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
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.
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.
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
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“What is a metaphor?” Lingulinks. 5 January 2004. Version 5.0 CD-ROM.
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“Index of Metaphors.” Metaphors. UC-Berkeley: Cognitive Science. 21 February 2007.
“Examples of Sensory Metaphors.” Metaphor. Knowgramming.com. 21 February 2007