• Category:
  • Document type:
  • Level:
  • Page:
  • Words:

A Comparison in the use of Metaphor in Professional, Popular and

Pedagogic Science

June 3, 2014


Metaphors in the past were considered as ornamental in literally texts and therefore irrelevant in the sciences. However, over the years, cognitive linguistics have brought out the significant role that metaphors play in scientific texts. Metaphors have enabled scientists to name new entities and also add to the scientific context through creation of additional knowledge. Science is essential in the society’s development. The usage of metaphors in many scientific contexts including professional, popular and pedagogic sciences is still under analysis. This essay aims to draw a comparison on the use of metaphors in professional, popular and pedagogic sciences.


Metaphors are figures of speech where a phrase or word applies to an object through the assertion that, on some note of comparison, the object relates to another practically unrelated object (Hoffman, n.d). In this case, a metaphor acts as a figurative speech comparing two things, objects, situations and so forth without the use of the word «as» or «like». Metaphors are figures of speech closely related to likewise figures of speech such as a simile, hyperbole and allegory, which tend to achieve their effects through the art of association (Boyd, 1993). An example of a metaphor in the English literature appears in the “The World’s a Stage” monologue by William Shakespeare where he compares the world to a stage and all women and men as mere players in the stage (Gumilyov, n.d). The quotation is a practical use of metaphor in the since the world cannot compare to the stage. In this case, Shakespeare tends to use a comparison between the stage and the world in order to show the mechanics of people and the world living in it.

Darian (2000) argues that metaphors in their simplest notations are such that A is B. He then continues to argue that B constitutes something that is practically very distinct from A. In writings done by Aristotle, metaphors are comparable to analogy with both terms receiving equal treatment. In some studies, the implication is that the cognitive aspects of metaphors tend to work on the basis of analogies. Darian (2000) however suggests that metaphors are conclusively distinct from the use and art of analogies. In historical perspectives, metaphors have found use in professional science and more so contributed greatly in biological reasoning. For example, the use of metaphor in biological thought appears as early the 2nd Century AD (Darian, 2000). In this case, “the veins of the portal system – which carries chyle to the liver- is compared to the streets of the city which carries food to the city’s shops and the bakeries” (Darian, 2000). The same theme appears in the usage of metaphors in the pedagogic science of Boyle and Descartes. For example, they view the “machine of the body” “as part of a great machine of the universe.»

Metaphors in Professional Science

Metaphors have historically applied in the professional science for a variety of ways. They receive acknowledgement for the usefulness as a tool in the scientific thinking. According to Darian (2000), the biologist Agnes acknowledges that the whole science tends to have its foundation upon metaphoric language. In this case, it is clear that metaphors have found use in the scientific context and forms the basis upon which the English language rests upon. Some early books since the thinking of Agnes developed mainly in the field of electronic microscopy and physics. Since most of these books did not employ the use of figurative speech such as metaphors, the content remained technically unfathomable to most of the people. As it appears in the work of philosopher Morris Cohen, “it is necessary for the apprehension and communication of new ideas” (Darian, 2000).

In the science of immunology, metaphoric language is prevalent in the works of different authors. The use of war themes of hunting appears in various chemical processes and immunology and the dealings with various cell functions, single-celled organisms, and bacteria (Darian, 2000). The idea of metaphor also applies in the description of processes of evolution among plants and a different chromosome and gene relations. However, it appears that the effectiveness in the use of metaphors goes hand in hand with their ‘freshness.’ According to research conducted by Thomas, the comprehension of scientific ideas tends to fade directly proportionately to the loss in the metaphoric effectiveness (Darian, 2000). Therefore, scientists should be aware of this fact in the usage of figurative texts in science since the lexical and metaphoric may prove to be just as unfathomable as if there were use of technical language/terms. The solution of bringing such themes into life relies on replacing the metaphors with fresh ones.

In the analysis of the ‘Corpus,’ it appears that the use of metaphors appears most likely among the biological texts than those in the field of chemistry. The main reason is probably since the biology subject was more speculative than that of chemistry (Darian, 2000). For example, “Imagine the many millions of chloroplasts in just one lettuce leaf, each a tiny factory for producing sugars and starches”, and “A ribosome has two subunits, each composed of RNA and protein molecules. In all cells; ribosomes are workbenches for making proteins” (Darian, 2000). Metaphors find usage in war-like themes in biological texts such as “The fossil record suggests that many aquatic fungi and plants have entered into a symbiotic partnership before the invasion of the land, many millions of years ago” (Darian, 2000).

