A team from the School of Critical Studies at the University of Glasgow has traced the history of metaphors in the English language to create the first ever Metaphor Map.


After analysing over the course of three years around four million pieces of data, researchers have been able to group the metaphors on the map into 415 categories, such as anger, excitement, literature and light. These categories have then been grouped into three top-level categories: the social world, mental world and external world.

The team found more than 10,000 metaphorical connections between different categories of words, and they have developed an idea of how the spelling and meaning of metaphors have changed over the centuries.

Dr Wendy Anderson, the principle investigator on the ‘Mapping Metaphor with the Historical Thesaurus’ project, used the example of light and darkness to demonstrate the concept of the map: “Light and Darkness are fundamental to the way we view the world. The contrast between them is exploited in some interesting and important metaphorical connections.

“We use metaphors of Light to talk about Intelligence. For example, people are described as 'bright' or 'brilliant'. We also talk about someone being enlightened and even have the Enlightenment as an intellectual movement. On the flip side of this metaphor, Darkness is represented as a lack of intelligence or knowledge – a person can be 'dim' or even 'unilluminated'.”

Dr Anderson continued: “This project is unique in its scope. While a considerable amount of work on metaphor has been done over the past 40 years, it has never been possible to achieve this level of comprehensiveness until now.

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“This helps us to see how our language shapes our understanding – the connections we make between different areas of meaning in English show, to some extent, how we mentally structure our world”.

The Metaphor Map produced by researchers at the University of Glasgow

Tens of thousands of words with metaphorical connections will have been collected once the Metaphor Map project is complete. Around a quarter of these will be put online for the public to view.

To read more about mapping metaphors in history, click here.


You can read more about the project itself on the University of Glasgow’s website here.