Metaphor in Economics and Specialised Discourse

by José Mateo (Volume editor) Francisco Yus (Volume editor)
©2021 Edited Collection 382 Pages
Series: Linguistic Insights, Volume 282


This book approaches metaphor in specialised discourses, covering various fields. The studies presented in the book adopt different research frameworks, ranging from pragmatics to conceptual metaphor theory, among others. The book is divided into three Sections that analyse major specialised discourses where metaphor is frequently found and the role that metaphor plays in these discourses. The first Section approaches the discourse of Business and Economics from different perspectives. The second Section addresses the use of metaphor in politics, diplomacy and law. Finally, Section three covers the use of metaphors in other specialised discourses such as marine, fashion, gender or health.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction: Metaphor and specialised discourse (José Mateo and Francisco Yus)
  • Section 1: Metaphor in the discourse of Business and Economics
  • Ad hoc concepts in humorous financial metaphors. A pragmatic approach (José Mateo and Francisco Yus)
  • War and health metaphors in financial discourse: The case of “Letter to Shareholders” in annual reports (Chelo Vargas-Sierra and Antonio Moreno-Sandoval)
  • Do Business English students use metaphors? An analysis of complex metaphoric patterns in students’ business diaries (Andreea Rosca)
  • Metaphors in economics and financial blogs in Spanish (José Joaquín Martínez Egido)
  • Section 2: Metaphor in the discourse of politics, diplomacy and law
  • The English Supreme Court vs Boris Johnson: Legal metaphors for a constitutional crisis (María Ángeles Orts Llopis)
  • Legitimation by metaphor: Figurative uses of language in academic discourse in favour and against EU policies (Miguel Ángel Campos-Pardillos)
  • The language of diplomacy and the interpreter’s metaphoric and imagological dilemmas (Catalina Iliescu Gheorghiu)
  • Section 3: Metaphor in other specialized discourses
  • Metaphors in Marine Engineering journals: An overview (Silvia Molina Plaza)
  • Metaphorisation in fashion designers’ TED Talks (Isabel Balteiro)
  • The battles of language revisited. Metalinguistic metaphors in informative speech about feminist language (Carmen Marimón Llorca)
  • Neology and terminology in health sciences. An approach to terminological metaphor in the discourse of Assisted Reproduction (Carmen Sánchez Manzanares and M. Isabel Santamaría Pérez)
  • Series index

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José Mateo and Francisco Yus

Introduction: Metaphor and specialised discourse

This book is the output research by the Inter-University Research Institute of Applied Modern Languages (IULMA), whose members belong to three universities located in the Valencian region of Spain. The members of this Institute share similar research interests, one of them being specialised discourse and, as this book shows, also an interest in analysing the role that metaphor plays in these discourses.

Undoubtedly, so far there has been lot of research on metaphor, most of which has definitely departed from the old idea that metaphor is simply an embellishment of discourse intended to create poetic imagery in the mind of the addressee. Instead, metaphor is nowadays pictured as an essential communicative tool not only intended to transfer information to other people, but also to conceptualise and label the world we live in. As Antil & Verma (2020) summarise, though metaphors have been in wide use as a literary device since ancient times, until the twentieth century, most linguists thought of them as only a poetic phenomenon. However, after Lakoff & Johnson’s (1980) insights on metaphor, these are now viewed as a matter of thought and not merely about language: “They are responsible for our thinking, govern our knowledge and are also present in our speech. They bear the power that helps us create meaning and understanding. They take help of prior experience to make people understand any less familiar concept” (p. 210).

Ortony (1975) proposed three qualities of metaphors that indicate how useful they are in everyday communication: (a) Compactness. Something unknown to the listener that otherwise would require a lengthy digression to describe or explain can be more economically expressed in terms of something known, by transferring thoughts in fewer words. (b) Vividness. Because the source domain comes as a whole from direct sensory experience, it can be more colourful, vibrant and dramatic, capturing one’s attention more so than a concept or ←7 | 8→abstraction. (c) Ability to convey otherwise inexplicable or unnamable qualities. Since the “real” or literal qualities or inner workings of a subject may not be knowable to the speaker or listener -due to mutual lack of experience or the lack of relevant words in their language-, metaphor provides description and explanation that would be otherwise very difficult to communicate.

Unsurprisingly, metaphor is also pervasive in specialised discourses (including other related or intersecting labels such as professional and academic discourse) and with similar functions to the ones listed by Ortony. Firstly, specialised discourses normally aim at compactness, with the objective of terminology to be as illustrative and precise as possible and to relate to their referents in clear unambiguous ways. Here metaphors are capable of transferring specific pieces of information without the burden of lengthy terminological explanations.

Secondly, these metaphors in specialised discourses are often also vivid in the sense that they may “colour” specialised texts in which they are inserted with eye-catching qualities.

