Metaphor is not the sole preserve of Shakespearean scholarship or high literary endeavour but has governed how we think about and describe our daily lives for centuries – according to researchers at Glasgow University.
Experts have now created the world’s first online Metaphor Map – which contains more than 14,000 metaphorical connections sourced from 4m pieces of lexical data – some of which date back to 700AD.
While it is impossible to pinpoint the oldest use of metaphor in English – because some may have been adopted from earlier languages such as Germanic – the map reveals that the still popular link between sheep and timidity dates back to Old English. Likewise we do not always recognise modern use of metaphor: for example, the word ‘comprehend’ comes from Latin – where it meant to physically grasp an object.
The three-year-long project to map the use of metaphor across the entire history of the English language – undertaken by researchers at the School of Critical Studies – was based on data contained in the Historical Thesaurus of English – which spans 13 centuries.
Dr Wendy Anderson- the project’s principal investigator – said that the findings supported the view that metaphor is pervasive in language and is also a major mechanism of meaning-change.