IC4CH partner Elena Semino on the power of metaphor during the pandemic

IC4CH partner Elena Semino on the power of metaphor during the pandemic
Tuesday 6 July 2021

Elena Semino is professor of linguistics and verbal art at Lancaster University, director of the ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science, and director of the Lancaster University wing of the International Consortium for Communication in Health Care (IC4CH). She is author of Metaphor in Discourse and lead author of Metaphor, Cancer and the End of Life.

In The Guardian's Opinion section on 5 July 2021, in an article entitled 'Fire, waves and warfare: the way we make sense of Covid', Professor Semino has written incisively of the common resort to metaphor to explain both the COVID-19 pandemic and how we are drawn or encouraged to respond to it. She writes:

"Whether consciously or not, people often use metaphor to talk and think about complex, abstract and sensitive subjects. Time, illness and the climate crisis are prime examples of concepts that may be explained through clearcut, accessible imagery. Allusions to journeys, fights and sport help us make sense of things that would otherwise be inexpressible or unknowable. ...

"So when a new invisible virus arrived that was responsible for illness, death and unprecedented disruption, it made sense that metaphor was used to turn something incomprehensible into more familiar, accessible and predictable terms. Throughout the pandemic metaphors have performed a dual role, both explaining the situation and steering behavioural change. ...

"Metaphors are inescapable. Used sensitively and appropriately, they can help individuals and societies overcome overwhelming, long-term problems such as a global pandemic. But used insensitively or inappropriately, or when undermined by inconsistent actions and policies, metaphors can add to confusion and disillusionment, making problems harder to overcome. In short, to employ another metaphor, they can be a double-edged sword."

To read the full article, visit The Guardian online


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