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Universal history is the history of a few metaphors. ~ Jorge Luis Borges

Metaphors are literary figures of speech which use images, stories or tangible things to represent less tangible things or intangible qualities or ideas; unlike analogies, specific interpretations are not given explicitly, but both metaphor and analogy can employ symbols, or be used to develop them. Studies of how metaphors are used and develop are a major aspect of the discipline of semiotics.

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When you told me you used to chase tornados I always thought it was a metaphor! ~ Michael Crichton and Anne-Marie Martin, in Twister
Everything which distinguishes man from the animals depends upon this ability to volatilize perceptual metaphors in a schema, and thus to dissolve an image into a concept. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
The drive toward the formation of metaphors is the fundamental human drive, which one cannot for a single instant dispense with in thought, for one would thereby dispense with man himself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
  • Universal history is the history of a few metaphors.
  • Metaphors and Similes are the beginning of the democratic system of envy.
  • The symbol and the metaphor are as necessary to science as to poetry. We are as helpless today to define mass, fundamentally, as Newton was. But we do not therefore think, and neither did he, that the equations which contain mass as an unknown are mere rules of thumb.



  • In the interpretation of figurative passages, let the following canon be observed. If the passage be preceptive, either forbidding some flagitious deed and some heinous crime, or commanding something useful and beneficent: then such passage is not figurative. But, if the passage seems, either to command some flagitious deed and some heinous crime, or to forbid something useful and beneficent: then such passage is figurative. Thus, for example, Christ says: Unless ye shall eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood; ye shall have no life in you. Now, in these words, he seems to command a heinous crime or a flagitious deed. Therefore the passage is a figure, enjoining us to communicate in the passion of our Lord, and admonishing us to lay it up sweetly and usefully in our memory because, for us, his flesh was crucified and wounded. On the other hand, Scripture says: If thy enemy shall hunger, give him food; if he shall thirst, give him drink. Here, without all doubt, an act of beneficence is enjoined.
    • George Stanley Faber, Christ's Discourse at Capernaum: Fatal to the Doctrine of Transubstantiation (1840), pp. 147-149.


  • Metaphors hide in plain sight, and their influence is largely unconscious. We should mind our metaphors, though, because metaphors make up our minds.
    • James Geary, American journalist and author, in "Metaphors in Mind", at The Macmillan Dictionary blog (11 April 2011).
  • The progress of science requires more than new data; it needs novel frameworks and contexts. And where do these fundamentally new views of the world arise? They are not simply discovered by pure observation; they require new modes of thought. And where can we find them, if old modes do not even include the right metaphors? The nature of true genius must lie in the elusive capacity to construct these new modes from apparent darkness. The basic chanciness and unpredictability of science must also reside in the inherent difficulty of such a task.
    • Stephen Jay Gould in "False Premise, Good Science", in The Flamingo's Smile (1985) p. 138.
  • We often think, naïvely, that missing data are the primary impediments to intellectual progress — just find the right facts and all problems will dissipate. But barriers are often deeper and more abstract in thought. We must have access to the right metaphor, not only to the requisite information. Revolutionary thinkers are not, primarily, gatherers of facts, but weavers of new intellectual structures.
    • Stephen Jay Gould in "For Want of a Metaphor", in The Flamingo's Smile (1985) p. 151.
  • The facts of nature are what they are, but we can only view them through the spectacles of our mind. Our mind works largely by metaphor and comparison, not always (or often) by relentless logic. When we are caught in conceptual traps, the best exit is often a change in metaphor — not because the new guideline will be truer to nature (for neither the old nor the new metaphor lies “out there” in the woods), but because we need a shift to more fruitful perspectives, and metaphor is often the best agent of conceptual transition.
    • Stephen Jay Gould in "Glow, Big Glowworm", in Bully for Brontosaurus (1991) p. 264.


  • Subjective conscious mind is an analog of what is called the real world. It is built up with a vocabulary or lexical field whose terms are all metaphors or analogs of behavior in the physical world.
    • Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (1976).
  • The divine kingdom to be regained is psychological not physical. It is metaphorical not literal. It is "within" not in extenso.
    • Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (1976).


  • We do not think good metaphors are anything very important, but I think that a good metaphor is something even the police should keep an eye on.


  • A metaphor is a word used in an unfamiliar context to give us a new insight; a good metaphor moves us to see our ordinary world in an extraordinary way.
  • A man's reach must exceed his grasp or what's a metaphor?
    • Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media (1964), p. 7. A play on famous lines in Robert Browning's poem "Andrea del Sarto":
      Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp,
      Or what's a heaven for?
  • All words, in every language, are metaphors.


  • What then is truth? A movable host of metaphors, metonymies, and anthropomorphisms: in short, a sum of human relations which have been poetically and rhetorically intensified, transferred, and embellished, and which, after long usage, seem to a people to be fixed, canonical, and binding. Truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions — they are metaphors that have become worn out and have been drained of sensuous force, coins which have lost their embossing and are now considered as metal and no longer as coins.


  • The metaphor is perhaps one of man's most fruitful potentialities. Its efficacy verges on magic, and it seems a tool for creation which God forgot inside one of His creatures when He made him.


  • In order to understand, in the case of miracles, what actually took place, we ought to be familiar with Jewish phrases and metaphors; anyone who did not make sufficient allowance for these, would be continually seeing miracles in Scripture where nothing of the kind is intended by the writer; he would thus miss the knowledge not only of what actually happened, but also of the mind of the writers of the sacred text.

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