Saturday, March 20, 2010

Thoughts on metaphor

As a teenager I heard an interview with Pierre Berton where he said, "unless we understand the metaphor..." (wish I could remember the whole sentence/quote). I thought this was key to understanding what people were doing, saying.

In the autism debate I notice many (or some) autistics use metaphor (including me), or try using it. That's how I learned that metaphor can also generate confusion and lack of clarity. One possible example is here.

Maybe it's ironic that while attempting to understand and navigate non-autistic society we choose devices that work against us, especially against establishing clarity in the current debate (where our human rights are at stake).


  1. What I don't understand is how a request to "translate" a metaphor into plain English, so the meaning is clear, can be met with a sort of "you know what I mean" answer. Obviously I didn't. (Of course just saying that is "putting words in someone's mouth" that they didn't actually say and, since I seemed to have misunderstood the metaphor in the first place I may well be mistranslating that reply.) At any rate, it was obvious that the "speaker" did not want me to understand what they'd said or they would have simply answered my question.

    I once commented on someone's blog (the post no longer exists: ) "Maybe you need to "paint" with a finer brush then?" When told they did not understand my metaphor I explained:

    "You used a statement to cover ("paint") an entire group of people.
    You believe I'm one of those people.
    The statement does not apply to me and you (seem to) acknowledge this.
    Therefore, perhaps you should not have covered ("painted") such a large area with your statement ("brush").
    By adding words like "some" you cover ("paint") fewer people with your statement (brush).
    It's easier to cover ("paint") that smaller area with a finer (more accurate) statement ("brush").
    Anne is quite right - The statement doesn't apply to anyone that I know of. Perhaps actually naming and giving verifiable sources would be much more accurate than making repeating these broad, sweeping statements about groups of people.
    As you said yourself, "It is VERY frustrating to have people talk for you when what they are saying is the complete OPPOSITE of what you want!"
    Sure, call someone on what *they* said but don't call someone on what *someone else* said. I'm sure you don't want to be held accountable for the comments Mr. Mitchell, Mr. Doherty or Mr. Best has made just because you happen to agree on a few things."

    I totally don't understand why my lack of understanding couldn't have been met with that kind of answer....

    I guess there's much I don't understand....

  2. I thought of the paintbrush metaphor too, earlier today (how cool is that?; also prompted by recent events). "Broad-brush" discussion - we all need smaller brushes, *tiny* ones!

    I've got a Loew-Cornell #1 right here. Maybe I'll post a picture.

    I once thought (naively) that bigger words might shatter the communication barrier. Maybe it's the same with brushes. Unlike accurate statements, broad, sweeping statements are 'powerful'? Explaining meanings or metaphors would ruin the moment/affect?

    I think it is about affect. Some of us have mastered affect to some degree and... are proud of our accomplishments? Unfortunately displaying these accomplishments in the middle of serious debate isn't helping? Especially when they're partial accomplishments (if that's possible)?


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