Remarkable! Some Notes About Metaphor

Of the three essentials of Clean Language, it’s metaphor that makes Clean Language really remarkable.

Metaphor compares one kind of thing to another kind of thing, and (in this context) includes subcategories such as simile and metonymy.

Metaphor is:

  • a hugely powerful engine for change
  • the native language of the unconscious mind
  • the atom of thought
  • ubiquitous in language (six per minute).

Metaphor And Physicality

Many of the “hidden” metaphors you’ll soon start to hear will have a strong physical presence. For example, “I tripped over my words.” Or, “The metaphors are hidden in language.” Or, “I’m stuck.”

That’s because metaphor is not just one kind of random thing in terms of another kind of random thing. It is one-directional, describing an abstract kind of thing in terms of a more physical kind of thing.

Memorably, “Love is like a bottle of gin… but a bottle of gin is not like love.” The Magnetic Fields, quoted in James Geary’s I Is An Other

Metaphor In Clean Language

  • In many change approaches, the coach/facilitator supplies the metaphor
  • In others, the coach/facilitator actively seeks or cultivates shared metaphors
  • In Clean Language, individuals’ own unique metaphors are nurtured, shared and explored.

And, Clean Language questions can be used equally with metaphorical and non-metaphorical words. That means you don’t have to decide if something is a metaphor before asking a Clean Language question about it.

In turn, that gives rise to the option of using Clean Language questions about a metaphor when you – and even the client – may not know what it’s a metaphor for.

Some possible applications of this include:

  • Coaching people about highly confidential content
  • Helping people to get in touch with emotional aspects of physical ailments
  • Supporting creativity and innovation.


  • These notes are taken from my practical Clean Language course for agents of change, Metaphor Mastery 2.0. It’s available now.

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