Does Hitler look like a house?

In the internet sensation of the day, a house in South Wales has been discovered to look like Adolf Hitler.

People see faces everywhere – including, not infrequently, the face of God in some everyday foodstuff. So while this specific example is unusual, the phenomenon is well known.

It’s in the nature of human cognition: we naturally think in metaphor, by comparing one kind of thing to another. And when our minds settle on a resemblance, something “clicks”.

With me so far? So, here’s a question for you. Whether or not you agree that the house looks like Hitler, do you think that Hitler looks like a house? If so, what kind of house?

It seems that metaphor is a (mostly) one-way street: that there tends to be a natural directionality to the metaphors we use spontaneously. We more frequently think that something looks like a person, than that a person looks like something.

If you’re like me, you can instantly come up with a counter-example. A large person may well be described as “built like a brick outhouse”. But I’m talking about an overall tendency.

James Geary has a stronger example in his book I is an Other. He quotes The Magnetic Fields song “Love is Like a Bottle of Gin”, detailing the many ways love is like gin:

It makes you blind, it does you in
It makes you think you’re pretty tough
It makes you prone to crime and sin
It makes you say things off the cuff.

But the last couplet emphasises the one-wayness of the metaphor:

Love is like a bottle of gin
But a bottle of gin is not like love.

Geary observes: “Metaphorical thinking usually travels one way, appropriating concrete language – the words we use for everyday experiences and physical things and sensations – to describe abstractions like thoughts, feelings, emotions and ideas. Juliet is the sun in ways that the sun is not and never can be Juliet.”


2 thoughts on “Does Hitler look like a house?”

  1. Fascinating article Judy, and in that degree of one-wayedness there’s also a hint of pointing towards ‘maps & territories’, ‘meals & menus’ etc.

    Seeing the Hitler house I was immediately reminded of the Amityville Horror House – which always reminds me of an observing face. Notwithstanding the film’s added auditory imagery of that so-scary theme – I set great store in what a house looks like, sounds like, feels like.
    If there’s a translation in the metaphor for me then I heed it.

    For me, the front view of cars/lorries has also carried something of a “looks like…” possibility. Here again, though, it is always a one-way reference.

    There is a definite message in visible and auditory metaphors which goes deep for us. Sometimes the message we translate as deja-vu, sometimes as gut instinct – but the metaphoric intuitions are basic for a reason.

    Cartoon artists are particularly adept at depicting metaphorical associations for us – plus (by virtue of their own special brand of artistic licence) they can work metaphors both ways.

    So, does Hitler look like a house? Well, there’s an angularity about his features that allows for box-like resemblances. Eyes, noses and mouths and (as with Hitler) moustaches and other transient features such as hair style, can always point towards windows, doors, lintels and other dwelling constructs.

    All as meaningful and fascinating as we allow things to be for us! Thanks again.

  2. You cheated a bit. 🙂

    Hitler indeed doesn’t look like a house.

    But he might look like THAT house.

    I can imagine the owner of that house meeting Hitler and thinking “wow, this guys face looks like my house!”.

    As for the gin example. I can imagine someone making that metaphor. Gin being like love for all the reasons mentioned.

    I don’t know.

    Perhaps it flows towards what is more ‘real’ to us, what evokes a greater response from us, what is more meaningful to us. It’s us pulling the outside reality inwards and making sense of it in a way that we respond to.

    And so for someone who that house means a lot and knows nothing of Hitler… they might ‘pull’ Hitler inwards and think “that guy looks like my house”.

    Thanks for stimulating my thinking.


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