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Metaphorical links in the data

Posted by Ellen Bramwell on the 20th of May 2013

We are now well into coding our data, which consists of examining all the words which are contained within more than one area of the Historical Thesaurus database. We are looking for systematic metaphorical links between entire categories, rather than individual metaphors alone.

To give you a flavour of the project data, the overlapping words between Reptiles and Behaviour/conduct and between Reptiles and Place are reproduced below. For Reptiles alone, there were around 300 categories with words overlapping which had to be examined. These are only two of them. There are 410 categories in addition to Reptiles, each of which will again have several hundred sets of overlaps!

So between Reptiles and Behaviour/conduct all the overlapping words are as follows:

dragon n 1755– .person/being
finger vt 1670 .treat violently/roughly
viperan aj 1877 Spiteful, malicious
viperian aj 1866 Spiteful, malicious
viper n 1591– .person/thing displaying
reptile aj 1654– Ill-willing
tiger n 1500/20– .person/being
tiger aj 1800–1910 Fierce
viperish aj 1755– Spiteful, malicious
reptilian aj 1859 + 1888 Ill-willing
slough vt 1845– Give up a habit/practice
vipereal aj 1748 Spiteful, malicious
slough n 1583– ..a habit/usual feature cast off
soft-shell aj 1845–1872 US .that adopts a moderate course/policy
snapper n 1648– ..person
serpentine n c1510 ..instance of
viperous aj 1535– Spiteful, malicious
viperine aj a1550– Spiteful, malicious
vipered aj 1560 Spiteful, malicious
viper aj 1591– Spiteful, malicious
basilisk n 1475–1831 .person/thing displaying

Not all of these are Reptile words being used in Behaviour (finger, tiger, etc. just happen to be present in both categories), but we can see that many of them are being used in a metaphorical link from reptile > behaviour (‘reptilian’ meaning ill-willing, for example). The link appears to be a systematic one with many overlapping words which are metaphorical between the two categories.

Between Reptiles and Place the overlapping words are as follows:

fish vt 1632– also fig. .from a deep place/water
strike vt 1599 + 1823– ...(as) with a blow
avoid vt 1382–1601 .empty
strike vt 1793– .unfix
avoid vt 1398–1641– ..empty (contents)

But these are clearly not metaphorical (at least not Reptile words being used metaphorically within Place, or vice-versa, anyway).

This process of analysis is complex and time-consuming, and few category links are as straight-forward as those in the examples above. However, by the end of the project this analysis should allow us to map the metaphorical connections of the English language from Old English to the present day.