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Engineering and Metaphor

By skballer03 Oct 04, 2008 1076 Words
What is a Metaphor ?

A Metaphor is an “expression of an understanding of one concept in terms of

another concept, where there is some similarity or correlation between the two”

according to the LinguaLinks Library. Metaphors are used by anyone trying to convey an

idea in an indirect manner. We use them daily without realizing it. Metaphors put a twist

in daily language in that they are a unique way of describing a concept. There are

common metaphors that we use everyday and not so common ones which are used

specifically in some kind of field for example engineering. Since engineers usually work

as a team to accomplish a goal, they use metaphors to communicate with each other


Metaphors everyday

There are thousands of metaphors that are used almost unconsciously every day.

They are viewed as ways to encode different points of views in regular conversations. An

example of a common metaphor is “jumping for joy.” In order to understand this

metaphor, we have to look for the concept first. The concept is Joy or Happiness and the

action of jumping is used to convey the significance of joy. For example when a High

School student receives his/her acceptance letter from a university they applied to, they

get overwhelmed with happiness, so they “jump for joy.”

Another common metaphor is “you are the light in my life.” Here the concept is

life and the quality of life is signified by the word “light.” We abstractly view light as a

positive occurrence, so in this metaphor, someone or something is a positive influence in

the person’s life. This metaphor is used frequently between two people in a relationship.

Among the most common metaphors are ones that refer to our senses such as touch, taste, sight etc (Sensory Metaphors). For example in the metaphor previously used, light can be

referred to as a sight.

A common metaphor that is used occasionally, but one that is not as clear as the

subsequent ones is, “I was left saddled with the blame.” This metaphor claims that

responsibilities are Burdens, so if you are not responsible for your actions, then you are

the one to blame and your responsibility is no longer a burden. One can put this metaphor

in contrast to a student in college. Students are responsible for doing homework and

investing time studying in order to complete their college education. Their education is a

burden because a degree is a load carried with someone that helps in discovering a dream

job for instance.

Engineering Metaphors

In Engineering, metaphors facilitate the communication process. “Out of phase” is

an informal phrase that can be used in various contexts. The origin of this phrase comes

from the misalignment of the parts of one mechanical or electrical cycle with another

(The Engineer). For things to work simultaneously, they have to be in phase. When they

are out of phase, the parts tend to not be conforming to each other. Since many engineers

work as a team, each part of the team must be in phase to complete a specific project. A

lead engineer may say “let’s not get out of phase with our objectives” to the other

engineers. He is trying to convey to the engineers the importance of working together in

order to reach a goal. The engineers have to conform collectively within the team to have

a chance of being successful and fulfill their purpose. This metaphor is used widely in the

engineering field and is extremely effective because it describes the concept of


A sparingly used metaphor in the engineering field is “equilibrium.” Equilibrium

is defined to be the steady state in a certain condition. It can be referred to as

psychological poise (The Engineer). The source of this metaphor originated in the world

of fluid mechanics. In fluid mechanics, something is said to have equilibrium when all

the forces effectively cancel each other out. Engineers use this term to refer to anything

that is steady or balanced. It can also be used to describe the poise a person has.

Engineers must have great poise in what they do, so “equilibrium” is much needed in the

engineering profession. This metaphor is very helpful to engineers. Since it originated as

an engineering phrase in the study of fluid mechanics, it is still used in the work place.

That brings up a metaphor that is hardly used. The “Big Wheel” originated from

large engines. They are the most important wheels that carry the power from one part of

the machine to another (The Engineer). In speech, “Big Wheel” describes someone

important. Like every company, there is a hierarchy in job position. In engineering for

example, there are managers, directors, CEO’s and owners that are termed the big wheel

because of their importance and significance to the company. These important people are

the driving force within the company. Because they are so important, they also have the

biggest responsibility within the company. The “big wheel” may be scrutinized heavily

for any wrong doings or bad judgments. So even though there is a pride in being the “big

wheel,” there is also a bigger responsibility.


Every metaphor has its origin. Metaphors grow to accommodate language in

everyday life and the work place. Engineers have a tendency to rely on metaphors as a

complex way of describing things. Metaphors put a twist to language as well. Metaphors

should be continued to be used in all professions including engineering. Engineers use

metaphors to communicate in groups, teams, and individually as well. One can never

underestimate the power of a metaphor.

Audience Analysis

The audience here can be any college student as well as students majoring in

engineering. People in the workplace may also see this essay as a helpful tool in

overcoming language in their profession. These people have a wide range of educational

background and are reading this to gain a better understanding of the benefits of


Works Cited

“The Engineer.” Metaphors at work. The helix press. 21 February 2007.


“What is a metaphor?” Lingulinks. 5 January 2004. Version 5.0 CD-ROM.

21 February 2007.


“Index of Metaphors.” Metaphors. UC-Berkeley: Cognitive Science. 21 February 2007.


“Examples of Sensory Metaphors.” Metaphor. 21 February 2007




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