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Open-Ended Elaborations in Creative Metaphor

Part of the Atlantis Thinking Machines book series (ATLANTISTM,volume 7)


This chapter looks at how a hearer or reader can understand metaphorical discourse, particularly when it is creative. The abilities of the ATT-Meta approach to creative metaphor understanding, implemented in an AI reasoning system, are discussed. A natural extension to metaphor generation is also briefly mentioned. As regards types of creativity, the chapter focusses on how ATT-Meta deals with open-ended elaborations (extensions) of familiar metaphorical views, although novel pairings of concepts in metaphor are also briefly discussed. A central feature of the approach is that it takes a (non-conventional) metaphorical utterance to imply a fictional or pretence scenario within which the elaboration takes place. The approach takes metaphorical mappings to act between fictions and reality (or other spaces outside the fiction), rather than between differentiated source and target domains as is usual in mapping-based metaphor theory. Another central feature is the adherence to an anti-analogy-extension thesis, which seeks to inhibit the extension of existing analogies to deal with elaborations. The approach lends itself naturally to the idea popular in Cognitive Linguistics that metaphor arises in thought as opposed to communication particularly. But the approach goes further in supporting a dramatic and disruptive version of this suggestion: namely that our thoughts can be intrinsically and creatively metaphorical in a way that cannot wholly be translated into non-metaphorical thoughts. This suggestion arises out of the anti-analogy-extension thesis: while analogy is involved in metaphor, and novel analogies are important in creativity, there is also a strong non-analogical side to creative metaphor.


  • Conceptual Metaphor
  • Surrounding Space
  • Correspondence Rule
  • Target Scenario
  • British National Corpus

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  1. 1.

    Jolly, S. Marigold Becomes a Brownie, p. 44. London, U.K.: Blackie and Son—The Anytime Series (no date).

  2. 2.

  3. 3.

    These sentences are invented variants of the famous literary example “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. They are novel. A search of the Corpus of Global Web-Based English (GloWbE) at (on 21 July 2014) found no relevant occurrences of “desk” or “desks” with “penguin” or “penguins” within seven words on either side of them.

  4. 4.

    From magazine My Story, May 1995, p. 17. Gibraltar: Editions Press Ltd.

  5. 5.

    Again see ATT-Meta databank, section on Ideas As Persons or Other Animate Beings.

  6. 6.

    Eight instances on screen pages shown by Google searches conducted on 24th March 2014, using the search pattern “jump about * brain” and variants with “jumps”, “jumping” and “jumped”.

  7. 7.

    From a weather report on BBC Radio 4, U.K., 7 a.m., 30 July 2003.

  8. 8.

    In Google search result pages.

  9. 9.

    However, in an ongoing EU project ATT-Meta is being combined with a natural language front-end for interpretation and generation of linguistic strings.

  10. 10.

    Goatly ([24]: p. 162). The example is from the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

  11. 11.

    Accessed via

  12. 12.

    From Newsnight programme on TV channel BBC2, U.K., 3 July 2007. Plausible punctuation added.

  13. 13.

    A web search using Google uncovered a case of the “Ramon y Gabriela” guitar duo having a “nylon strings attached” relationship. However, the nylon here is just a pun exploiting the nylon composition of the guitar strings the duo used, and does not make a comment about the abstract nature of the relationship.

  14. 14.

    From magazine My Story, May 1995, p. 6/7. Gibraltar: Editions Press Ltd. Italics in original.

  15. 15.

    Effectiveness has only recently been added, and is reported for the first time here.

  16. 16.

    The realization of a view can also involve ancillary assumptions [8]. These are default assumptions about the nature of the pretended scenarios involved in a metaphorical view. Figure 11.1 shows one application of such assumptions. In brief, it is assumed that if an agent has a subperson that is involved in a conversation, then there is an interlocutor who is another subperson involved in the conversation.

  17. 17.

    From excerpt found in of: Kate Collins-Donnelly (2014), Banish Your Self-Esteem Thief: A Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Workbook on Building Positive Self-Esteem for Young People, p. 127. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

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    For instance, three such uses in

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    The overall ATT-Meta approach allows non-goal-directed as well as goal-directed reasoning to be used. However, the implemented ATT-Meta system can at present only do goal-directed reasoning.

  20. 20.

    On BBC Radio 4, Today programme, 4 November 2005.

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This work was supported in part by an EU grant, FP7-PEOPLE-2012-IIF project 330569 (“GenMeta”). I am grateful to Andrew Gargett for help with data collection, and to an anonymous reviewer for helpful comments.

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Barnden, J. (2015). Open-Ended Elaborations in Creative Metaphor. In: Besold, T., Schorlemmer, M., Smaill, A. (eds) Computational Creativity Research: Towards Creative Machines. Atlantis Thinking Machines, vol 7. Atlantis Press, Paris.

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