Posts Tagged ‘george lakoff’

QUR’AN ANTHOLOGIES: Illuminating Metaphors – By Type II

In Anthologies, language and communication, Literature|Religion on April 17, 2013 at 11:40 am

The last post essentially revisited the ubiquity and essentiality of metaphor↓1. Metaphors are not only prevalent, they are a part of the way we think, understand and describe things in this world.

Some metaphors are such an integral part of our conceptual system that we do not easily notice them, or understand them plainly. Some others are different in the sense that they are less frequent, unique, unfamiliar, or present new connections between ideas. The former were termed as conventional, while the latter was termed as novel by George Lakoff↓2. He and subsequent research identified several neural and cognitive differences between the two. On the other hand, both are basically a part of the same system (i.e. conceptul system) and arise from the same process (metaphorical thinking).

In this post we focus only on conventional metaphors since they are more frequent and we will move on to special cases of conventional metaphor.

Examples of conventional metaphors

Nearly all the Qur’anic examples of conceptual metaphors in the last post were conventional. Here we consider more examples, highlighting their familiarity and salience. This way, there will be appropriate contrast to novel metaphors when they are presented later in the anthology.

إِنَّكُمْ وَمَا تَعْبُدُونَ مِن دُونِ اللَّـهِ حَصَبُ جَهَنَّمَ

Verily you and the gods you worshipped beside Allah are the fuel of Hell. [in Al-Anbiya 98]

 Since hell is supposed to burn those put into it as punishment, calling those fuel is an obvious metaphor.

وَلَا تَعْزِمُوا عُقْدَةَ النِّكَاحِ حَتَّىٰ يَبْلُغَ الْكِتَابُ أَجَلَهُ

 And  do not resolve on the knot of marriage until the waiting term expires; [in Al-Baqarah 235]

This ayah on guidance for another wedlock after the previous one has ended terms it as a ‘knot’. This metaphor calls to mind its English correspondent: the bond (in addition to ‘knot’ which itself is a metaphor’. Since a knot ties two things together and so does marriage in the psychosocial sense, the metaphor is obvious.

وَزَيَّنَّا السَّمَاءَ الدُّنْيَا بِمَصَابِيحَ وَحِفْظًا

And We adorned the nearest heaven with lamps and as protection. [in Sura Fussilat 12]

Stars, while performing their astronomical functions (one of which is hinted in this ayah), also look beautiful from earth because of their twinkling. Hence the metaphorical rendering ‘adorned’ or ‘decorated’ is understandable.

قَالَ سَنَشُدُّ عَضُدَكَ بِأَخِيكَ

[Allah] said, “We will strengthen your arm through your brother…” [in Al-Qasas 35]

A man performs most of his actions with his arm. Sometimes the task is so big, he needs another’s help. A helping hand is, thus, a common universal metaphor. Here God speaks of strengthening Prophet Moses’ (alaihi-s-salaam) arm by bestwoing his brother Haroon (alaihi-s-salaam) with prophethood as well.

 فَأَذَاقَهُمُ اللَّـهُ الْخِزْيَ فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا

So Allah made them taste disgrace in worldly life. [in Az-Zumar 26]

Expressing different experiences in life as ‘food’ is a common conceptual metaphor across cultures. Tasting the flavor of success, failure; acquiring the fruit of labor, patience; and so forth. 

هُنَالِكَ ابْتُلِيَ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ وَزُلْزِلُوا زِلْزَالًا شَدِيدًا

 There the believers were tested and shaken with a severe shaking. [Al-Ahzab 11]

 The metaphor here is an expression of the conceptual metaphor: “emotion is physical force”.  Allah speaks here of the time when Non-believing tribes have gathered around Madina from all over Arab and Muslims had to defend themselves by constructing a big trench on Madina’s front (ghazwa-e-ahzab). At that time some inside groups of hypocrites, and of Jews who were living in Madina had also started brewing trouble, causing Muslims a jolt of worry. Hence the metaphoric image applied is that of an earthquake’s shake to paint the picture of the extreme emotional turbulence the Muslims found themselves in.



This study makes us realize that metaphors are salient and easily understandable when the metaphoric image (the vehicle) shares an obvious connection with the meaning (target/source). Both the aspects of the metaphor (vehicle and target) are familiar to us through our day-to-day observations and experiences. It is these that are termed as ‘conventional’ and many more examples exist in the Qur’an.



1. The topic was covered with detail in the previous series on metaphors.

 2. Such as in Lakoff, G. 1993. The contemporary theory of metaphor. in Metaphor and Thought, 2nd ed. Ed. by Andrew Ortony. New York: Cambridge University Press. Retrieved Online: http://www.cogsci.ucsd.edu/~coulson/203/lakoff_ps.pdf