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raining-cats-and-dogs1Metaphor, this most powerful amongst figures of speech – perhaps because it doesn’t spell it out, but lands you right on the bridge between meanings instead… According to the Merriam-Webster:

1: a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them.

2: an object, activity, or idea treated as a metaphor.

Metaphors are everywhere. We use them daily without even thinking. They stem from the culture we belong to, from our thought process, from what we absorb. They grow fresh and startlingly apt in great writing, or they fade into cliché in lesser hand or in daily use. And apart from being either the joy or bane of a writer’s life, they weave a net of interconnected meanings all across languages, cultures and mindsets. A net that changes, shifts, focuses, deepens or pales through the centuries, too.

And this is the fascinating stuff a group of researchers from the University of Glasgow have set out to map. The result is this wonderful metaphor map, showing a circle that “represents all of knowledge in English: every word in every sense in the English language for over a millennium”. It can be browsed for “metaphorical links in language and thought between different areas of meaning”. And traces the links through the centuries, and gives examples in ever-growing quantity.

Dr. Wendy Anderson, chief of the project, says in this interview to The Guardian that a map like this “helps us to see how our language shapes our understanding – the connections we make between different areas of meaning in English show, to some extent, how we mentally structure our world.”

Have I said this is utterly fascinanting? Be warned: if you have the slightest interest in language and cultural history, this is the kind of entrancing thing you could play with for hours. Visit at your own risk and peril.