Rethinking metaphors in COVID-19 communication


This article discusses metaphors used in communication in English about COVID-19 in the light of the critical debate on war-related metaphors that has taken place both in the academia and in the press since the outbreak of the pandemic, as various scholars have argued that such metaphors may have counterproductive effects under various viewpoints. Proposals have also been put forward to replace them with alternative less potentially harmful metaphors (e.g. FOOTBALL, FIRE, STORM, TSUNAMI). In this paper the discussion is based on the analysis of a corpus of print and online news and opinion websites dealing with COVID-19, and aims at verifying the actual use and frequency of both war-based metaphors and non-war alternative metaphorical expressions. At the same time, it intends to evaluate the potential adverse effects of the former and the advantages of the latter as claimed by the scholars involved in the debate. It also shows that in articles and posts dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, WAR metaphors and their entailments are virtually still prevalent, indeed ubiquitous, while the alternative metaphors proposed by scholars appear far more sporadically, with only few instances for each of them or none at all. This high frequency of war-related metaphorical expressions, which is found also in various other domains and in spontaneous speech, mostly in recurrent (and therefore predictable) phraseological configurations, suggests that they have now become conventional and lost their resonance, thus reducing their potential impact.

DOI Code: 10.1285/i22390359v44p159

Keywords: metaphor; COVID-19; framing; war-related metaphors; coronavirus.


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