Finally, metaphors in specialised discourses are also useful in creating new terminology out of pre-existing metaphoric material (domains, mappings) used in other disciplines or even in ordinary conversations, thus reducing the effort involved in grasping the intended meanings out of these new terms coined within a specific speciality. As Resche (2012: 79) contends, metaphor is indispensable, insofar as it can help one understand and discover new situations. It also fills a lexical or terminological void: “Natural language was first used for referring to objects or basic activities, so that its resources are limited as regards supporting abstract thought: metaphor seems to be a means to enrich these limited resources, by activating secondary meanings. Metaphor is thus a means by which language develops and thought is enriched.” Mateo (2017: 101) points in a similar direction when he states that metaphors are powerful and extremely useful cognitive instruments that help in the interpretation of complex specific domains without having to resort to intricate inferential mechanisms, as financial language can often be for semi-expert and lay users: “By using metaphors, especially in professional contexts, authors can ease their reader’s inferential responses and therefore, get their messages decoded properly and fully understood” (p. 102).

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As an example of the pervasiveness of metaphor in the realm of specialised discourses, Oliveira (2009, in Rossi 2017: 154) distinguishes several functions: (a) Nominative, when metaphor is exploited to fill a lexical gap in the context of a specialised jargon. (b) Heuristic, when metaphor has the role of a trigger for establishing new analogies and forms of understanding. (c) Hermeneutics, when metaphor offers a more immediate denomination or expression for a complex concept, easier to promote understanding if compared to the scientific name or technique. (d) Popularization, when technical discourse makes use of metaphors for explanatory functions. (e) Teaching, when metaphor is used as a teaching tool, in order to lead the learner progressively from the level of a profane to that of a specialist. These functions are present, one way or another, in the different chapters that have been collected in this volume.

Overview of this book

This book on metaphor in specialised discourses is divided into four Sections. The first one deals with metaphor in the discourse of business and economics, which is one of the most fertile areas of development and application of metaphoric terminology (see Charteris-Black & Ennis 2001, Bielenia-Grajewska 2009: 142–143, Dilai & Serafin, 2019). Wang et al. (2013: 260) have pointed out, together with many other scholars, that the language of economics is highly metaphorical: “Metaphor helps the writer to formulate new knowledge and then to communicate it to the reader in a form convenient for perception, as abstract reasoning can often be performed more easily by using the main mechanism of a metaphor.”

Alejo (2010: 1137) adds that metaphor in economics has received attention both from economists and from applied linguists. The focus of the first is in explicating what have been identified as ‘theory-constructive’ metaphors or overarching metaphoric themes in economics. The second approach favours a more linguistic, discursive analysis of economics texts, revealing the metaphoric expressions found in ←9 | 10→economics texts, their typical distribution and their communicative function. This second line is followed in the four chapters included in this first Section.

In the opening chapter, José Mateo and Francisco Yus address humorous financial metaphors from a pragmatic perspective based on Sperber and Wilson’s relevance-theoretic approach. The authors consider that this theory can explain these types of metaphors in a satisfactory way, especially because, according to the proposal of ad hoc concept adjustment, the concept communicated with a word is normally different from the literal coded one (i.e., regardless of context), which is also typically the case of the metaphors analysed in their contribution. Chapter 2, by Chelo Vargas-Sierra and Antonio Moreno-Sandoval, addresses the metaphorical expressions within the field of health and war in a corpus of Spanish Letters to Shareholders. They focus their study on corpus-based methodologies which identify metaphors and classify them according to tagging computer programmes such as the Metaphor Identification Approach. Their findings are analysed following Charteris-Black’s Critical Metaphor Analysis. This study pivots on two areas: a corpus-based methodology used to process metaphorical expressions corpus and an analysis on two frequent key domains: war/army and health/fitness. Business English students’ use of metaphors is the topic of the third chapter by Andreea Rosca. She analyses and classifies the different patterns of metaphorical combinations used by business English students using Ruiz de Mendoza and Galera-Masegosa’s approach with interesting findings. Finally, chapter 4, by José Joaquín Martínez Egido, deals with a very specific discourse where financial metaphors abound: blogs. His hypothesis sustains that the more technical a financial and business blog the less metaphors are used. To corroborate this, he selects and analyses a corpus of 60 economic texts.

The second Section comprises chapters under the broad umbrella label of metaphor in the discourse of politics, diplomacy and law. Not surprisingly, metaphors also abound in these modalities of specialised discourse. As with any metaphor, people can conceptualise a particular concept in terms of another, thus enabling us to understand some abstract concepts easily and clearly. And the same applies to politics, also abstract and complicated, and by employing metaphors politicians ←10 | 11→make these abstract political concepts more concrete to people so that they can understand and accept them easily (Antil & Verma 2020: 213).

