Metaphors in Computing

Strudel, Tails and Snails – The @-Sign

Strudel is a term, restricted to the variety hackers’ jargon, that stands for the ‘at-sign, @’. At first sight this metaphor seems to be sufficiently and easily analyzed comparing it to the edible strudel. This  seems to be grounded on a visual similarity between the two referents. Primarily strudel refers to “a pastry made from a thin sheet of dough rolled up with filling and baked” (WNED).  The shape of @ resembles the strudel’s rolled shape (Bründl 1999: 191). According to the classical approach[1] this metaphor can be represented by the formula: X (@) is like Y (strudel) in respect of Z (shape: roll(ed)). But the fact that the naming of the at-sign is not predicated on pre-existing and objective similarities can be proven by a cross-linguistic and cross-cultural comparison. The following table gives some examples of different metaphorical realizations of @ in multiple languages (and cultures):

German Klammeraffe ‘spider monkey’
Dutch api short for ape-staart(je): ‘(little) monkey’s tail’
Finnish miau ‘cat’s tail’
Danish snabel, grisehale ‘an “A” with a(n elephant’s) trunk’,’pig’s tail’
French petit escargot ‘little snail’
Italian chiocciolina ‘little snail’
Norwegian kanel-bolle ‘spiral-shaped cinnamon-cake’
Swedish snabel-a, kanelbulle ‘an “A” with a(n elephant’s) trunk’, ‘spiral-shaped cinnamon-cake’
Czech zavinač ‘pickled herring’

(extended[2] adaptation from Bründl 2001: 154)

Obviously, every metaphorical equivalent for the at-sign given above is based on a visual similarity between an animal or food and @, i.e. the metaphorical names always refer to the image of a spiral-like or rolled-up object. Metaphors like this ground on different subjectively perceived and constructed similarities which moreover have to be characterized as culture-specific.[3] Furthermore, there are not only differences between distinct language communities but also within one speech community. We find several metaphorical verbalizations of @ within the variety of hackers’ jargon and have multiple synonyms for strudel: vortex, whirlpool, cyclone, snail, ape, cat, rose and cabbage (NHD, Bründl 1999: 191). Looking at these different synonyms the conclusion can be drawn that due to the international connection of hackers (or even also average users) via the Internet, culture-specific denotations spread faster. In turn, the hackers’ jargon forms some kind of melting pot for metaphors of multiple culture-specific origins. Resemblances are obviously perceived differently from one culture to another; still these examples show that we are able to relate to other culture-specific metaphors, since there is an intersubjective common ground to conceive of the @ as something spiral-like or rolled-up. Of course, cats and apes are normally not understood as rolled-up; our encyclopedic knowledge allows us to recall the image of a lying cat that curls up and an ape hanging from a tree or curling up his tail (Bründl 2001: 155).

Moreover, the at-sign is a graphic symbol and not a lexeme, so it is the symbol’s representation that relates to the visual appearance of its metaphorical equivalents; therefore @ is graphemically motivated (Bründl 2001: 155, Lu 1998: 60ff.). On the whole, the @-example demonstrates that an analysis restricted to semantic features is not sufficient to explain (inter)subjective and culture-specific categorizations and conceptualizations. Furthermore, this proves the importance and predominance of the cognitive notion (Bründl 2001: 155).

Stay tuned and feel free to comment! 🙂


[1] Here, the classical approach corresponds to the interaction theory which was first constructed by Richards (1936) then adapted and further developed by Black (1962). This theory literally concentrates on the inter­action between the metaphor and the given context. Therefore it is a language-immanent approach that is mainly applied to whole sentences, not lexemes (Bründl 2001: 20, Leech 1974: 146f.). The metaphorical process is regarded as a transfer of certain semantic features based on similarity. Richards differentiates between tenor (the new referent), vehicle (the original referent) and ground (the semantic features shared by tenor and referent). Leech (1969: 151) gives the formula: “X (tenor) is like Y (vehicle) in respect of Z (ground).” She is a pig then means that a person (X) is called a pig (Y) because of the fact that she eats too much or is untidy (Z). Eating too much and being untidy are two semantic features that both tenor and vehicle have in common. This similarity between tenor and vehicle is therefore presupposed to be objective and pre-existing.

