The American Journal of Bioethics (AJOB)
School of Medicine
National Institute of Nursing Research, National Institutes of Health (NIH)
In all facets of our lives, humans construct meaning to understand their place in the world and their relationships to one another and to broader environments. Within this semantic web, words, stories, and metaphors play a key role in the meaning-making process, with the latter serving as a particularly important means of fluidly integrating thoughts, values, and actions across cognitive domains. Derived from the Greek roots “meta” (over/across) and “phor” (to carry) and literally meaning “carrying across,” metaphor guides an understanding of one thing in terms of another. It is such a pervasive tendency in human speech and thought that researchers have established we utter one metaphor for every 10–25 words, or about six metaphors per minute (Geary 2011). This holds true in medicine and public health, wherein our prevalent, ever-evolving metaphors of disease have the social power to literally position people and resources within a culture.
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