Verbal and pictorial metaphor in advertisement

Term Paper 2004 27 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Linguistics


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Theoretical background
2.1. The classical view on metaphor
2.2. Max Black’s interaction view on metaphor
2.3. The constructivist theory of metaphor: Lakoff & Johnson (1980) et al
2.4. Charles Forceville’s approach to pictorial metaphor

3. Case studies
3.1. Ferrero Rocher advertisement (2003)
3.2. Kellog’s Special K Red Berries advertisement (2002)
3.3. Nimble bread advertisement (2003)

4. Conclusion

5. Literature list

1. Introduction

The word metaphor has its origin in the Greek word metaphorá, a noun meaning "a transfer, especially in meaning, from one word to another". It comes ultimately from the verb metaphérein"transfer, carry over", composed of meta - "over, across" and phérein"carry, bear". (cf. The Cambridge Encyclopaedia 1990 → metaphor). Throughout the centuries theorists have tried to define general rules for this transfer in meaning and have generally considered possible underlying mechanisms of this fascinating phenomenon. The early theories, dating back in history as far as Aristotle’s times, see metaphor as a figure of speech and therefore a language phenomenon. This view remained dominant until the middle of the 20th century, when cognitive linguists proposed that the locus of metaphor is not language, but thought, and therefore developed a whole new approach to metaphor. In the last decades some authors have also extended these findings from verbal metaphor to the realm of pictorial metaphor.

In the first part of this paper I will give an overview of the development of these theories. I will put special emphasis on the contemporary theories of metaphor and especially those which deal with instances of so-called creative metaphor. I have selected those approaches which are most relevant for my analysis of a selection of press advertisements, involving pictorial and verbal-pictorial metaphor, which follows in the second part of this paper.

2.Theoretical background

2.1. The classical view on metaphor

‘Metaphor is the rhetorical icing on the cake of language.’

This sentence is a good example of ‘metaphor about metaphor’ and it describes in one sentence what is often called the classical view of metaphor. This theory goes back to the Aristotelian comparison view (cf. Malmkjaer 1991:351f) and remained commonly accepted by various other theorists (mainly philosophers and linguists) until the middle of the 20th century.

According to the comparison view, metaphor can be analysed in the following terms: the subject of the metaphor is called tenor or topic, and the part which describes the tenor is the vehicle. The similarities between the tenor and the vehicle are called ground. So for example in the metaphor “My love is a red rose”, ‘my love’ is the tenor, ‘a red rose’ is the vehicle and the similarities between both are the ground on which the two are compared. (cf. Malmkjaer 1991:352). The metaphor’s function is to present the already existing similarity between the tenor and the vehicle. In other words according to the comparison view there is no significant difference between saying “my love is a red rose” and “my love is like a red rose”[1].

In the classical view, metaphor is nothing more than an instance of language – a rhetorical figure of speech. It is classified as one of the tropes. Metaphor does not belong to the realm of everyday language but to figurative language (which is opposed to literal language):

“In classical theories of language, metaphor was seen as a matter of language, not thought. Metaphorical expressions were assumed to be mutually exclusive with the realm of ordinary everyday language: everyday language had no metaphor, and metaphor used mechanisms outside the realm of everyday conventional language.” (Lakoff 1993:202).

The distinction between literal and figurative language is essential to the theory. Figurative language merely has an ornamental and decorative function. Its purpose is to make language more interesting and to stimulate or challenge the reader. A writer or speaker uses metaphor in order to be thought-provoking. The reader or hearer has to ‘unravel’ the literal meaning of the metaphor. This implies that there must always be a literal meaning which can be decoded from its ‘pretty but unnecessary packaging’[2] – the metaphor. And in fact it has to be decoded before true comprehension occurs. Thus, metaphor is merely a figurative substitution for a literal expression and the view is consequently called the substitution view (of which the comparison view is one sub case). The term “substitution view” was coined by Max Black in his article “Metaphor” (which I will refer to later on in more detail):

“Any view which holds that a metaphorical expression is used in place of some equivalent literal expression, I shall call a substitution view of metaphor.”(Black 1962:31)

About the comparison view he adds:

“It will be noticed that the ‘comparison view’ is a special case of the ‘substitution view’. For it holds that the metaphorical statement might be replaced by an equivalent literal comparison.” (Black 1962:35)

All classical theories of metaphor are non-constructivist. “According to non-constructivism, reality exists independently of human knowledge and language, […].” (Malmkjaer 1991:350). Literal language, not figurative language, can be used for a precise description of this objective reality. But language can do no more than describe and talk about the world (while constructivists, as I will show later on, believe that language and knowledge in general create and construct reality).

