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Personal Metaphors

Posted by Christian Kay on the 4th of July 2013

Do you or your friends have any metaphors which are restricted to your own immediate circle? Long, long ago when I was an undergraduate studying Old English, I encountered the great Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf. Wrestling with its metre, syntax, vocabulary, length, and the insidious network of footnotes in the recommended edition, was no easy task. If I staggered in after a session looking particularly wild-eyed, people would nod sympathetically and say: “Ah, yes. Beowulf”. Gradually the term came to be extended to any large, recalcitrant object, often of a mechanical nature. For example, my first typewriter,[1] a huge, noisy machine which required considerable force to operate, was definitely a Beowulf. So was my family’s first washing-machine, a device of such malevolent malfunctioning that it inspired my normally mild-mannered father to create a one-man riot at an ideal homes exhibition. At a more intellectual level, the term applied to the novels of Samuel Richardson, especially Clarissa. All this, of course, is grossly unfair to Beowulf himself, a noble warrior who slew monsters and dragons and generally operated for the public good. So it’s perhaps just as well that my metaphor never passed into general use, although I still have a lingering affection for it (and for the poem).

[1] Typewriter: what people wrote on between quill pens and word processors.