ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Daily Metaphors: Poetry in Everyday Speech

Updated on July 29, 2009


Every day, in nearly every sentence we utter, we surround ourselves with metaphors, most of which we are not even aware we use. In Nietzsche's "On Truth and Lies in the Non-Moral Sense," he points out how our perceptions of things are not themselves the same as the thing. For instance, if you stand far away from a circular table, it appears to be an oval. Yet we know it is not really an oval; our perspective merely makes it seem so. Are our perceptions, then, not metaphors in some sense? Then to these perceptions we apply sounds, like "cup" or "ball", but these sounds themselves have nothing to do with the thing or the image. Are these concrete words not metaphors? Perhaps not; we don't have to agree with Nietzsche. For the next step, however, we may just come around.

Then from these concrete words we form concepts. Just as in Japanese ideograms, a dog and an ear depicted together means 'bark,' so in our Western languages we have formed concepts out of concrete nouns and these concepts over time have mutated to have their present meanings. The word 'onomatopoeia', for instance, is made of two Greek words, one for 'sound' (onomos) and one for 'to make' (poiesis), meaning literally "made of sound."

In what follows, I shall take a few concepts that are used often enough, perhaps daily, and explicate their humble beginnings as concrete words.


Everyday Philosophy

'Object' and 'Subject': Both of these words are close relatives of 'eject,' as they in fact come from the same root, the Latin iacere, meaning 'to throw.' As you might guess, 'eject' means 'to throw from,' like your VCR throws the VHS tape from its mouth. 'Ob-' is a prefix that means 'against,' and indeed 'object' literally means 'the thrown-against thing.' Subject, on the other hand, is just what you have probably guessed, 'the thrown-under thing.' This meaning is clear in other contexts. For instance, "I object!" stated in a courtroom environment is a 'throwing against' of sorts, throwing courtroom rules and etiquette against a statement. Also, when we speak of someone being subjected to some treatment, it is easier to see how they can be seen as a 'throwing under.' It is, however, more of a stretch to see how objects have earned this name. To make a long story short, medieval philosophers used the term to refer to anything 'thrown against' the senses. So anything one can see, smell, taste, hear, or feel is an object.

'Substance': The '-stance' root is one we can see shared with 'circumstance' and 'distance,' and means more or less what would would imagine, standing. Coming from the Latin stare, meaning 'to stand,' 'circumstance' literally means 'that which stands around.' Circumstances are the 'standing around things.' Distance, combining 'de-' with '-stance' means 'to stand away from,' making distance the awayness between standings. So substance must mean 'that which stands under,' and indeed it does. Again, Latin philosophers, particularly in translating and discussing Aristotle, used the term to refer to anything that has physical being. For Aristotle, there are two things, properties and substances; properties inhere in substances, and substances are the things that 'stand under' these properties, the pure thing itself. Over time, 'substance' acquired its more scientific term and any stuff of which one is studying the properties, whether it be bisodium carbonate or dihydrogen monoxide.

Crossing Over

Let's take a break from philosophy and have some lighter etymologies.

'Peninsula': It would be possible to figure out the etymology of this word on one's own, if one thought about it for a while. The 'pen-' in 'peninsula' is the familiar one to be found in 'penumbra' and 'penultimate,' which means 'one from the last.' The 'insula' is the very same to be found in 'insulate' and 'insular,' coming from the Latin for 'island.' Hence to 'insulate' is to 'islandize' something, to break off contact with the exterior on all sides. If an island, then, is characterized by being out of contact with mainland on all sides, and we now know that 'peninsula' means 'one from an island,' we can see that the metaphor refers to the contact a peninsula has with mainland on one side only.

'Excruciating': The 'cruc' in 'excruciating' is shared by 'crucial' and, yes, 'crucifixion.' 'Crucifixion' itself comes from 'ficere,' meaning to fasten or join something (to something else) and 'cruc' naturally means 'cross.' This leaves 'excruciating' to mean 'from the cross.' Whether the term is Christian in origin or merely Roman origin I can't say, but it certainly brings to mind the most famous cross-victim, Jesus. An excruciating experience is therefore an experience similar to the experience of being crucified. Naturally, this is speaking metaphorically.