2.2.Max Black’s interaction view on metaphor

Max Black was convinced that metaphor was more than a mere decoration. In his article “Metaphor” from 1962 he criticises the comparison view and the substitution view for a number of defects. His main point of critique is that the comparison view is too vague. Similarities are not objectively given and it follows that there can never be “the one” literal equivalent for a metaphor. On the contrary: metaphors are often used in cases where the similarity is unclear or ambiguous. (cf. Black 1962:37). While the comparison theory might work for some very obvious and simple cases of metaphor it seems that in many instances of metaphor it is impossible to find a proper literal equivalent (be it an equivalent expression or an equivalent comparison). One feels that even with much elaboration and a great number of sentences one cannot quite say exactly what the metaphor expresses:

“The literal paraphrase inevitably says too much – and with the wrong emphasis. One of the points I most wish to stress is that the loss in such cases is a loss in cognitive content; the relevant weakness of the literal paraphrase is not that it may be tiresomely prolix or boringly explicit (or deficient in qualities of style); it fails to be a translation because it fails to give the insight that the metaphor did.” (1962:46).

Black introduces a whole new theory of metaphor based on constructivist principles: the “interaction view of metaphor” (1962:38). In Black’s terminology each metaphor contains two subjects. The primary subject is the one that is used literally[3] while the secondary subject is used non-conventionally. In Black’s famous example “Man is a wolf.”, “man” is the primary subject while “wolf” is the secondary subject. Both subjects[4] are systems of things, in Aritotle’s words endoxa [5] . But Black also remarks, that “a metaphor producer may introduce a novel and nonplatitudinous ‘implication-complex’.” (1979:28). Such novel aspects are created ad hoc and rely on the context of the metaphor.

Black discusses mainly noun metaphor, which can usually be expressed in the form ‘A is B’. Looking closer at how metaphor works, Black writes: “The metaphorical utterance works by ‘projecting upon’ the primary subject a set of ‘associated implications’, comprised by the implicative complex, that are predicable of the secondary subject.” (1979:28) Unfortunately Black does not present a closer look at the details of this “projection”. Much more effort he puts into describing the process of mutual adjustment that has to happen between the two subjects of metaphor when the secondary subject is projected upon the primary subject. Both subjects undergo a process of fitting and matching. Forceville (1991:36) summarises (and interprets) this process in the following words: “There is, thus, an ‘oscillation’ between the primary and the secondary subject. […] each ‘revised’ or ‘adjusted’ view of one of the subjects can in turn trigger off new projections of features.”. Black thereby stresses an important aspect of metaphor so far neglected – the creation of new meaning in metaphors: “It would be more illuminating in some cases to say that metaphor creates similarity than to say that it formulates some similarity antecedently existing.” (1962:37).

An important function of metaphor is organization. Metaphor can hide or suppress certain aspects of the primary subject and highlight others, and in general organizes our view of reality: “to describe a battle as if it were a game of chess is accordingly to exclude, by the choice of language, all the more emotionally disturbing aspects of warfare.”.

2.3.The constructivist theory of metaphor: Lakoff & Johnson (1980) et al.


[1] The linguistic phenomenon in the second sentence is called a simile; the first one a metaphor. The difference is that in a metaphor the simile is implicit rather than explicit.

[2] This, by the way, is an instance of the Conduit Metaphor of communication as discussed by Reddy (1979).

[3] Here I stick to the distinction between literal and non-literal usage of words which is disputable in the context of constructivism but serves its purpose of explanation in this case.

[4] Black gives contradictory statements about the systematicity of the two subjects; in the 1979 article (in contradiction to the 1962 article) he states that only the secondary subject is a system of things. Forceville, however, claims that it is in accordance with his general view that both subjects are systems which is also my reading of Black’s intentions.

[5] Endoxa means ‘current opinions shared by members of a certain speech-community’ (Black 1979:28). These current opinions include for example popular beliefs, superstitions, emotions, and attitudes as well as characteristics accepted as inherent, and at the same time acknowledged half-truths or plain misconceptions. Black points out that for the understanding of a metaphor it does not matter whether these endoxa are factually true or false, “but that they should be readily and freely evoked” (1962:40).


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University of Frankfurt (Main) – Institut für England- und Amerikastudien



Title: Verbal and pictorial metaphor in advertisement