[2] http://www.netlingo.com/word/1023.php [02/10], Quinion: http://www.worldwidewords.org/­articles/­whereat.htm [2/10]; Further examples for metaphorical equivalents of @ have been assembled here: http://linguistlist.org/issues/11/11-1740.html [2/10].

[3] An elaborate work on the history of the at-sign is offered by: Androutsopoulos, Jannis K. 1997. Der Name @. de:bug: Zeitschrift für elektronische Lebensaspekte 6.

Literature:

Androutsopoulos, Jannis K. 1997. Der Name @. de:bug: Zeitschrift für elektronische Lebensaspekte 6.

Black, Max. 1962. Models and Metaphors. Ithaca: Cornell UP.

Bründl, Monika E. 1999. Cookies, Strudels, and Easter Eggs – (Food) Metaphors in the Language of Computing. Words, Lexemes, Concepts – Approaches to the Lexicon: Studies in Honour of Leonard Lipka, Wolfgang Falkner & Hans-Jörg Schmid (Eds), 161-172. Tübingen: Narr.

Bründl, Monika E. 2001. Lexikalische Dynamik: Kognitiv-linguistische Unter­suchungen am englischen Computerwortschatz. Tübingen: Niemeyer.

Leech, Geoffrey N. 1974. Semantics. Harmondsworth: Peguin.

Lu, Angela Yi-chün. 1998. Phonetic Motivation: A Study of the Relationship Between Form and Meaning. München: Hieronymus.

Richards, Ivor A. 1936. The Philosophy of Rhetoric. Oxford: Oxford UP.

Webster’s New Encyclopedic Dictionary. 2002. Springfield, MA: Federal Street Press. (= WNED)


<!–[if !mso]> <! st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } –>

Leech, Geoffrey N. 1969. A Linguistic Guide to English Poetry. London: Longman.

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Metaphors in Computing

Give Me A Cookie!

Cookie – A small file containing date and other information that is stored onto the hard disk of all visitores to a particular web site, its purpose being to identify them whenever they visit that site again. Cookies are made necessary because the stateless nature of the http protocol makes it impossible otherwise to know whether a visitor has been before, but their use is fiercely opposed by some net libertarians who see them as an insidious invasion of privacy. Most web browsers now include a configuration option that refuses to accept cookies. (PDC)

Cookie needs to be analyzed as a COMPUTER PARTS ARE CULTURAL ASSETS metaphor. One could of course and would probably at first sight count cookie to the DATA IS FOOD concept (Bründl 2001: 172) . This classification is com­pletely practicable and plausible, but leaves the complex network of situations and associations this structural metaphor has to offer out of focus.[1] The term cookie first came up in the 70s naming a joke program. It was an allusion to the Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster: Every time the program demanded “give me a cookie!” the user had to type in “cookie” to proceed (Bründl 1999: 193, 2001: 199). From there, the following meaning of cookie developed (especially under the circumstance of the invention of the Internet): A cookie is “[a] small file containing date and other information that is stored onto a hard disk of all visitors to a particular web site, its purpose being to identify them whenever they visit that site again.” (PDC)

Before the culturally based motivations are taken into consideration, first of all some quite universal similarities between the edible and the file cookie will be given: both are small; cookies are no larger than 8 kilobyte. Cookies (both) have an expiration date: cookie files are deleted automatically after about seven weeks from the hard disc. Moreover there is a software program called Cookie Eater which deletes cookies at discretion of the user, and is promoted by the following slogan: “Cookies are pure fat to your hard drive. Slim up and download Cookie Eater Free!”[2] (emphases by LJ) Another similarity is that the number of cookies being stored on a computer accounts for 20, which is about the number of edible cookies in one package.

