Publication details [#2320]

Glucksberg, Sam. 2008. Understanding Figurative Language: From Metaphor to Idioms. Oxford: Oxford University Press . 144 pp. URL
Publication type
Book – monograph
Publication language


The book presents a comprehensive account of how people understand metaphors and idioms in everyday discourse. Traditionally, figurative language has been considered to be derived from and more complex than literal language. The book presents an alternative view, arguing that figurative language makes use of the same kinds of linguistic and pragmatic operations that are used for literal language. A new theory of metaphor comprehension integrates linguistic, philosophical, and psychological perspectives to account for figurative language use. The theory's central tenet is that everyday conversational metaphors are used spontaneously to create new concepts and categories. Metaphor is special only in the sense that metaphorical categories are salient examples of the things that they represent. These categories get their names from the best examples of those categories. Thus, the literal “shark” can be a metaphor for any vicious and predatory creature. Because the same term, “shark”, is used for both its literal referent and for the metaphorical category, as in “my lawyer is a shark”, such terms have dual-reference. In this way, metaphors simultaneously refer to the abstract metaphorical category and to the most salient literal exemplar of that category, as in the expression “boys (literal) will be boys (metaphorical)”. The book concludes with a comprehensive treatment of idiom use, and an analysis and critique (written by Matthew McGlone) of conceptual metaphor in the context of how people understand both conventional and novel figurative expressions. (Publisher Book Description)