Metaphor and Innovation

Posted on March 8, 2013
Filed Under Aphorisms, metaphor, wit | 4 Comments

The metaphor-minded, aphoristically inclined Dave Lull sends news of ‘Bad Metaphors, Bad Tech‘ by Rob Goodman in The Millions. “It’s only in terms of what’s old that the newest technologies make initial sense,” Goodman writes, a point also made beautifully by Owen Barfield in his exquisite book History in English Words: “When a new thing or a new idea comes into the consciousness of the community, it is described, not by a new word, but by the name of the pre-existing object which most closely resembles it.” Here’s a central paragraph from Goodman’s piece:

“More than smoothing over progress after the fact, metaphors themselves often drive progress. The insight that turned a balloon into a piece of Baroque art was the same kind of jump that turned a billowing shirt into a flying machine. But if smart figurative thinking can spark and explain new technologies, defective metaphors can do just the opposite. When the words and images we use to familiarize the new become too familiar — when metaphors start to die, or when we forget that they’re only tools — they can become some of the most powerful forces against innovation. It’s not always technical walls that stop change in its tracks. Sometimes, innovation is limited by language itself.”

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