Everyday Metaphors

Less Is More

Less is more – what does this mean, and why does it work?

A conceptual metaphor, or in other words: the connection between a source and a target is very often based on co- and re-occuring correlations in experience. An illustrative and classic example of a conceptual metaphor that emerged from correlations in experience is the orientational metaphor MORE IS UP and consequentially LESS IS DOWN (Lakoff/Johnson 2003: 15ff., 19ff., Kövecses 2002: 69f., Grady 1999: 81, 86f.)

Imagine a container with fluid. The more fluid filled in the container, the higher the level of fluid will rise. Logically, less fluid results in a lower level. In other words, the level of fluid goes up with more and down with less fluid. This simple interconnection of quantity and verticality results from recurring everyday experiences like the one described above. When we talk about high taxes, low prices, and the unemployment going up or down we chose adequate metaphorical linguistic expressions that prove we always consider MORE IS UP and LESS IS DOWN.

Finally, less is more can only be understood with our conceptualization of quantity and verticality. We intuitively recognize the intended paradoxical effect because due to our conceptualization less and more appear contradictory. This saying can only achieve the desired effect – recommending a minimalist style – since through recurring experiences we correlate rising quantity with vertical elevation (and the other way around). Consequently these conceptual  metaphors are pervasive in everyday life and form our thinking.

Stay tuned 🙂



Grady, Joseph E. 1999. A Typology of Motivation for Conceptual Metaphor: Correlation vs. Resemblance. Metaphor in Cognitive Linguistics, Raymond Gibbs & Gerard Steen (Eds), 79-100. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

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

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