April 10, 2020, by Brigitte Nerlich

Being on a journey while staying at home: More about corona metaphors

Yesterday afternoon, I talked to somebody about coronavirus metaphors, which ones were good, which ones were bad etc. Of course, we discussed war metaphors. But I also said that people seem to have overlooked another, less conspicuous metaphor, the ‘journey’ metaphor.

The journey metaphor is an important example of a ‘conceptual metaphor’ in Lakoff and Johnson’s seminal book Metaphors we Live By, published in 1980. Conceptual metaphors structure how we think, talk and act, but are normally quite invisible to the naked eye, so to speak. (The cognitive linguist Charles Forceville has produced a nice video about the journey metaphor which you can watch here.)

I tried to argue that the government should use that metaphor more, as indeed they had done in, for example, reiterating their mantra of the ‘step by step’ (science led) action plan to managing the crisis.

After that conversation, I did, as usual, the washing up while listening to yesterday’s press conference led by Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, and I immediately emailed – with wet hands – the person I had just been talking to and said: ‘Wow, they are following my advice and using the journey metaphor’ (joke). Let’s have a look at Raab’s press conference speech:

The overarching theme of the speech was a ‘thank you’ for all the ‘sacrifices’ (the word was used five times) that people all over the country are making. The use of the conceptual journey metaphor was a bit more hidden.

The ‘journey’ metaphor is a ‘conceptual metaphor’, an overarching conceptual or cognitive framework through which think and talk about all sorts of things. Here are some examples:

The baby arrived just after midnight.
They remembered the departed in their prayers.
His life took an unexpected direction.
What’s the best way of doing it?
I’ve tried being reasonable, and I don’t want to go down that road again.
I haven’t yet reached my goal.
I’d like to return to what David was saying earlier.

Raab’s speech

Raab started by talking about the Prime Minister who was still in intensive care but was said to “make positive steps forward”.

He then went on to thank “everyone who has gone the extra mile”. He thanked all key workers “who “keep the country running” and “just kept going”. He thanked the volunteers who have “stepped up across the country”.

He also thanked those who, during social distancing times, cannot go on journeys, but have, instead, stayed home! He stressed that, despite all the sacrifice, “we must keep going”, while the “measure will have to stay in place, until we’ve got the evidence that clearly shows we have moved beyond the peak”.

He ended by stressing that “this is a team effort, and we’ll only defeat this virus for good if we all stay the course”.

Let’s all continue on this collective metaphorical journey through the pandemic by staying at home this Easter, a paradoxical but necessary course of action!


Image: Easter in Germany. I have been there every year for the last thirty years. But this journey didn’t happen this year!

Posted in infectious diseasesMetaphors