Publication details [#4912]

Geeraerts, Dirk and Stefan Grondelaers. 1995. Looking back at anger: Cultural traditions and metaphorical patterns. In Taylor, John R. and Robert E. MacLaury. Language and the Cognitive Construal of the World. Berlin: Mouton De Gruyter . pp. 153–179. 27 pp.
Publication type
Article in book  
Publication language
Place, Publisher
Berlin: Mouton De Gruyter


Geeraerts and Grondelaers propose a radical reanalysis of Kövecses's original data. They argue that the heat and fluid metaphors in English could well be reflexes of a highly elaborated theory of emotion, one that held sway over popular and scholarly thought in the West for over 2000 years, namely, the theory of the four humors. As Geeraerts and Grondelaers document, this now discarded and largely forgotten theory was not only the basis of premodern medical practice, it was integrated into a whole cosmology, with the establishment of correspondences between the humors and such diverse domains as the plant and animal kingdoms, dietary practices, the seasons, and the planets. Thus it was that "choleric" persons, i.e., persons prone to anger, were recommended to eliminate garlic and ginger from their diet. Anger, or a proclivity to anger, was believed to be caused by excess of yellow bile (or "choler") in the body. Choler was taken to be a warm and wet substance. This characterization of choler, according to Geeraerts and Grondelaers, is sufficient to explain the dominance of the hot liquid metaphors in discourse about anger. (The role of blood, more specifically, hot blood, is due to the belief that the humors circulated in the body as admixtures of blood.) With the general demise of the humor theory, a number of things could, and (according to Geeraerts and Grondelaers) did happen: (i) Some expressions, which obviously and explicitly invoke the theory (such as 'stir one's bile'), have begun to fall into disuse. (ii) Other expressions have been reinterpreted, possibly in terms of the heat in a container metaphor documented by Kövecses. Thus, 'my blood is boiling' (probably) no longer invokes the humor theory, as it once may have done. (iii) "Reinterpretation" may involve the metaphorical construal of expressions that once may have been understood quite literally. In terms of the humor theory, a choleric person was quite literally hot-blooded. (iv) Yet other expressions might persist, as quaint, uninterpretable relics of intellectual history. Such, for example, is the status of the belief, still current, perhaps, that masturbation can cause blindness. Thus, the more general, methodological point that Geeraerts and Grondelaers make is that theories, being cultural phenomena, are the product of historical processes. (John Taylor)