The use of metaphors also applies in different themes in the professional science. Firstly, metaphors show collations in professional science. Metaphors appear in the defense and texts derived from the vocabulary of war such as the one used in the missile technology in reference to the warfare. An example includes the “The main target of an antibody-mediated response is bacteria and extracellular phases of virus… In other words, antibodies cannot lock onto antigen if the invader has entered the cytoplasm of the host cell” (Darian, 2000). Metaphoric themes of family and other relationships find use in the professional scientific studies. For example, “The daughter cells are released after they produce and secrete enzymes that dissolve the jellylike secretions holding the parent colony together” (Darian, 2000). The latter sentence uses a social relationship, which is non-family in nature, that is, the colony. Hunting is also a major metaphoric theme in the professional science. For example, “Millions of cells of Myxococcus form «predatory” colonies that trap cyanobacteria and other microbes. Their enzyme secretions degrade the prey” that becomes stuck to the colony….” (Darian, 2000). In the above description, the usage of quotation marks depicts the usage of the hunting themes in expression of single cell bacteria.

Metaphors in Popular Science

On the stage of popular science, the use of metaphor has taken center stage. Most of the popular science includes research projects, which usually relies on the funding mechanisms in order to progress on the research. One common funding body in the US includes the (NSF) National Science Foundation and the (NIH), National Institutes of Health (Myers, 1985). Most people tend to imply that the funding of this popular science related projects relies on the networks inherently based on connections and the quality of the project. Myers (1994) argues that the major relying factor that necessitates the funding of a research proposal is heavily reliant on the writing and the use of figurative speech such as the metaphors. In that case, the texts contained in any given research proposal informs the audience on the science defines and changes itself as well as the communication and the funding process (Myers, 1985). In reviewing several articles on the basis of the proposal writing from the draft to the final presentation copies indicates that the use of figurative writing is a key component for attracting the attention of the audience especially with the use of metaphors (Myers, 1994). For example, in a review of several draft copies by one ‘Dr. Crews) indicates that in some instances, he changed the word “highlighted” into “ shed new light on…” and in some cases changes the word “homologies to “matching sequences” (Myers, 1985).

In popular science, the use of figurative narratives such as metaphors has improved the comprehension of scientific facts and increased the internalization of the scientific facts into popular belief in the society. In effect, the use of metaphors has cause people, for example, to boycott the use of sprays that contain CFCs, which could harm the Ozone layer, increase the usage of olive oil in order to increase uptakes of fats that are mono-saturated and so forth (Myers, 1994). Contrary, another audience tends to ignore the use of the metaphors and continue to remain skeptical, for example, on the uptake of the Chernobyl radiations on their lambs. Others may refute on the effects of animal insulin they use while refuting the assurances of genetically modified /engineered insulin. Therefore, the use of metaphors seems to affect the discourses in which people tend to believe or refute scientific facts (Myers, 1994).

Metaphors also find use in popular science to explain technical, scientific concepts in language so simple that the audience finds it readily understandable. In the working industry, the investors, the board members and other stakeholders may probably want to have proper information that is understandable in the research results of a particular project (Dreistadt, 1968). In such a case, the technical, scientific terms may prove unfathomable to most of them that is, considering it was a nuclear science, chemistry, biological and so forth. Likewise, such scientific research may require presentation to the general public if the research in question aimed to benefit the public sector (Dreistadt, 1968). As such, the scientists in question are required to present the research results sometimes in the press such as in the newspapers, television shows, documentaries and even magazines. Therefore, the use of figurative speech, including the metaphors, plays a significant role in popularizing the science. In this case, popular science goes hand in hand with the use of metaphors in order to deliver the facts in question to many lay people and at the same point drive the point straight.