In the case of politics and law, we find interesting overlaps between these two areas in the chapters included in this Section. For instance, Maria Angeles Orts Llopis approaches legal metaphors in the political environment of the English Supreme Court in chapter 5. She examines different official texts in order to describe the patterns used in the conceptualization of constitutional crisis used by this British Institution, free of the emotional technolects and metaphorical clichés common in newspaper articles.

The second chapter in this Section, by Miguel Angel Campos Pardillos, may also be placed in an intersection between politics and the law. This time the object of analysis is the academic discourse pro-EU and anti-EU policies. This chapter examines the metaphorical imagery used in the academic discourse on the legitimacy of the European Union and its policies in order to support or oppose to them.

Finally, chapter 7 by Catalina Iliescu Gheorghiu is about the language of diplomacy and the interpreter’s metaphoric and imagological dilemmas, also with certain intersections with politics and the law. She addresses the metaphoric dimension of diplomatic discourse and discusses the idea that interpreting itself is a metonymic activity.

The last Section includes analyses of metaphor in other specialised discourses not ascribable to the previous Sections but nevertheless interesting in the way these metaphors shape the vocabulary of their respective communities and specialities. Chapter 8 focuses on metaphors in marine engineering journals. The author, Silvia Molina Plaza, investigates the metaphors used in maritime research articles from a linguistic, conceptual and communication level in order to ponder their role and relevance in maritime discourse.

The next chapter is very specific in scope: Metaphorisation in fashion designers’ TED Talks. Isabel Balteiro remarks in this chapter that her approach is innovative as it has not been addressed before. She attempts a selection, analysis, description and classification of the fashion metaphors available in the fashion industry including those intended to persuade and attract consumers in a highly competitive and ambitious world.

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Chapter 10, by Carmen Marimón Llorca, is also very specific in scope, this time addressing metalinguistic metaphors in the informative press. According to this author, although conventional metaphors are present in all kinds of texts, they have hardly deserved proper attention from specialists. To help cope with this lack, the author analyses the use of metaphors in egalitarian speech focussing on their recurrence and discursive use.

The book ends with a chapter by Carmen Sánchez Manzanares and María Isabel Santamaría Pérez, focusing on neologisms and terminology in health sciences, specifically regarding Assisted Reproduction. The authors, after compiling a corpus of specialized texts covering twenty-seven years (1992–2019), analyse the creation and evolution of this specific terminology and examine its results from the perspective of the cognitive theory of metaphor.

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José Mateo and Francisco Yus

Ad hoc concepts in humorous financial metaphors. A pragmatic approach

Abstract: According to relevance theory (Sperber & Wilson 1995), on many occasions (if not all), the concept that underlies a word (its coded concept) has to be adjusted pragmatically when it is interpreted, in such a way that the prototypical concept associated with that word (as one would find in a dictionary, for example) is slightly different from the one actually communicated in a context (called ad hoc concept). This communicated concept may be narrower than the coded concept, or broader or a combination of both, which is typical of many metaphors. In all of these cases, the ad hoc concept that is eventually communicated only resembles the concept coded in the utterance. In this chapter we apply this relevance-theoretic proposal of concept adjustment to the analysis of humorous financial metaphors.

Keywords: ad hoc concepts, metaphor interpretation, relevance theory, financial metaphors

1 Introduction: Relevance theory and inferential communication

Relevance theory (Sperber & Wilson 1995, henceforth “RT”) is a cognitive pragmatics theory of communication that relies on the basic premise that human cognition is geared to the maximisation of relevance. Lack of space prevents us from providing a more detailed account of the foundations of this theory. As far as the aim of this chapter is concerned, a crucial claim made by this theory is that the words coded by the communicator (speaker, writer, internet user) in the utterance underdetermine what this communicator intends to communicate with that utterance (and what the interlocutor eventually interprets), that is, thoughts and interpretations are always informationally richer than ←17 | 18→the words used to encode and decode them. Needless to say, context plays a major role when turning the schematic words of utterances into explicit interpretations (called explicatures) and/or implicated conclusions (called implicatures). Let us see the following financial exchange:

(1) Max: Profitable day today for our company?

Amy: There was too much tape painting from some shops.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (September)
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 382 pp., 31 fig. b/w, 18 tables.

Biographical notes

José Mateo (Volume editor) Francisco Yus (Volume editor)

José Mateo is full professor at the University of Alicante, Spain. He has a PhD in linguistics and has specialised in translation and lexicography. He has written several bilingual dictionaries of specialised discourses, including Economics, Banking and Stock Exchange. Francisco Yus is full professor at the University of Alicante, Spain. He has a PhD in linguistics and has specialised in the application of pragmatics (especially relevance theory) to media discourses and conversational issues, with a special focus on internet discourse, about which he has proposed the theory of cyberpragmatics.


Title: Metaphor in Economics and Specialised Discourse