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How to resist a metaphor

Updated: Sep 22, 2019

Kaveh Rashidi is a doctor, born in Norway of Iranian parents. He is a Norwegian citizen and has lived all his life in Norway. He identifies as 100% Norwegian.

One day in mid-August, he was walking in the streets of Oslo with noise-cancelling headphones on. A woman who he didn’t know pointed at him and said something. He took off his headphones and said “Excuse me?”

“Go back to Pakistan,” she said. “We don’t need doctors like you here.”

He was speechless. She just walked on.

Rather than letting it pass, Rashidi chose to share that experience on Twitter (see here). His simple story was met by a Twitter storm, which he later followed up with an article called “Am I Norwegian?” in one of Norway’s leading national papers, Aftenposten. Result? Another Twitter storm (see here).

So what did people write in response? Most –indeed, the vast majority– wrote in his support: Of course he is Norwegian, and we are lucky to have him! Many wrote that they felt ashamed on behalf of the woman who had accosted him.

A few writers, however, felt that that woman had had a valid point. And some of these people used figurative language to express their agreement, for example:

“If a cat has kittens in a barn, you don’t call them calves.”

How do you argue with that? How do you resist a metaphor?

Here’s what the world of Twitter did:

· Humor: “How wonderful that we are human and not farm animals!”

· Rationality: “That was a very strange comment and comparison.”

· Teacher talk: “That was an odd comparison. If you are going to use animals as a metaphor, you should use a cow from Norway and from another land, for example Japan. Then you call the “children” calves no matter where they are born, even if they were born in your living room.”

· Ridicule: “Ha, ha, that must be the most stupid comparison of all time.”

· Anger: “Delete your account, you a**h***”

· Analogy: “But with that logic, there are almost no Americans, because they all descend from immigrants. And we are probably all Africans because that is where mankind is believed to have emigrated from to start with.”

· Rejection of the premise: “Species and nationality. Apples and jump ropes.”

· Irony: “Great job. If a cow calves, you don’t call a barn cat an iceberg.”

· Increduality: “Goodness!!!! That anyone can say something like that. Incredibly disrespectful and sad.”

Among other functions, metaphor can be used to argue, to explain and to persuade. It is a tool that can be effectively harnessed by students, politicians, journalists, parents, everyone, including by people advancing offensive views and policies. Studying the various ways we have of resisting metaphor –that is, of reframing a given conceptualization that is not in line with our values or beliefs– may therefore shed light on effective means of fighting xenophobia and other forms of ignorance.

The 13th conference of the Association for Researching and Applying Metaphor (RaAM) will be held in June 2020 in Hamar, Norway. We are looking forward to hearing papers about resistance to metaphor, as well as about a rich plethora of other fascinating issues and topics related to metaphor research. Welcome to all MetNet Scandies, together with anyone else out there who just can’t get enough of metaphor, metonymy and other forms of figurative expression!

Find RaAM2020 on Twitter, FB and Instagram @RaAMconf (and also here) and send in your abstracts by November 2019. See you soon in Norway!

The next blog post will be written by Helga Mannsåker, from the University of Bergen in Norway.

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