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Tag Archives: linguistics

Metaphors in Language: Why Argument is War

“ARGUMENT IS WAR
Your claims are indefensible.
He attacked every weak point in my argument. His criticisms were right on
target
.
I demolished his argument.
I’ve never won an argument with him.
You disagree? Okay, shoot!
If you use that strategy, he’ll wipe you out.
He shot down all of my arguments.

It is important to see that we don’t just talk about arguments in terms of war. We can
actually win or lose arguments. We see the person we are arguing with as an opponent. We
attack his positions and we defend our own. We gain and lose ground. We plan and use
strategies. If we find a position indefensible, we can abandon it and take a new line of
attack. Many of the things we do in arguing are partially structured by the concept of war.
Though there is no physical battle, there is a verbal battle, and the structure of an
argument—attack, defense, counterattack, etc.—reflects this. It is in this sense that the
ARGUMENT IS WAR metaphor is one that we live by in this culture; it structures the actions we
perform in arguing…

Our conventional ways of talking about arguments pre-suppose a metaphor we are hardly
ever conscious of. The metaphor is not merely in the words we use—it is in our very
concept of an argument. The language of argument is not poetic, fanciful, or rhetorical; it is literal. We talk about arguments that way because we conceive of them that way—and
we act according to the way we conceive of things.”

Metaphors We Live By, George Lakoff and Mark Johnsen. 2003. p.4

Pre-Politically Correct History: Primitive Languages Lack Abstraction

“The languages of nature peoples are not necessarily primitive in any sense of simplicity; many of them are as complex and wordy as our own, and more highly organized than Chinese. Nearly all primitive tongues, however, limit themselves to the sensual and particular, and are uniformly poor in general or abstract terms.

So the Australian natives had a name for a dog’s tail, and another name for a cow’s tail, but they had no name for tail in general. The Tasmanians had separate names for specific trees, but no general name for tree; the Choctaw Indians had names for the black oak, the white oak the white oak and the red oak, but no name for oak, much less for tree.

Doubtless many generations passeed before the proper noun ended in the common noun. In many tribes there are no separate words for the color as distint from the colored object; no words for such abstractions as tone, sex, species, space, spirit, instinct, reason, quantity, hope, fear, matter, consciousness, etc.

Such abstract terms seem to grow in a reciprocal relation of cause and effet with the development of thought; they become the tools of subtlety and the symbols of civilization.”

Will Durant, Our Oriental Heritage, 1935

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