unconscious mind, which spills out in everyday language at the rate of about six metaphors per minute. Metaphors are everywhere!
But what kinds of metaphors should you look out for? It depends. But once you begin to notice the metaphors your colleagues use in what they say, you have a little window into their inner world.
Someone who constantly refers to the day’s work in terms of war, eg. “We’ve won the first battle, now…” is going to be thinking very differently to someone who refers to it in gardening metaphors, eg. “We need to nurture the green shoots…”
But it’s only a little window! The main reason I encourage work groups to ask questions about each other’s metaphors to find out more about them is that the details of everyone’s mental metaphors are different.
For example, I might think I know what the boss meant by “the first battle” but it only takes one or two questions to find out that the picture I had in my mind was quite badly wrong.
Because of this huge individual variation, I tend not to bother much with metaphor taxonomies and classifications. But some of the systems out there can be helpful, particularly in flagging up less-obvious kinds of metaphors you might have missed.
And so when I was asked recently about taxonomies of metaphor, I gathered together what I knew.
Different Kinds Of Metaphors
James Geary is always good value. In this short article, he lists three “stages” of metaphor and four common types.
Gerald and Lindsay Zaltman have a well-researched seven “deep metaphors” that they’ve observed being used by customers all round the world.
Andy Austin has an idiosyncratic “taxonomy” as part of his therapeutic approach, Metaphors Of Movement.
David Straker lists 14 types of metaphor on Changing Minds.
Gareth Morgan‘s eight Metaphors Of Organization can be useful as inspiration when working with groups.
- What have I missed? What other taxonomies of metaphor do you know about? Please post below.