There are many alternative metaphorical interpretations of cookie that all refer to different (culturally based) associations to more or less complex scenes. One is conceiving of a cookie as a bribe: The Website offers a cookie as a prize, which, once it is swallowed (stored on the hard disk), gives the user the possibility to obtain information in exchange. Since a cookie is sweet, the users are willing to accept that their system’s security is compromised (Bründl 1999: 193). This scene can also be regarded as a simple transaction between two people in which the server (a Web page visited) hands a cookie to a client (the user’s computer) (Bründl 1999: 193).

Many people (including myself) are reminded of the fairy tale Hänsel and Gretel when thinking of the function of cookie files. Hänsel and Gretel leave a trail of breadcrumbs to find their way back home through the forest. Just like that, cookies leave a trace and help the user to find the once visited homepage again. Vice versa, the homepage operators can trace the computer that visited their page. On the whole, similar to the other conceptual metaphor of this category, the lexeme metaphor cookie consists of structural correspondences between the multiple ele­ments of the source (edible cookies) and the target (computer cookies) (Bründl 1999: 194, 2001: 201f.).

Stay tuned 🙂


[1] In her article (1999: 193f.) as well as in her book (2001: 199ff.) Bründl thoroughly does analyze the cookie metaphor due to its several cultural semantic motivations. This was my reason to list it as a cultural asset metaphor as well as my first association with this very metaphor, namely the Hänsel and Gretel fairytale. Furthermore it needs to be mentioned that, according to Bründl’s study, food meta­phors (also an anthropomorphic sub-category) account for a very large part in computer terminology. This work, for the most part, leaves them out of focus, since most food metaphors belong to the variety of hackers’ slang and therefore, were not part of my research.

[2] This slogan is an instantiation for cookie being categorized under DATA IS FOOD (cookies are pure fat) and COMPUTER PATRS ARE HUMAN BEINGS (hard disk drives can slim up).

Literature:

Bründl, Monika E. 1999. Cookies, Strudels, and Easter Eggs – (Food) Metaphors in the Language of Computing. Words, Lexemes, Concepts – Approaches to the Lexicon: Studies in Honour of Leonard Lipka, Wolfgang Falkner & Hans-Jörg Schmid (Eds), 161-172. Tübingen: Narr.

Bründl, Monika E. 2001. Lexikalische Dynamik: Kognitiv-linguistische Unter­suchungen am englischen Computerwortschatz. Tübingen: Niemeyer.

Pountain, Dick. 2001. The New Penguin Dictionary of Computing: An A-Z of Com­puting Jargon and Concepts. London: Penguin. (= PDC)

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Metaphors in Computing

Let’s Surf, Navigate and Explore!

THE INTERNET IS THE SEA/OCEAN

The Internet is an important part of computing today which provides a widespread information structure. Since it has clearly become a part of everyday life it is re­commended to take a closer look at its metaphorical acquisition. Many metaphorical expressions indicate that the Internet is conceived of as the sea or ocean. When we use or browse the internet, we are navigating. Browsers like the Netscape Navigator navigate users through the Internet or so-called Netscape (in analogy to landscape/seascape). This metaphor is underpinned by several icons of Internet browsers (Bründl 2001: 177). The Netscape Navigator uses a ship’s steering wheel. This icon puts the user into the role of a captain who stands behind the steering wheel watching the open sea. One succeeding browser was the Netscape Communicator; its icon shows a lighthouse which is used as an aid to navigation. The icon of Apple’s browser Safari illustrates a compass which also serves for nautical navigation. Moreover, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer suggests that the Internet is like a wide sea of information that needs to be explored; the browser enables the user to act as a sailor, navigator and hence explorer. (By the way…Microsoft’s Internet Explorer could also be interpreted as the huge e being a planet with a planetary ring orbiting around it; i.e. a browser that explores the cyberspace, which fits the THE INTERNET IS SPACE metaphor)

Icon: Netscape Navigator

Icon: Netscape Communicator

Icon: Safari

Icon: Internet Explorer

There are several examples of Internet browsers that reinforce the internet is a sea metaphor by giving it a concrete visualization. Another nautical lexeme metaphor is anchor (also: HTML tag or link). Due to anchors you can click on a word or phrase, a button or a picture which in turn causes the link to be followed, and the cor­responding page to be displayed (PDC). Thanks to such anchor points users quickly navigate from one anchor to another.

