Hair of the Frog and other Empty Metaphors: The Play Element in Figurative Language

L. David Ritchie, Valrie Dyhouse
2008 Metaphor and Symbol  
Metaphor and Symbol, 23, Authors' Note: This essay took shape during discussions in the graduate research seminar, Sp 556. We are indebted to Wynde Dyer, Gloria Hinkle, Chris Richter, Nate Roberts, and Sylvia Sissel for their many novel insights, useful suggestions, and provocative questions. We are also indebted to Ray Gibbs and one anonymous reviewer for many helpful criticisms and suggestions. Empty Metaphors Abstract In this essay we discuss a class of apparently metaphorical idioms,
more » ... fied by "fine as frog's hair," that do not afford any obvious interpretation, and appear to have originated, at least in part, in language play. We review recent trends in both play theory and metaphor theory, and show that a playful approach to language is often an important element in the use and understanding of metaphors (and idioms generally), even when metaphors can be readily interpreted by means of a vehicle-to-topic mapping. Based on this evidence we call for a more deliberate inclusion of language play in metaphor theory and analysis. Empty Metaphors 11/1/2012 3 Hair of the Frog and other Empty Metaphors: The Play Element in Figurative Language Many conventional theories of metaphor treat figurative language as primarily linguistic, usually relying on an implicit "container" or "code" theory of language (Reddy, 1993) , in which metaphors have a discoverable correspondence to meanings, and could in principle be translated into literal statements of the same underlying idea. Some theorists argue that a metaphor creates an abstract category based on the vehicle; for example, "my lawyer is a shark" locates the topic, "my lawyer" in an abstract category typified by "sharks" (Glucksberg & Keysar, 1993) A related explanation, advanced by Chiappe and Kennedy (2001) among others, treats figurative language as a matter of "transferring" abstract qualities, in this example, qualities of relentlessness and viciousness associated with sharks, from vehicle to topic (for a discussion and critique,
doi:10.1080/10926480801944251 fatcat:xrmnk7qfkjctppxtax4yaqphum