My Wife is an Anchor

By Justin Rossow

Note: This excerpt is from pages 14-15 of Preaching Metaphor: How to Shape Sermons that Shape People by Justin Rossow. Minor formatting edits have been made.


To see the significance in the distinction between a domain and a scene, consider the following example from the literature on metaphor interpretation. First, take a look at this conversation:

A) “You seem much happier than the last time I saw you. You used to be discontented and easily distracted, but now you seem to be contented and at peace with yourself.”

“My wife is an anchor.”

Compare that exchange with a second conversation:

B) “You sound like you’ve become bored with life. You used to be so eager for new experiences, but now the old zest for life seems to have become dulled.”

“My wife is an anchor.” *

The words are the same, but the meanings are very different. In fact, if all we had to designate these metaphors were Source and Target Domains, we would have to label them in deceptively similar ways.

Both of these anchor metaphors are mapping from the Source Domain of JOURNEY to the Target Domain of LIFE; in both cases the second speaker is evaluating and reasoning about their life and the role of their relationship with their wife with logic borrowed from our typical experience with journeys.

But the evaluation is so dramatically different in the two examples—the metaphors mean such different things—that I think it is helpful to be able to label the scenes we are talking about, not just the domain.

Within the broader domain of JOURNEY, both of these metaphors are more specifically dealing with travel by sea. But the designation LIFE IS A JOURNEY BY SEA is still too broad to be descriptive.

The difference in the meanings of the two metaphors comes from the fact that these scenes of sea travel are so diametrically opposed. In the first scene, the anchor brings peace and calm and stability in an otherwise tumultuous situation: this is an anchor in a storm. In the second scene, the anchor is preventing the ship from moving out into new and exciting experiences; this is a ship anchored in port when it should be out on the open sea.

The difference in the evaluation, expectation, hoped for outcomes, possible solutions, and emotional interpretation between these two metaphors stems from the different scenes these different metaphors assume, even though both scenes are technically part of the same conceptual domain.

For my money, labeling both of these metaphors as examples of the Source Domain of JOURNEY is less descriptive and less helpful than distinguishing between the Source Scenes of A SHIP SAFELY ANCHORED IN A STORM and A SHIP UNNECESSARILY ANCHORED IN PORT.

Understanding how metaphor works means understanding the situational logic of the scene that makes a metaphor tick. Which means we better have some way to access the basic situational logic of a scene in its context as we seek to understand metaphor in the biblical text and shape sermons that help our hearers reason about their faith and their lives in more faithful ways.


* This example comes from David Ritchie’s work on Connectivity Theory, specifically, a 2004 article called “Metaphors in Conversational Context: Toward a Connectivity Theory of Metaphor Interpretation” published in the journal Metaphor and Symbol (19: 265-287), but I first found it in Zoltán Kövecses, Where Metaphors Come From: Reconsidering Context in Metaphor (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 7. His treatment of Ritchie’s work (7-11) is brilliant, and you should check it out some time.

1 Comment

  1. You were much more kind in the comparison than I was, since I immediately went to the mob idea of “sleeping with the fishes” for the negative anchor image. Hey, Justin, I don’t think you are my anchor in any of the three meanings. You are the wind in my sails, pushing me out to where I should go but would not go on my own.

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