Communications and Media

A cognitive or a conceptual metaphor is an expression that cultivates the understanding of a single idea, or a conceptual domain, in relations to another idea. They are used as figures of speech, and they are meant to create a concealed or implied comparison between two ideas. In this case, both ideas may explicitly have some common characteristics. Metaphorical expressions are used on daily basis in language. They shape the way people communicate, think and act. This essay will identify a metaphor, describe its source and target domains as well as the metaphor’s correspondence between the elements of those domains. This essay will also give examples of metaphorical expressions based on the metaphor, explain how the conceptual metaphor guides people in the interpretations of the expressions ultimately relate the metaphor to branding and social media use.

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An Example of a Conceptual Metaphor Evidenced by a Variety of Linguistic Expressions

The metaphor identified in this case is the phrase ‘Andrew is a sheep.’ This represents a classic metaphorical mapping of animals. It is quite apparent that a human being cannot be an animal. Therefore, it prompts the individual being communicated to, to try and comprehend the implied metaphorical meaning of the statement. This shows that the statement was expressing an idea about the person in a non-literal manner. As such, the idea being expressed may be linked to several aspects of the sheep such as physical characteristics, behavior, weakness or association. In addition, the idea may particularly relate to a single idea, which may be implicit to a principle cultural setting.

The Source Domain of the Metaphor

The source domain entails a set of factual entities, qualities, processes and associations that are superficially stored together in an individual’s mind. It serves as the key to the guiding metaphor, and it is usually concrete. As such, it offers a metaphorical means of understanding another concept. For instance, in the metaphorical concept ‘Andrew is a sheep’, the sheep is the source target. It acts as the subject from which metaphorical expressions with regards to the person are drawn. As such, it is from the sheep where certain characteristics, qualities, and associations correlated to those of the individual are drawn.

The Target Domain of the Metaphor

The target domain is a conceptual domain that typically derives its structure from the source domain by establishing a metaphorical link, which is usually abstract. For that matter, the target domain is alleged to possess the factual entities, qualities processes, and associations, which mirror those of the source domain. In this case, Andrew is the target domain of the conceptual metaphor. He represents the domain that we try to understand in relation to the source domain. It also represents the experience or characteristic that is described by the word. Therefore, a good comprehension regarding the qualities of the source domain is essential for appropriate interrelation to the target domain.

The Correspondences Between Elements of the Domains

The correspondence that subsists between the principal elements of both the source and target domains is referred to as a mapping. Cognitive linguistics portray metaphors as a mapping between two conceptual domains. This allows people to think or reason about the source domain in terms of the target domain. It is mostly based on what is experienced in reality. The metaphor ‘Andrew is a sheep’ portrays a simple correspondence pattern. The characteristics or qualities of the animal have been corresponded to similar characteristics in the person. For instance, sheep are characterized as animals with low levels of intelligence. Therefore, an analogical reasoning puts this attribute of low intelligence into correspondence with comparable attributes of a targeted person. Such a person might have acted in a foolish way.

Examples of Metaphorical Expressions Based On the Metaphor

There are numerous metaphorical expressions that employ the sheep as the source domain. For example, a person could use the attributes of a sheep to portray certain behavior or qualities of the target. In a sentence, a person can say, “John thought that the beautiful stranger was very nice and kindhearted, but David suspected she was a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” In this case, the expression wolf in sheep’s clothing is meant to imply that the stranger was a dangerous person that seemed harmless on the outside. In another sentence, Andrew does not abuse drugs; he is the sheep of the group. The sheep is used to infer Andrew’s innocence or naivety.   

There are a number of idioms that use sheep as the source domain. For instance, one may say, “James is the black sheep of the family.” “He is in constant trouble with the police.” The black sheep, in this case, is used to denote James’ status as the worst member of the family. In another example, a person may say, “I will go home at any time of the night.” “My mother will be furious at me no matter what time I arrive home, so I might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb.” In this case, the phrase means that if a person is going to attain a punishment because of an offense, why not perform an even greater offense if the punishment will still be the same.  

