Andrew J Ortony*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The phenomenon of metaphor is much more complicated than it might seem. One looks to the dictionary to discover the standard account of metaphor as simply the use of a word or expression to refer to an object that it does not normally denote; and that, one might think, would be that. However, a good case can be made, and I think has been made, for supposing that such a conception of metaphor is inadequate (e.g., Ortony, Reynolds, and Arter, 1978a; Reddy, 1969; Van Dijk 1975). The questions such an account raises far outnumber those it answers. The most obvious of these questions is: If a word or expression is not being used in the normal way, how does a hearer or reader discover in what way it is being used? The answer to this question is far from clear. Some (e.g., Kintsch, 1974) have suggested that it is done by transforming the metaphor into a simile. So, for example, the metaphor Mary is a block of ice would be transformed into the simile Mary is like a block of ice. However, not all metaphors can be so transformed. Furthermore, the processes involved in the comprehension of similes themselves constitute a nontrivial problem (Ortony, 1979a; 1979b). A more general approach in the same vein is to argue that metaphors are really implicit analogies. According to this view, the metaphor is really an analogy that could be expressed, perhaps, something like this: “The relationship between Mary and her amorous exploits is the same as the relationship between a block of ice and its temperature.�? There may be some merit in this approach, but it has little explanatory value until one can work out the systematic relationships between metaphors, similes, and analogies, a problem that I am not about to350 tackle here but that receives an excellent treatment in G. Miller (1979). A further problem with this kind of approach is that it presupposes that analogies themselves cannot be metaphorical. I suspect that this presupposition is incorrect (see Ortony, 1979a).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationTheoretical Issues in Reading Comprehension
Subtitle of host publicationPerspectives from Cognitive Psychology, Linguistics, Artificial Intelligence and Education
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781351607247
ISBN (Print)0898590361, 9781138091214
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)
  • Psychology(all)
  • Social Sciences(all)


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