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on 27 July 2008
This is one of those books that manages to crystallize half-thought-out ideas and insights that you have but never really manage to develop. And once you get your head around the central ideas you can see how applicable these are in many different bits of the world. Obviously, it all about metaphors, and the early chapters of the book look at the types of metaphors we use and how prevalent they are. This stuff alone is really worth a read just to make yourself aware of just how often we use metaphors, but also how we use many different expressions of the same underlying metaphor. Take the following example from the book:

"Theories (and arguments) are buildings:

"Is that the foundation for your theory? The theory needs more support. We need some more facts or the argument will fall apart. We need to construct a strong argument for that. I haven't figured out yet what the form of the argument will be. Here are some more facts to shore up the theory. We need to buttress the theory with solid arguments. The theory will stand or fall on the strength of that argument. The argument collapsed. They exploded his latest theory. We will show his theory to be without foundation. So far we have put together only the framework of the theory."

Surprising isn't it that we use lots of different expressions based around one metaphor? That leads on to one of the fundamental arguments in the book - that metaphors are not merely linguistic devices, they are conceptual. We don't just use the 'theories are buildings' metaphor to get across our message, we actually think and act in those terms too. This obviously has some pretty major implications for our understanding of 'truth', and indeed the latter part of the book covers this in some detail, particularly the philosophical ramifications.

They also argue that our metaphors are grounded in experience, hence a lot of them are about space, orientation and travel. Think how often you use 'journey' metaphors to describe things, for example. This might be in terms of relationships - we're going our separate ways, the worst is behind us etc - or in terms of work - I personally use the phrase "I'm getting there" a lot in reference to work projects. So really we are perceiving first and describing second in terms of more direct/basic experiences.

The book's afterword is also well worth a read as it describes briefly how metaphor analysis has been applied is various fields from psychology to political science, so if you like the idea there is plenty of other suggested reading material.
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on 6 December 1998
Metaphor is usually seen as an aspect of words, a linguistic trick we use to increase the effect of our words. Lakoff sets out to show that metaphors are a fundamental part of our thought processes whenever we try to think abstractly. His book does not provide a rigorous scientific proof, but it does present a lot of evidence in favor of the thesis. However, a full treatment of the issue would take a much thicker and less readable book than this one.
Lakoff gives examples from life for various metaphors, for example, TIME IS MONEY (or TIME IS A VALUABLE COMMODITY), and shows how we use these metaphors in our everyday thoughts and actions ("Spending time", "wasting time", "saving time", etc). He shows how many different ideas can be expressed with simlar metaphors, ie HAPPINESS IS UP / SADNESS IS DOWN, HEALTH IS UP / SICKNESS IS DOWN, and so on.
Lakoff sets forth his case clearly and coherently, and with some of his examples, quite entertainingly. If you want some insight into how we think, buy this book.
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on 17 May 2009
This book provides a new and interesting approach to the study of metaphors, which are seen as deeply rooted in our cultural background and not just simple linguistic devices.

The book is intended for the general public, since it's easy to understand, well presented, and concise. However, this feature cannot appeal to a more informed audience, since the author does not provide any footnotes or cross-references to delve more deeply into this interesting matter.

For those who want to get a wider picture, there is the following book by the same author: Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought.
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on 6 May 2005
If you didn't realise just how much of what we understand is achieved by metaphor, this book will leave you reeling, as it did me. Start here, then follow up with "Philosophy in the flesh".
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on 20 September 2010
There are some books that are just so 'right' you immediately click with them.
This is one such.
The idea is that we live by metaphors - 'war', 'sex', 'up is good' etc etc. This is a trans-national, trans-cultural truth that holds true for the whole species. That as the brain recognises what is going on neural paths are activated, and where the same thing is recognised, the same neural paths are triggered, until they get 'hard-wired' into our consciousness and behaviour.
This was penned back in the '80s, but stays fresh and true in the noughties.
To be honest, it goes a bit funny at the end where they try to guess where future research may take them, as far as I can see wrongly, but the first 90% is so good you can forgive them that!
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on 26 May 2016
A brilliant book that explores metaphors and how we use them. This has been a starting point for so many modern therapy techniques that it's worth reading if you have any interests in this area. I wouldn't limit it to therapists though. If you are a writer and are serious about your art, this is worth delving into. Metaphors invade almost every aspect of our speech, and using them effectively will lift your writing to a new level!
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on 27 January 2009
In this book the authors show how metaphors are much more than we at first suppose. They are not just aids to language; they are fundamental concepts that underpin much of our thinking. There are some powerful ideas and good examples in the book but its style is very heavy, arcane and academic. It is tough work getting through the book and the key ideas could be expressed much more concisely.
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on 19 October 2014
A superb book that is seminal in this field of linguistics. Lakoff presents his argument about how metaphor pervades every aspect of language and our world in a very accessible and engaging way.
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on 19 January 2012
The kindle version of this book (Metaphors we live by) is NOT the updated, new edition of 1981 BUT the 1980 edition, even though Amazon misleadingly shows the new cover on it.
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on 15 July 2009
This book was a starting point. It launched the shift in the way we understand the role of metaphor in language and thought. It introduced the idea that we 'live our metaphors': that our metaphors underpin our thoughts and influence our actions, often without us noticing them.

The original 1980 text now seems dated - once you've grasped the central point, it is quite repetitive, and has been superseded by other books.

But I do recommend the substantial 2003 Afterword, which tells the story of what happened next, how the study of metaphor has impacted the understanding of the nature of human thought, and why that should matter to you. And from there, you could go on to explore metaphor even further - for example, with Clean Language: Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds
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