University of Glasgow research project: Mapping Metaphor with the Historical Thesaurus

Over the past 30 years, it has become clear that metaphor is not simply a literary phenomenon; metaphorical thinking underlies the way we make sense of the world conceptually. When we talk about ‘a healthy economy’ or ‘a clear argument’ we are using expressions that imply the mapping of one domain of experience (e.g. medicine, sight) onto another (e.g. finance, perception). When we describe an argument in terms of warfare or destruction (‘he demolished my case’), we may be saying something about the society we live in. The study of metaphor is therefore of vital interest to scholars in many fields, including linguists and psychologists, as well as to scholars of literature.

Key questions about metaphor remain to be answered; for example, how did metaphors arise? Which domains of experience are most prominent in metaphorical expressions? How have the metaphors available in English developed over the centuries in response to social changes? With the completion of the Historical Thesaurus, published as the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary by OUP (Kay, Roberts, Samuels, Wotherspoon eds, 2009), we can begin to address these questions comprehensively and in detail for the first time. We now have the opportunity to track how metaphorical ways of thinking and expressing ourselves have changed over more than a millennium.

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