Using metaphor in healthcare: physical health

Demjén, Zsófia and Semino, Elena (2016). Using metaphor in healthcare: physical health. In: Semino, Elena and Demjén, Zsófia eds. The Routledge Handbook of Metaphor and Language. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 385–399.



As shown throughout this volume, metaphors are regularly used to talk and think about experiences that are subjective, complex and sensitive in terms of experiences that are less subjective, simpler and more concrete. Health and illness, and the emotions associated with them, are among the experiences that we often talk about through metaphors. As is the case more generally, these metaphors tend to rely on perceived similarities between different kinds of experiences. For example, the metaphorical use of ‘battle’ in ‘she died after a long battle with cancer’ relies on the perception of a similarity between being ill with cancer and fighting in a war: both experiences are difficult and potentially life-threatening, both require perseverance, and so on. However, as our use of the term ‘perceived’ similarity suggests, metaphors do not reflect objectively given similarities, but can create similarities between unlike things: they can reflect, convey and reinforce different ways of seeing and experiencing different aspects of our lives. In the terms used in Conceptual Metaphor Theory (see Chapter 1), the choice of different source domains ‘frames’ the target domain in different ways, highlighting some aspects and backgrounding others (Lakoff and Johnson 1980; Ritchie 2013).

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