Understanding Metaphors

People in every culture use metaphors and other figurative language to express themselves.  For example, in English we say “he is a pig” to indicate someone who is gluttonous or slovenly. What does it mean that we say “pig” instead of, say, “dog?” What does our use of that particular metaphor say about us as a culture?  Does it say anything at all?

The US government believes that it does. According to The Atlantic, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity is giving out grants as part of a program to “understand how speakers of Farsi, Russian, English, and Spanish see the world by building software that automatically evaluates their use of metaphors.”

The grants could total in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The idea behind the investment is that if you can understand the metaphors people use and how those metaphors affect the way they perceive the world, you can alter the way you present your ideas and proposals so that they are more likely to be accepted. Building a database of metaphors and their meanings also makes it easier to use computers to accurately parse written texts, which is important since the US has a perennial shortage of human translators in certain languages. Read more

French: The Language of Love

French is often called “the language of love,” and for one American couple, that’s quite literally true.  According to, French was the spark that ignited an enduring romance between Pamela Saltzman, a teacher from New Jersey, and Badreddine Ahtchi, a graduate student from Algeria.

The two met after being dragged out to a bar by their respective groups of friends. Ms. Saltzman had studied French in college and loved the language, which was Mr. Ahtchi’s native tongue. When she heard him speaking French, she couldn’t resist the opportunity to introduce herself and get some practice in. She told

“We had a short conversation in French, and he asked me to dinner.”

One dinner turned into a series of dates. Ms. Saltzman became entranced by both Mr. Ahtchi and by his Algerian culture:

“He introduced me to a whole world I didn’t know. It’s a beautiful, rich, Old World culture.”

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