Metaphors, as one of the most widespread rhetorical figures in literature, are so deeply rooted in language they have become a part of everyday speech. With the use of evocative images, metaphors allow us to categorise human experience, affecting how we perceive events.
“Metaphor plays a very significant role in determining what is real for us” (Lakoff and Johnson, 1998).
This is why metaphors have the power to elicit reactions or help us to understand what we are experiencing at any given time. Journalists make a wide appeal to metaphors during times of crisis, as we have seen recently amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. But they have also done so in the past, for example during the global financial crisis of 2008. Due to their intrinsic characteristics, metaphors are perfect for describing moments of difficulty. Yet they also contribute to how we interpret events and experience hope and self-determination, or fear and a sense of helplessness.
Psychoanalyst Arnold Modell called metaphors the ‘currency of the mind’. The emotions that derive from metaphorical images ultimately guide our actions, making it extremely important to carefully choose the words that we use to describe significant events. And translators – with their high dose of linguistic sensitivity – must keep these aspects in mind.
So, what types of metaphors do we find in journalism? Let’s take a look at some of them.
Even before the coronavirus epidemic, financial articles often used medical metaphors that refer to concepts such as contagion, disease, and medicine. A quick Google search shows “the economy is still ill and nothing will ever be the same”, “financial contagion”, and “band-aid politics”.
Rhetorical figures of speech that refer to the sea, tides, ports, and headwinds and tailwinds are much more widespread, at least in normal times, compared to medical metaphors and are more often used in the financial and economic sector and not only in journalism. You might find articles headed “Government reforms: it’s smooth sailing”, while financial texts often use expressions such as “headwinds” and “calm waters”, “gold is once again a safe haven for investors”, “stormy financial markets” and a host of other similar phrases.
The most-used metaphors are most certainly those that refer to war, with examples including “banks under fire on the stock exchange” or “France in the trenches: spread at 200”. But it was during the global financial crisis and subsequent involvement of central banks that gave us the most original metaphors, including the now well-known “Draghi’s bazooka”.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has been defined by many as the “third world war” to such an extent that US President Donald Trump began referring to himself as a “wartime president”. We also read of “hospitals in the trenches” and the “heroic doctors” who were fighting the enemy that is the Coronavirus. Domenico Arcuri, the Italian government’s special commissioner for the coronavirus emergency, said that “masks and ventilators are the ammunition we need to fight this war”.
Metaphors undoubtedly have a significant impact on the collective imagination. In fact, psychiatrist Luigi Cancrini, speaking of the use of war metaphors in referring to the coronavirus pandemic, said the following in an interview with Italian newspaper Repubblica:
“War is a time of hatred. To survive in war, one is forced to kill others. Instead, we are in a time of bonding and solidarity”.
This is why many say that war metaphors should be replaced with metaphors for life. Online financial magazine Asfinanza discusses this:
“We should therefore switch metaphors. It’s also a question of ethics […]. Everything that takes place on our planet is consubstantial with the category of ‘life’. Life as such includes pathogenic elements – at times this is due to endogenous causes, and other times to human conduct”.
Translators must be well aware of and keep close in mind these aspects as experts in their source language and, even more so, in their target language. They must carefully evaluate the words that they choose so as to best express the concepts conveyed in the source text.
And while Italian readers love when metaphors are used stylistically, translators should not feel entitled to introduce metaphors that are not in the source text merely to make the translated text more stylistically appealing. This is precisely because, as stated at the beginning, metaphors have an important psychological impact. If we then consider the fact that these words are often recalled and exploited on social media, it is clear just how much care and attention are required of translators who are asked to convey a message, including its psychological aspects.
Our team of translators and proof-readers at Arkadia Translations pay a great deal of attention to these factors, being well aware of linguists’ crucial role in helping readers to navigate (to use a metaphor) between two linguistic systems. This is a challenge that only professionals – such as those that we at Arkadia Translations carefully select – can take on and conquer.