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Jaywalker free magazine of the arts was published monthly in Kingston, Ontario, Canada and is still available online at all times right here! We hope to get some version of it going again. For now, it is an archival site only.


Check out our old publisher's new blog, The Metaphor Observatory, with plenty of examples of contemporary metaphor in the media.


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Night of the Living/Dead Metaphors

In recognition of our Fearful Characters theme for October, we decided to include the most fearful character of all: a lesson in figurative language!


Metaphors are often lumped into two broad categories: the living metaphor, where the word is still considered figurative; and the dead metaphor, which, although once full of life, is now treated as an ordinary, everyday word.

What's the real difference between them? Perspective.

G.G. Falderal as a zombie.

A metaphor's only cause of death is the acceptance of its poetic meaning into the normal vocabulary of the host language. It is difficult to clearly distinguish the living metaphor from the dead because a language is dynamic, and individualistic - and therefore never a singularity even in the tightest-knit jargon circles. If one has never heard a given word in a specific metaphorical context, they will more likely see it as a living metaphor; where one who is familiar with this word in this same context will not likely identify it as a metaphor at all.

All too often I would find myself learning a new field, and with it, metaphors that were new and living to me. I'd even see humor within these words that was totally missed by others. This wasn't only because I've a stretchy sense of humor, but also because the metaphors that were new and pun-worthy to me, were not even treated as metaphors by them.

This strong contrast between each of our respective treatments of this same metaphor - one clearly as living, the other clearly as dead - led me to recognize that our perspectives had set the value, and not the definition of the word itself. This, in turn, led to the following criteria for distinguishing living from dead metaphors: only when one can no longer see evidence of life can a metaphor be officially declared dead. But a metaphor - living or dead - is always new and alive to someone hearing it for the first time. Thus this distinction seems far more scholastic than practical. Furthermore, a metaphor that is considered dead in one language or culture is not necessarily dead in another. For example there is much debate surrounding whether the metaphors of the Bible are living or dead, with this distinction having a dramatic effect on the resultant interpretation of its teachings.

The proper use of metaphor, whether living or dead, keeps it as alive as the day it was born.


Here is an exercise that will help you explore the difference between living and dead metaphor. It's taken from a list of five questions submitted to me by a student, presumably seeking help with their homework. Naturally, I wouldn't give him easy answers - instead, I echoed each question with another question, aimed at bringing forth the very meaning of the first from his perspective.

                         Living and Dead Metaphor Exercise

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