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2017 | 21 | 39-53

Article title

Metaphoric Expressions in Business Communication


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Figurative language has always been used in business communication, with metaphoric expressions being its most representative and frequent elements. Metaphor is defined as a transference of the literal meaning of a word into another context, which means that one thing is described in terms of some other thing (M. Long/ J. Richards 1999), e.g. time is money, cash cow, sleeping beauty. It is the notion of either comparison or resemblance that creates the basis for metaphor – instead of the literal meaning of a word or expression native language users can easily produce a metaphoric expression and understand its figurative meaning. Metaphors are culture-specific and they reveal patterns of thought that are characteristic of individuals and of groups (G. Lakoff/ M. Johnson 1980). Business English metaphors can, and indeed do, reflect the values, beliefs and norms that prevail in the language of business communication in English-speaking countries and in many global companies in which English is a lingua franca. Figurative expressions are frequently found to be the preferred way of conveying meaning and business communicators tend to use metaphoric expressions both in written and spoken discourse. In this study popular standard business metaphors were excerpted by hand from three dictionaries: Cambridge Business English Dictionary and Thesaurus, Longman Business English Dictionary (2007), and Oxford Collocations Dictionary (2008). It was arbitrarily assumed that the inclusion of a metaphor into one or more of these dictionaries suggests that it is considered to be a standard (‘dead’) business metaphor. The excerpted metaphors were classified (1) formally, i.e. according to the structure of a given metaphor and (2) semantically, i.e. according to the concept which underlies a given metaphor. The paper also gives examples of ‘living’ (novel) business metaphors excerpted from a small, and therefore not representative, research corpus of articles published in “The Wall Street Journal” on 25 February 2015. The aim of the presented examples of metaphors is to demonstrate how easily novel metaphors can be created. Then, the paper discusses the functions and characteristics of popular metaphors used in typical business situations. Finally, it identifies some of the challenges in metaphor understanding and metaphor usage faced by non-native speakers of business English.






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  • Koźmiński University


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