In the Bible, there are numerous instances where sheep is used metaphorically. Throughout the context of the Bible, sheep is used to refer metaphorically to God’s people. For instance, John 10 states that my sheep listen to my voice, I know them, and they follow me. Another instance states that the Lord is my shepherd. Both these instances describe the relationship that the sheep have with their shepherds. In addition, on numerous occasions, Christians refer to Jesus as the Lamb of God. Jesus also refers to himself as the gate that separates the sheep from danger. This implies how vulnerable sheep usually are of danger. In this case, the sheep also refers to the Christians who are followers of God.

Sheep may also be used metaphorically as slogans by corporations and groups to emphasize their message. The faith-based institutions use the slogan if you cannot sleep, do not count sheep. Talk to the shepherd. Sheep in the Bible refers to God’s followers. The slogan, therefore, encourages followers to talk to the shepherd, which means praying to God, who is symbolized by the shepherd. In addition, many entrepreneurial campaigns have been spearheaded by the slogan ‘why to be a sheep, when you can be a wolf.’ This is done mainly to emphasize the need for people to be independent and autonomous like the wolf as opposed to sheep which solely depending on their shepherd.

Relation of a Metaphor to Branding

Metaphors may act a simple but powerful frameworks for advertising. They may be employed as perceptive shortcuts aimed at connecting with the target market. This is at a subconscious level and concurrently conveying the attributes and qualities of the brand. However, most metaphors are used to capture the attention of the market in various aspects. With regards to our subject metaphor, sheep has been used by several corporations to improve the success of the brands. For instance, Webb Stolte developed a clothing line brand known as the ‘black sheep clothing line.’ This was primarily meant to emphasize the uniqueness of the clothing in the sense that it makes whoever wears them stand out from the rest.

Relation of a Metaphor to Social Media Use

Social media is very popular, and it is used by a large number of people as well as businesses. Sheep can also be used to describe the use of social media metaphorically. For instance, a person may say “the social media is turning us all into sheep.” “All it takes is for a single person to post an irrational, random claim and suddenly everyone believes it.” This is to imply the manner in which everyone seems to believe anything on social media as long as a substantial number of people believes it too. The social media platforms also encourage people and businesses to follow constantly what everyone else is doing, a behavior mostly associated with sheep.

Examples of Conceptual Metaphors and How They Guide People in Their Interpretation

Conceptual metaphor is usually presented using a language order that establishes a cognitive bridge between two conceptual domains. For example, a sentence could be ‘John thought that the beautiful stranger was very nice and kindhearted, but David suspected she was a wolf in sheep’s clothing.’ The sentence prompts an individual to consider multiple perspectives of both the wolf’s and the sheep’s qualities. This kind of probing allows the individual to extract the intended mean of the metaphor, which implies to portray the source, who is the stranger, as a harmful person with a wolf’s quality. However, his/her outward appearance makes them seem harmless or with the sheep’s quality.

Also, the cognitive flexibility of an individual plays a huge role in the interpretation of the conceptual metaphor. It aids in the filtering process that puts the differing perspectives of the metaphor in their correct contexts. Also, most importantly it helps to identify the current context. For example, when the Bible says ‘my sheep listen to my voice, I know them, and they follow me,’ the individual’s cognitive flexibility and experience helps them put the metaphor into context. Therefore, people will identify the phrase ‘my sheep’ with Christians. As such, they will correspond their acts of listening and following of the scriptures, to that of the sheep following the leadership of their shepherd. However, the fact that the metaphor is very popular makes it instantly accessible.


In conclusion, it is apparent that metaphors shape people’s language by adding meaning to the language. Also, it enlightens facts about the unknown in terms of the known in an emphatic manner. This is done through transmitting lucidity, content and interrelations from the source to the target so as to make it as comprehensible as the source itself. However, it is essential for the individual to identify the correspondence between the two domains for a proper understanding of the context. Coupled with their cognitive abilities as well as experiences, the individuals can interpret the metaphor appropriately and thereby, recognize its implied meaning.