Have you ever noticed, dear Reader, that we understand life as war? As a constant fight of winning or losing?
In fact, war plays such a huge role in our worldview that it has filled our vocabulary with numerous metaphors.
Take, for instance, the word battlefield. Literally, a battlefield is a place where people physically fight each other.
Despite not literally fighting others, we nonetheless consider our life a battlefield because this word seems to provide the proper image of what we are going through.
Or think of illness. We talk about bacteria invading us, envisioning them as a huge herd of enemies that conquer the territory of our body.
We destroy them by mobilizing our body's natural defenses or by using aggressive medicine. Especially on cancer, we have declared war, calling chemotherapy a chemical warfare, and referring to patients as victims.
American writer Susan Sontag, who herself died of cancer, wondered what would happen if we did not regard patients as victims who lost their battle, making it sound like losing was their fault because they had been too weak to beat the enemy.
Another powerful area of war metaphors is arguing. According to American linguists George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, a verbal battle consists of attacking and counterattacking by shooting down and demolishing arguments.
Lakoff and Johnson suggest that viewing arguments as a dance with performers who seek to balance their points would be quite a different experience.
Now, can you imagine dancing instead of arguing? Or can you find any other words for illness?
As war metaphors are deeply anchored in our lives, replacing them is anything but easy.
Changing our vocabulary would therefore have to go hand in hand with a change in understanding life as something other than a battlefield where we wage war.
Dr. Daniela Ribitsch originally comes from Graz, Austria. She has lived in the United States since 2009 and teaches German at Lycoming College in Williamsport. She can be reached at email@example.com.
SOL 36 War metaphors/title>