USING THE INTERNET IS SURFING is probably the most prominent metaphor concerning the Word Wide Web. Surfing (as well as web-surfing and net-surfing) is defined as “term for browsing on the World Wide Web. The surfing allusion probably stems from the combination of pleasure and unpredicability [sic!].” (PDC)

Well, keep on surfing and exploring and stay tuned! 🙂

Literature:

Bründl, Monika E. 2001. Lexikalische Dynamik: Kognitiv-linguistischeUntersuchungen am englischen Computerwortschatz . Tübingen: Niemeyer.

Pountain, Dick. 2001. The New Penguin Dictionary of Computing: An A-Z of Com­puting Jargon and Concepts. London: Penguin. (= PDC)

3.1.1 the internet is the sea/ocean

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Metaphors in Computing

Twitterverse, Twittizen and Twitterazzi

I recently saw the BBC News Channel during the election in Britian and there an online reporter talked about news in the twitterverse. That just caught my attention right away…

In 2006, the social network Twitter gained worldwide popularity. This so-called mircoblogging service enables its users to steadily send and receive messages named tweets. Consequently users can said to be depicted as birds (although they are not directly called birds) that twitter: the conceptual metaphors (according to a Lakoff&Johnson-model) could be formed USERS ARE BIRDS and MESSAGING IS TWITTERING. Moreover, a little bird is part of Twitter’s logo. This is one zoomorphic metaphor that developed in the last few years and refers to computer users and is evidently part of the common language vocabulary. In fact, it is highly productive and it seems that there is virtually no limit to new creations:

twitterverse = twitter+(uni)verse: “The cyberspace area of twitter. This naturally extends beyond twitter.com to anywhere you can twitter, which includes cell phones.” (UD) This metaphorically motivated compound perfectly fits into our conceptualization of the INTERNET IS SPACE, e.g. cyberspace, MySpace or OpenSpace (Richardt 2004: 204).  Cyberspace refers to “the totality of the world’s networked computers, which form a huge virtual space” (PDC). Via a browser users can explore the virtually infinite vastness of the cyberspace. Furthermore,  seen while browsing through Guardian’s Website, the development of the twitterverse is compared to the big bang theory and even a graphic was created that is said to be based on The Independent’s classic “How the universe began”. However, at first sight, it strikingly reminded me of a celestial map which as well perfectly fit the THE INTERNET IS SPACE and the TWITTER IS A UNIVERSE metaphors.

twittizen = twitt(er)+(cit)izen: “citizen of twitterspace, someone who resides in the cyberspace area of twitter. Someone who twitters.” (UD) In analogy to the compound netizen, this creation reveals that we conceive of the Internet as a city or community (Richardt 2004: 198ff.) where we sort of live. We participate in communities, have and make friends, we chat and shop etc. etc.  Clearly our conceptualization of the Internet as a city, i.e. as a virtual reality, is the basis of such highly creative compounds.

Finally, twitterazzi = twitter+(papa)razzi is a certain kind of twittizen who “having a celebrity or pseudo-celebrity on sight, immediately snap a picture of said famous person and tweets about it.” (UD) This compound shows that real life social structures are transferred to the Internet, twitterazzi are somehow online paparazzi.

However, the creation of new names is worth observing…tweeple, twitterholic…and so on, therefore: stay tuned 🙂

Literature:

Richardt, Susanne. 2004. Metaphor in Languages for Special Purposes: The Function of Conceptual Metaphor in Written Expert Language and Expert-Lay Communication in the Domains of Economics, Medicine and Computing. Frankfurt a.M.: Lang.