The disposition depicted in popular science differs from that on the professional science. The professional science relays their various sections presenting each part as a separate part. For example, the introduction part is distinct from the methodology and so are they distinct from the results and so forth (Duit, 1991). However, in relaying scientific information, all these parts seem to be interwoven together and therefore it is upon the scientist to determine the method of communicating a message. In this case, the author determines the best method to relay the scientific information in a form that is easy to understand and at the same time interesting to the layperson as well Duit, R. (1991). In this case, the use of metaphors plays a role that is significant in the process of achieving such an objective by comparing various real life aspects, ideas and so forth to the scientific content. Metaphors make the concepts presented in popular science easier to comprehend. For example, a metaphor such as “Rainforests are the respiratory system of the mother planet.» In this case, the usage of metaphors is to compare rainforests to the respiratory system (Duit, 1991). In this regard, the audience can be able to figure easily out clearly on the role and mechanism played by the rainforests rather than using technical terms such as “perspiration,» “transpiration” and so forth. Another example would involve comparing the process of bacteria to factories such as “Cyanobacteria work and act as if they were hydrogen factories» (Duit, 1991). In such a case, the reader can comprehend the information in an instant. In contrast, the usage of technical terms on how the Cyanobacteria produce hydrogen would ne unfathomable to most of the audience.

Pedagogic Science

The nature of the pedagogic science, on the other hand, involves the communication of the scientific information from an expert to the non-expert. In this case, pedagogic science literature tends to use figurative language in order to relay technical terms to more non-technical terms clearly understandable by the nonprofessional reader (Semino, 2008). Many scientists especially in the field of physics pedagogy acknowledge the use of metaphors in order to relay the information in a simpler manner. For example, scientists such as William Thompson and James Clerk use the phrase “the line of force” to depict magnetism and also the concept of “the dance of the molecules” to give the readers the notion that heat is like a fluid (Semino, 2008). They also acknowledged the use of metaphors in the pedagogic sense as legitimate scientific products and capable of making new scientific knowledge. Metaphors have found use par to express technical, scientific research in the pedagogic science such as the big bang, the DNA helices, twin prime numbers, abundant numbers and the black holes (Semino, 2008). The metaphors simply connect non-scientific terms to scientific knowledge, the popular beliefs, and thereby increase the understanding of the readers.


In conclusion, metaphors play a significant role in the professional, popular and pedagogic sciences. It appears that the in all the three types of sciences, the use of metaphors is for the sole purpose of conveying the scientific information easily to the reader. In professional science, metaphors are used to make the readers understand the concept being expressed by the scientist/author. In the popular science, scientists / authors use metaphors to relay the scientific information in a concept well known to the public. In this sense, metaphors also simplify the information and increase the rate of understanding. In the pedagogic science, metaphors find use in bridging the technicality gap prevalent between the scientist and the end-user of the information that is the layperson. In this sense, metaphors act to simplify the information to the reader. Therefore, metaphors remain an important aspect of the professional, popular and pedagogic science in relaying information to the layperson.


Boyd, R. (1993). Metaphor and theory change: What is “metaphor” a metaphor for? In A Ortony (Ed.), Metaphor and thought (481-532). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Accessed June 3, 2014

Darian, S. (2000). The role of figurative language in introductory science texts. International Journal of Applied Linguistics. 10 (2), 163 – 186. Accessed June 3, 2014

Dreistadt, R. (1968). An analysis of the use of analogies and metaphors in science. The Journal of Psychology, 68(1), 97-116. Accessed June 3, 2014

Duit, R. (1991). On the role of analogies and metaphors in learning science. Science education, 75(6), 649-672. Accessed June 3, 2014

Hoffman, R. (n.d). Metaphor in Science. Retrieved from, https://www.uop.edu.jo/download/JICOT2/Abstracts2JICOT36.pdf. Accessed June 3, 2014

Gumilyov, L.N, (n.d). The Role of Metaphors in the Scientific Discourse. Retrieved from, http://www.enu.kz/repository/repository2014/the-role.pdf. Accessed June 3, 2014

Myers, G. (1994). Narratives of science and nature in popularizing molecular genetics. In Coulthard, Malcolm (Ed.), Advances in written text analysis (179 – 190), London: Routledge. Accessed June 3, 2014

Myers, G. (1985). The social construction of two biologists’ proposals. Written Communication. 2 (3) 219-245. Accessed June 3, 2014

Semino, E. (2008). Metaphor in discourse. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Accessed June 3, 2014