Million Dollar Metaphors

By Polly Mann

 One of the reasons that I subscribe to the British “Guardian Weekly” is that it covers a lot of news that the U.S.mainstream media does not. For example in its June 17th edition is an account of a  project of the Intelligence Research Projects Activity, IARPA, into which the U.S. government has poured millions of dollars.

Relax.  It’s not one of those research programs called “ridiculous” by the naysayers always ready to cite the needs of the hungry, the homeless and the untreated ill of the society.  It’s meeting a real need – that of ferreting out the terrorists who could so easily bring down this militarily vulnerable nation of ours.

Titled “The Metaphor Program,” the article isn’t too clear as to exactly what the problem is that this program will address.  I assume it will examine the metaphors in use in the various languages of the world whose citizens might dislike American and wish to do it harm. Having difficulty making the connection? 

Maybe  the writer of the article can throw some light on the subject.  The reporter,JohnNaughton, says it has to do with linguistics.  I assume because it is sponsored by  the U.S. Intelligence service, it is referring to secret messages and codes and stuff like that  The program manager, Heather McCallum-Bayliss, says  the project’s goal is to “exploit the use of metaphorical beliefs by developing and applying a methodology that automates the analysis of metaphorical language.” 

I think this  means that the government lacks the capacity to de-code meaningful information from available (and suspicious?) digital communications and believes that understanding common metaphors might help them.  The closest I can come to a basis for the project and its over a million dollar cost is in a closing sentence:  “The inference is that if you understand how people in different cultures use metaphor, then you will have gained insights into how they think, and how they view the world.” I can’t wait to hear more.



  1. pepper July 7, 2011 at 9:27 AM

    I wonder if they are hiring, metaphorically speaking of course.

  2. carollmasters July 4, 2011 at 9:51 AM

    I await elucidation with bated breath. cm

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