Pountain, Dick. 2001. The New Penguin Dictionary of Computing: An A-Z of Com­puting Jargon and Concepts. London: Penguin. (= PDC)

Urban Dictionary. http://www.urbandictionary.com/. (=UD)

(other sources are attached to the pictures or links)



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Metaphors in Computing

Spam

This funny cartoon (click to enlarge) got me to think about the metaphor spam…

First off, primary meaning:

Spam, spam n– [sp(iced+h)am]. The proprietary name of a type of tinned meat consisting chiefly of pork; also (with lower-case initial) applied loosely to other types of tinned luncheon meat’ (OED2)

spam n tdmk. A kind of inexpensive tinned meat, usu. eaten cold, made mainly of pork and pink colours. Spam was popular in Britain esp during and after the Second World War, but is not eaten so much now. It is still quite popular in the U.S. (LDELC)

Metaphorical meaning:

spam, Spam n: In online jargon, the undesirable practice of posting the same message repeatedly to a large number of Usenet newsgroups. A fig. use of the trade name of a US brand of tinned meat. (ODNW)

Spam indeed is a quite complex metaphor which needs drawing on cultural knowledge to be explained and understood, respectively (Bründl 2001: 156). The primary meaning of spam refers shortly to ‘tinned meat’. The mere comparison of the three dictionary entries does not bear an explanation for this metaphor, i.e. does not provide an appropriate ground of comparison. It is our cultural and world knowledge about spam that provides the needed information. To fully grasp the complex metaphorical meaning and hence the mapping of spam, the following information given, i.e. different ideas about the development of this metaphor, are helpful:

  • junkmail* is unenjoyable just like the tinned meat is said to taste bad, i.e. to be unenjoyable
  • opening your electronic mailbox* which is flooded* with junkmail it is as annoying as spilling the tinned meat while opening the tin
  • moreover junkmails are boring and almost unavoidable, seemingly omnipresent; this feature was mainly promoted by a prominent “Monty Python restaurant sketch in which Spam appears to be served with everything” (ODNW)

These associations, connotations and feelings (‘tastes bad’, ‘inexpensive’, ‘annoying’) are subjective and part of certain cultural models and knowledge that are rooted in our cognition (Bründl 2001: 157). There are obviously several complex scenes which constitute the source domain of the metaphor spam that are in fact also re-motivations, i.e. we (always) try to search and create a motivation for a word and hence achieve the very effect of better memorization and comprehensibility. Getting back to the cartoon… it captures at least our major associations with the metaphorical spam: there is simply too much of it (-> Monty Python sketch) and it spills out of the fridge and hence annoys the user (-> bad taste and spilling the meat)

Spam is a metaphor that has already developed to be conventionalized in everyday thought and talk. In fact, the metaphor spam (‘junkmail’) is again metaphorized in daily speech (mainly among adolescents) to refer to useless and superfluous information of almost any kind.

On the whole, spam is a complex metaphor that cannot be easily explained by simply comparing the semantic features of the source and target domain. Moreover, it is a highly productive metaphor that generates further similarities and therefore expressions and most importantly takes the user’s creativity into account (Kövecses 2002: 72, Lakoff&Johnson 2003: 13).

Since there is still much more to say and to discover about the metaphor spam…stay tuned!

*unconscious use of metaphors 😉

Literature:

Bründl, Monika E. 2001. Lexikalische Dynamik: Kognitiv-linguistischeUntersuchungen am englischen Computerwortschatz . Tübingen: Niemeyer.

Hoi Polloi. 2020: Endlich Kühlschränke mit Internetzugang. Fluter. 34, Spring 2010, 50.

Kövecses, Zoltán. 2002. Metaphor: a Practical Introduction. Oxford: Oxford UP.

Lakoff, George & Mark Johnson. 2003. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: Chicago UP.

Knowles, Elizabeth & Julia Elliott (Eds). 1991, 1997. The Oxford Dictionary of New Words, 2nd Edn, Oxford: Oxford UP. (=ODNW)

Simpson J. A. & E. S. C. Weiner. 1989. The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edn, Oxford: Oxford UP. (=OED2)

Summers, Della (Ed). 1992. Longman Dictionary of English Language and Culture. Harlow: Longamn. (=LDELC)

<!–[if !mso]> spam, Spam n: In online jargon, the undesirable practice of posting the same message repeatedly to a large number of Usenet newsgroups. A fig. use of the trade name of a US brand of tinned meat. (ODNW
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