– Frank Marryat, Mountains and Molehills (1855)
Marryat was an English gentleman who came to California for a year of hunting. He kept a journal and drew illustrations. A metaphor is a kind of illustration, using words to create a mental pictuere. In this case, the simile “like three martyrs” tells us how to see a picture in the picture – of three human beings burnt at the stake. For modern readers, who buy meat in packages at grocery stores, it is a shock to see the resemblance between a bunny and a man when hung up on a stick. It is a further shock to visualize, with a culinary eye, the cooking of Christians by other Christians (for the sake of differences interpreting biblical texts, written in languages that were native to no one on either side).
A hunter necessarily develops a sense of detachment from the animals he kills. Especially when the killing is for sport. And yet he may think imaginatively about his quarry, attributing courage or cunning to an animal fighting for its life. At one point, Marryat imagines four or five does awaiting the return of the buck he has killed. They go to the stream at dusk, as always, but the buck does not rejoin them. Marryat offers up a hunter’s truism, which seems to empathize but is likely just a hackneyed saying: that the real cruelty is to shoot at too long range and allow the fleeing animal to die slowly of a wound.
In hunting parlance, a leash is a set of three, especially three greyhounds, bucks, foxes, or hares. The withers of a horse or other animal is the area of the spine at the base of the neck. Impaling the hares at the withers forces them into an upright posture.
– “Cool,” West Side Story (1957), lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
“Is that a pistol in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?” This quip is universally credited to Mae West, from as early as 1936, and there have been variations: pipe, rod, banana. As a device that emits, a pistol is metaphorically more descriptive than a banana. A man who is sterile is said to be firing blanks.
Arising from the same general shape and location, the rocket metaphor takes the penis beyond sex to other realms of male excitability. The Jets want revenge, and testosterone urges action. Hence the call to be cool (heat being a metaphor for emotion).
The timeliness of Sondheim’s rocket metaphor is noteworthy. The USSR launched Sputnik in 1957, and the rivalry for turf in outer space was on.
– Molly Hennessy-Fiske, “Communities on Border Seek to Lose Barbed Wire,” LA Times (March 24, 2019)
In fairness, the military has been calling it concertina wire since World War I – not for euphony but because a flat coil of wire stretches to a great length, like unfolding bellows of an accordion. In those days, barbed wire was sometimes compared to a prickly vine, such as blackberry. One of the major manufacturers was the Thorn Wire Hedge Company.
H. G. Wells called it “an ugly and vicious plant that trailed insidiously among its fellows” (The Wonderful Visit, 1895). In another Wells novel, a Mr. Benshaw uses barbed wire to discourage country walkers from taking shortcuts across his property. “But it was not a very satisfactory sort of barbed wire. He wanted barbed wire with extra spurs, like a fighting cock; he wanted barbed wire that would start out after nightfall and attack passers-by” (Bealby: A Holiday, 1915). Sixty years later came razor wire, designed to lacerate like a knife rather than puncture like a thorn.
There is an unforgettable image of barbed wire in All Quiet on the Western Front (1929). A French soldier, killed by nonstop machine-gun fire, falls into a “cradle” of wire: “His body collapses, his hands remain suspended as though he were praying. Then his body drops clean away and only his hands with the stumps of his arms, shot off, now hang in the wire.”
– Advertisement for a miniature hearing aid
If this is your first time reading about a contact lens for the ear, you might wonder how a device to improve hearing can be like a device to improve eyesight. Hearing and seeing are both sensory experiences but not at all alike. Seeing a cello is not the same as hearing one.
So this is a comparison that, rather than explaining, works by demanding an explanation. Certain jokes use the same trick – for example, Ben Franklin’s assertion that houseguests are like fish. (They begin to smell after three days.) Metaphors are usually meant to clarify but sometimes they mystify on purpose – so the audience will be curious and pay close attention.
Lyric hearing aids – much smaller than conventional hearing aids – are implanted inside the ear, so they are invisible to the public, like contact lenses. People judge you to be younger and more attractive.when you are not wearing bulky apparatuses, such as bifocal glasses or boxy earplugs.
Metaphor is a contact lens for your mind.
– Wilder Penfield, The Mystery of the Mind (1975)
As a neurosurgeon in the 1930s, Penfield was applying a 2-volt electrode to various sites in an epileptic patient’s brain when he discovered a problem with the stream of conscious metaphor.
The patient, who was conscious during the procedure, reported that she was re-experiencing a remembered scene in which she was looking at her young son in the yard. The memory included sensory inputs from different sources – in addition to what she saw, she also heard neighborhood sounds, such as car traffic – and it was clear from events within the memory that it was a record in which time was passing (it was not a still picture). Being both a convergence and a flow, the memory was very much like a stream or river.
However, the patient was aware at the same time that she was in an operating room and talking with a neurosurgeon. The consciousness embedded in the memory was her own, experiencing the scene as real, but some other aspect of her consciousness was like the man on the riverbank, watching it all go by, knowing it was not happening right now. The man on the bank changed the content of the river, polluting it with self-aware self-awareness.
Alternatively, there is no man on the riverbank; memories may instead be undercurrents in the overall stream of consciousness. Currents and undercurrents may interact and change the course and content of streams.
– The Times (London), May 20, 1972
Before the metaphorical hiccup came along in the mid-1960s, writing about hiccups was mainly about spelling and possible cures.
The hickop (1580), hikup (1581), and hecup (1635) must have all sounded more or less the same, as listed in the Oxford English Dictionary. In Anatomy of Melancholy (1621), Robert Burton says the condition can be cured by a false accusation, which distracts the afflicted person from their hickehope. R. Bradley Chomel’s Dictionaire Oeconomique (1727) recommends suddenly pulling their ring finger.
Francis Bacon reports in Sylva Sylvarum (1626) that “Sneezing doth cease the Hiccough.” The hiccough spelling was a rationalization, based on the belief that inhalation and exhalation spasms were related. Philosophically and medically, the collision of a hiccup and sneeze in the windpipe is something too terrible to contemplate.
The advent of the metaphorical hiccup brought a fundamental change in concept and imagery, and much less attention to serial hiccups. The metaphorical hiccup is always a singular event, a momentary interruption that doesn’t need a cure. It’s an anomaly, a blip, a glitch, a one-off, a quirk, a freak, an outlier, nothing to worry about.
– John Ruskin, The True and the Beautiful in Nature (1843)
The bones of the earth are covered by thick layers of soil, which are like skin and muscle. When human bones and muscle move, you see outer surfaces of the body – shoulders, torso, thighs – bulge in some places and form hollows in others, like hills and valleys. Ruskin wants you to look at a landscape the way an artist looks at a living model, a subject “full of expression, passion, strength.”
Ruskin then notes: “But there is this difference between the action of the earth, and that of the living creature, that while the exerted limb marks its bones and tendons through the flesh, the excited earth casts off the flesh altogether, and its bones come out from beneath.”
In other words, the stony peaks and crags that inspire feelings of grandeur in alpine tourists may be seen as horrendous jutting injuries. As Maria might have sung it with the von Trapps, “The hills are alive with the screams of landforms.”