Conceptual Metaphor Theory

In 1980 George Lakoff and Mark Johnson published Metaphors We Live By, a short book that examined metaphors as fundamental units of human thought. The basic argument was that certain attributes associated with one conceptual domain “map” (or, in later theories, “blend”) with those of another, creating a “conceptual metaphor.” For instance, ideas associated with journeying (e.g., walking on a path, starting, stopping) map onto the concept of living, creating the idea that life is a journey. For more information on conceptual metaphor theory, see here.

Since the publication of Metaphors We Live By, numerous publications have expanded the work of Lakoff and Johnson, and this theory, or variations of it, is quickly becoming a major method by which scholars study biblical metaphors. It is therefore helpful to establish some basic style guidelines for our readers:

1. Image Schemas, Conceptual Domains, Input Spaces, Frames: Use small caps to indicate abstract conceptual domains and input spaces for maps and blends. For example,




2. Conceptual Metaphors: Use small caps without capital letters to denote conceptual metaphors in the abstract. For example,

life is a journey

love is magic

time is money

3. Metaphorical Expressions: Use regular sentence formatting to denote concrete examples of conceptual metaphors, with the metaphorical expression italicized as needed. For example,

“I’m at a crossroads in my life.”

“He’s under her spell.”

“You are wasting my time.”

These style guidelines are designed, of course, for the main text and notes. Authors (and publishers) should consider carefully how the use of small caps for image schemas or conceptual metaphors will appear in titles of books, essays, or articles and in headings. For example, a conceptual metaphor in an essay title will be set lowercase in most online listings, thus perhaps altering the meaning the author intends. As always, authors should strive for clarity of expression in the various contexts in which their works will be consulted or accessed.

Work Cited

Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson. 1980. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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