Deliberate Metaphor Affords Conscious Metaphorical Cognition

Gerard Steen 1
  • 1 Faculty of Arts, VU University Amsterdam


Contrary to what is assumed in Conceptual Metaphor Theory (CMT), the conceptual power of metaphor may not lie in its widespread unconscious use but in its more limited and targeted deliberate use, which may or may not give rise to conscious metaphorical cognition. Deliberate and conscious metaphorical thought is connected to the general functions of all conscious thought as described by Baumeister and Masicampo (2010). Their theory provides a basis for demonstrating how deliberate and conscious metaphorical cognition facilitate social and cultural interactions, by reconsidering Musolff’s (2004) analysis of metaphor in political discourse on European integration. The paper concludes by formulating some implications of CMT’s neglect of conscious metaphor and of deliberate metaphor more generally. If the power of metaphor lies in thought, as has been held by CMT for thirty years, it may be that conscious rather than unconscious cognition - or, more generally, deliberate rather than non-deliberate metaphor use - enables that power. Given the relative infrequency of deliberate and conscious metaphor use, this, in turn, may entail that the online effect of metaphor is more restricted than has been assumed over the past three decades.

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Cognitive Semiotics is a multidisciplinary journal devoted to high-quality research, integrating perspectives, methods and insight from cognitive science, cognitive linguistics and semiotics, placing meaning-making into the broader context of cognitive, social and neurobiological processes. The journal is a platform for the study of meaning-making in our interactions with the surroundings in all domains, in language and other sign vehicles.