Not all metaphors, however, are literally false. In John Donne’s Medita- tion XVII, “No man is an island” is literally true. We treat this remark as a metaphor because, taken literally, it is so obviously and boringly true that we cannot imagine why anyone would want to say it. Taken literally, it would make no greater contribution to the conversation than any other ir- relevant, obvious truth—for example, that no man is a socket wrench. Taken literally, this metaphor violates the rule of Relevance and, perhaps, the sec- ond part of the rule of Quantity. Taken figuratively, it is an apt, if somewhat overworked, way of indicating that no one is isolated and self-contained.
Here are some more true metaphors. Explain what they mean and how they work.
1. “Blood is thicker than water.”
2. “Cream rises to the top.”
3. “People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.”
4. Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” begins, “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.”
5. China’s Chairman Mao Tse-tung is reported to have said, “A revolution is not the same as inviting people to dinner, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing fancy needle-work.”
6. Cuba’s Fidel Castro is supposed to have said, “A revolution is not a bed of roses. A revolution is a struggle between the future and the past.”
Metaphors do not appear only in statements. They also appear in imperatives. For example, “Don’t rock the boat” can be employed literally in a context where someone is moving around in a canoe in a way that could tip it. It can also be used metaphorically to tell someone not to do something that will cause a fuss. For each of the following metaphors, find a context where the imperative can be used in its literal way and another context where it is used metaphorically.
1. Keep your eye on the ball.
2. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
3. Look before you leap.
4. Make hay while the sun shines.
5. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.
6. Don’t change horses in midstream.