A part of my response to Michelle M.'s recent novel fragment post Thiranos: Born of Fire started a journey I'd been already on though unaware I was. Of course, the overall quest is about figurative language's role for prose and readers aptitudes for it. Certain obtuse metrics between writer intent, implication, and reader capacity to infer intended meaning evaded me. How can I know with confidence any given reader's aptitude for figurative language and target audience readers generally and develop a plan for realizing such? Might a scheme and strategy offer a degree of certainty? Where do I turn for guidance?
The last question is simpler to answer in this Digital Age than the former two. The Internet. What a rabbit hole the Internet is. Yet answer sources emerged with little effort. Of all sources possible, one that is more direct to the point was sponsored by the Department of Defense. What the knuckle-loving horror. The military interested in figurative language.
"Military intelligence" is a well-known oxymoron, a compressed paradox -- figurative language. Also, that is an observable situational irony. Whoever or whoevers coined the term did not intend an oxymoron yet the term is one. A germ of truth, too, lays within the perceived incongruence between military culture's often dearth of competent smarts and military information collection, analysis, and action. The surface truth of military intelligence is it functions to develop best practice usable information. Though naturally as vice and folly-ridden as any other human activity, military intelligence functions and at times is actually intelligent, an underlain truth.
Like sponsoring a study of the functions of metaphor and receivers' aptitudes for processing it, plus, implied, methods for construction and use of metaphor that's natural and comprehensible at the moment of expression reception. Odd, too, that metaphor often expresses more comprehensible what's intended in an economy of words. Now that's a strategy the military could benefit from, more said clearer with less words. The complications of military communication ask for effective and economical communication. Language is naturally ambiguous. Any strategy that mitigates ambiguity and fosters clear, effective, and economical communication helps.
I'd recently come across the concept of metaphoric verbs and how and why those can be more effective for communication than noun or adjective or adverb metaphors. Because verbs are potentially robust and dynamic, they're more influential and memorable than words of other parts of speech. Simple enough a rationale on its surface. Easier said than done. Static verbs' opposite, less robust and dynamic influences and memorableness nothwithstood, mindful, timely and judicious static voice in contrast to dynamic voice resonates each's emphasis potentials. Variety is the spice of life, variety in all things. A dynamic voice is all the more emphasized when static voice calls due attention to emphasis, and vice versa.
From metaphoric verbs to the whys and wherefores thereof I intuited effective uses in a haphazard fashion. I needed clearer guidance, guidance at all, for natural metaphor construction. A few clues came from here and there. Seymour Chatman, Story and Discourse contains a section about "estranging metaphors," their function to estrange narrator viewpoint in favor of agonist viewpoint, and one key criteria for their construction, more shown by example than told, that a metaphor contain an incongruence between literal and figurative meanings, such that the incongurence signals an inferable metaphoric design. Readers then can start off with an awareness a figurative meaning is intended and interpret and infer accordingly.
Wayne Booth's The Rhetoric of Fiction and A Rhetoric of Irony's topics overall explicate figurative language's functions and designs, though without any direct declaration as such.
Well, the Internet results for keyword search terms "metaphoric verbs" produce on the order of six hundred thousand results. Odd, not as many as most any result-limited search term results often produce. Many of the pages do, though, contain some topical content, as usual, repetitive after review of a few; teaching aids, worksheets, examples tables, definitions, cites from literature and life, linguistics and cognition studies, etc. The odd one, the Defense Department sponsored essay, contained the stronger and clearer guidance of the lot.
Changing Minds.org has a curt summary explanation of the type and its function, plus related-topic links to "Adverb Metaphors" and "Dead Metaphors."
Link for the essay, hosted on a Defense Department website, by the way: Defense Technical Information Center, Open Archives Initiative. Understanding Metaphorical Use of Verbs. Lisa Anne Torreano. Doctoral dissertation. Princeton University, Psychology Department. June 1997. PDF: 138 pgs.
Many dissertations I read lack a cogent argument claim. Those are more annotated bibliographies than analytical or argumental essays, that investigate and produce results, like new knowledge. This one is an exception.
What I'm learning from the dissertation, how and how much humans generally and specifically per cognitive aptitude construct, use, and interpret figurative language. Exquisite. After a little midnight candle burnt, I'll get it, and know I will be able to design the intents I want to for my writing. Already borne fruit.
Wow, what a treasure trove. Much dry, tedious reading, though many insights into the degree to which people comprehend and use figurative language, from what and how: comprehensibility, metaphoricity, and aptness, and how to construct effective figurative language. I'd already researched why use figurative language, the social functions thereof; the essay doesn't cover whys, covers what and how.
How? Signal dissimilar similarity such that receivers comprehend figurative language is expressed and can in the immediate moment infer intended meaning.
My day job is a jail. Mary uncorked her emotions. (Lisa Anne Torreano) My love is like a red, red rose (Robert Burns). Tell all the truth, but tell it slant --- / Success in circuit lies (Emily Dickinson). Rage, rage against the dying of the light (Dylan Thomas). The port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel (William Gibson). Two roads diverged in a yellow wood: And sorry I could not travel both and be one traveler (Robert Frost).
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