Dogma discerned; metaphor mulled over

Two items for your attention, the second in several parts. First: ‘This is where you get to be a bigot’, written by John E. McIntyre on his excellent You Don’t Say blog at the Baltimore Sun. Mr McIntyre explains when dogma is justifiable and when it is mere bigotry buttressed by popular but misinformed opinion:

Education in grammar and usage and the popular understanding of these matters have been damaged by the dogmatic rigidity of teachers and the peeving class: the insistence that there is only one “proper” form of English, the standard written; adherence to a set of “rules,” many of them bogus; and an implied and unwarranted belief that upholding such standards constitutes intellectual, social, and moral superiority.

I recommend that you read the full post if you haven’t already; it is short, witty, and thoroughly sound.

Second: You might have seen my recent flurry of articles about metaphor for Macmillan Dictionary Blog. If you didn’t, and you’re curious, I’ve collected them here. I mention them again because metaphor is receiving a lot of attention in the news media at the moment after IARPA, a US intelligence research agency, announced its intention to begin a five-year “Metaphor Program” [PDF, 351 KB] in November.

The project, according to IARPA, “will exploit the fact that metaphors are pervasive in everyday talk and reveal the underlying beliefs and worldviews of members of a culture.” Michael Cooney summarises the story, Alexis Madrigal takes a closer look in the Atlantic, while Lane Greene adds his thoughts in the Economist.

Michael Rosen is more sceptical, suggesting that “the more [the spooks] pin down and describe a metaphor, the more they will find that they have pinned down and described themselves”.

One to keep an eye on. Metaphorically.

6 Responses to Dogma discerned; metaphor mulled over

  1. I hope to god that US security services do not report a likely theft when someone says they are going to pinch a loaf… or get animal protection on the case against someone spanking the monkey

    Sorry to lower the tone Stan!

  2. Stan says:

    Jams: I expect IARPA will hire people who know what they’re doing, but I wonder if it will be worth the considerable effort and expense. And have they examined their own language? Paul Chambers’s experience showed how dedicated to literalism the authorities can be.

    Lower the tone is an interesting metaphor!

  3. I was being facetious as ever. I daresay that the algorithms to search for metaphors are doable. However how to look at the metaphor in the context in which it was used?

    Somehow I can only see it generating a lot of useless data if used generally. If used to target specific people I fear that it would often just reinforce erroneous suspicions

    As for Paul Chambers, have a look at the draconian punishment (ha) meted out on Gareth Compton for his stoning Yasmin Alibhai Brown. Poor Mr Chambers should have been a tory councillor!

  4. Stan says:

    I figured you weren’t being serious, Jams, but I decided to take your comment literally anyway! Methods for analysing language corpora have become pretty sophisticated, and the large budget will allow a lot of trained personnel to work on these projects. So I’ll be very interested to see what they do and how they do it. But as you say, data can always be used to serve a preset agenda or reinforce prior assumptions.

  5. Claude says:

    I am with Jean Paul Sartre: L’enfer, c’est les autres.

    Excepté toi, mon ami!

  6. Stan says:

    Claude: Sartre était trop sévère, je pense. Mais nous sommes trop nombreux.

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