Since I've mentioned crosses and islands, it bears mention that metaphor is itself a metaphor. 'meta' means in Greek, amongst other things, 'over' and 'across' and 'phor' from the Greek for 'to carry.' A metaphor is thus literally something that 'carries over' or 'carries across,' like a boat. Incidentally, as often happens, the Latin term meaning the exact same thing on the literal level has come into English as something altogether different: translate, from Latin 'trans' (over, across) and 'latum,' the supine of 'fero,' meaning 'to carry.'

Going Once, Going Twice

'Ambition': Composed of 'amb' meaning 'about' and 'ire' meaning 'to go,' 'ambire' originally referred to the going about of Latin officials to gather votes. It is not a stretch to see how this came to refer to the drive to higher offices and eventually simply the drive to succeed and have honors.

'Obituary': Composed of 'ob,' which we say above means 'against' and 'ire' again, 'obire' literally means 'to go against.' However, as is often the case, 'against' is meant in the form of 'meeting' here, hence 'to go to meet.' The Roman phrase 'mortem obire', 'to go to meet death', was a euphemism for 'to die' and later in history the 'mortem' was safely dropped and 'obire' meant 'to die.' The ending '-uary' roughly means 'place of,' hence a sanctuary is a holy place, a mortuary a place of the dead, and an obitary is therefore literally 'the place of going against.'

'Initiate': Composed of 'in,' meaning, naturally, 'in' or 'into' and 'ire,' 'inire' literally means 'to go in' meaking 'initiation' mean a 'going in,' or an entry into something.

Other 'ire' based words include 'perish,' meaning literally 'to go through' and 'transition,' meaning 'to go over' or 'to go across.'


So there you have it, we are all poets in some sense, constantly speaking in metaphors, constructing our experience of the world through metaphor. There is a poetic beauty to our speech, everyday speech, however unremarkable. However, every age is always hungry for new metaphors, metaphors that fit our age and allow us to interpret new experiences and shape for ourselves a human world appropriate to our time and circumstances. We need new metaphors to move forward, to progress mentally and spiritually. For this we must look to the true poets. In an age so riddled with cliche as ours is, where Batman comics, Spiderman moviesĀ and Big Brother have taken the place once held by the likes of Dickens and Shakespeare, where barely literate text messages have taken the place of well-written letters, one despairs that our era is poor in metaphor and overburdened with the concrete on the one hand and tired metaphors of a past age on the other. We have to work much harder in this age to find new metaphors, and some may never find them, but find them we must. Fresh metaphor is the spiritual grace of civilization.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      So interesting! I love poetry and words so i was very enthused!

    • Arthur Windermere profile imageAUTHOR

      Arthur Windermere 

      9 years ago

      Thanks for your kind comment, tonymac. Glad you enjoyed my hub. Cheers!

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 

      9 years ago from South Africa

      Great and interesting Hub. Thanks for writing it and I look forward to reading more from you.

      Love and peace


    • Arthur Windermere profile imageAUTHOR

      Arthur Windermere 

      9 years ago

      I have an education so you don't have to. haha

      I took Latin and Greek as electives in university as I had been expecting to enter a monastery. That was years ago, and I've mostly lost the (much more difficult) Greek, but the Latin stuck.

      Maybe I don't know what I'm talking about, but I find taking the time to study or even just think about languages, even a little bit a day, inspires creativity and insight. It just stimulates the right parts of the brain, I suppose.

      Anyhow, glad I could share the wealth and that you enjoyed the hub. Thanks for commenting. Cheers!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Wow. I wish I had a real education instead of a pretend one. I guess I could educate myself but I seem to lose the day to the garden, the writing I do for money, the dog...poof. When I was in high school in the late 60s they dropped Latin, the only classic language offered. Then I fought my way into college and every class seemed to assume I already knew Latin and Greek too, so I pretty much faked my way through everything, and I still do that--to a large extent. I sort of suck up the context and just make stuff up from it. I love reading about the etymology of words though. Thanks for this. It's really, really good.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)