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“For fear or hope of reward”: On Prepositions Occurring with Nouns for Emotions – Heli Tissari

The Electronic Journal of the Department of English
at the University of Helsinki

ISSN 1457-9960

Volume 5, 2009

Emotions Issue



 © 2009 Heli Tissari



“For fear or hope of reward”:

 On Prepositions Occurring with Nouns for Emotions


Heli Tissari

 Research Unit for Variation, Contacts and Change in English

Department of English, University of Helsinki



This article deals with the metaphoricity of expressions that couple a preposition with an emotion word, for example the preposition for with both fear and hope in the title. I begin by briefly introducing some previous cognitive linguistic work by other scholars which suggests that such expressions are metaphorical, or further discusses the metaphoricity of such expressions. We may see a continuum (also a direction of historical change) from literal to metaphorical (e.g. grasp ‘to seize’ > grasp ‘to understand’), and metaphorical to conventionalized expressions (the latter sense of grasp is conventionalized when people no longer tend to associate it with the previous sense). In the first case, the emphasis is on concrete becoming abstract; in the second case, the emphasis is on linguistic routinization and ‘bleaching’ of meaning.

The article also emphasizes that when discussing the metaphoricity of preposition + noun pairs, it pays to look at the nouns per se, alongside treating the prepositional phrases as wholes. With the help of selected examples, I illustrate what makes the literal-to-metaphorical, or concrete-to-abstract continuum complex in the case of emotions.


1. Introduction

This study focuses on cognitive linguistic theory. Its so-called founding fathers include George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, who published their influential book Metaphors We Live By as early as 1980. In that book, they introduce the idea that the preposition in often marks a metaphor of containment, e.g. in the expression to fall in love, which presents the state as a location for its experiencer (Lakoff & Johnson 1980: 29–32). I accepted this idea in my thesis on the English noun love (Tissari 2003), but it also became clear in discussions with my colleagues during the writing process that not all linguists agree. One might see this as a starting-point for this article.

This article deals with expressions that couple a preposition with an emotion word. Section 2 will introduce some previous work by other people who suggest that many such expressions are metaphorical, or further discuss their metaphoricity. We may see a continuum (also a direction of historical change) from literal to metaphorical (e.g. the hypothesized to fall in [e.g.] water > to fall in love), and metaphorical to conventionalized expressions (to fall in love is conventionalized when people no longer associate it with any physical container). In the first case, the emphasis is on something concrete becoming a basis for a more abstract concept; in the second case, the emphasis is on linguistic routinization.

This article emphasizes that when discussing the metaphoricity of preposition + noun pairs, it pays to look at the nouns per se, alongside treating prepositions such as in, or prepositional phrases as wholes. As such, my article is a response to Tyler and Evans’s (2003) important book on the semantics of English prepositions, above all. With the help of selected examples, I illustrate what makes the literal-to-metaphorical, or concrete-to-abstract continuum complex in the case of emotions. A major question is to what extent the preposition and the emotion word influence each other’s metaphoricity. While Tyler and Evans (2003) focus on the characteristics of the preposition, my contribution here focuses on the characteristics of the noun, my particular interest being nouns for emotions.

This article first discusses the idea that emotional states can be seen as metaphorical objects, i.e. that they can be discussed as if we dealt with them in the same way we deal with boxes or oranges, for example (section 3). It then deals with causation and change, i.e. the way emotional states are always in flux, and also lead to further kinds of changes (section 4). Next, we will look at emotional states as forces (section 5). This third topic brings the first two topics together: if emotional states are seen as (magnetic) forces, causation and change may be seen in terms of attraction and repulsion. Finally, section 6 will briefly compare emotional states as objects with other kinds of objects. All the time, the idea is to illustrate the thin line between what is concrete and what is abstract about emotions.

2. Background

This section will start by defining our central theme, metaphor, and distinguishing it from metonymy, a related phenomenon and a recently popular topic in cognitive linguistics. I will then discuss in further detail why it is important to study what is concrete and what is abstract about emotions in prepositional phrases.

2.1. Defining metaphor and metonymy

According to conceptual metaphor theory (CMT), each metaphor can be captured through naming its target and source domain. For example, when love is discussed in terms of fire (his latest flame), we talk about the love is fire metaphor, where love is the target, and fire the source, since love thus acquires characteristics of fire. While a conceptual metaphor brings together two different concepts, conceptual metonymy is understood in terms of contiguity, or associative nearness between similar concepts. For example, the metonymy (associative relationship, conceptual closeness between two concepts) friendship stands for love helps us to interpret an expression such as their long-time friendship in terms of romance (e.g. Kövecses 2002: 3–13, 143–162).

I will use small capitals for both the ‘source’ and ‘target domains’ of conceptual metaphors, which correspond to the more traditional terms ‘vehicle’ and ‘tenor/topic’, respectively (see e.g. Goatly 1997: 8–9). Marking conceptual metaphors in small capitals is an established convention in cognitive linguistics (e.g. Kövecses 2002).

In the beginning, cognitive linguists focused on metaphor as a central mechanism of language and thought (Lakoff 1987, Lakoff & Johnson 1980). Later, many people have realized that metonymy is also a very important aspect of meaning-making (e.g. Dirven & Pörings 2002, Panther & Thornburg 2003). As regards the topic of this article, we may note that both metaphor and metonymy create abstractness of meaning, metaphor through parallelling different concepts, which requires the use of imagination (Johnson 1992 [1987]), and metonymy through distancing the sense of the word or expression from its original or prototypical referent.

2.2. Cognitive linguistics and embodied meaning

In their The Semantics of English Prepositions, Tyler and Evans (2003) deal comprehensively with the meaning of English prepositions from a cognitive linguistic point of view. In contrast to some other work (e.g. Lakoff & Johnson 1980, Tissari 2003), they suggest a continuum from literal and conventionalized expressions to conceptual metaphors, implying that English prepositions often do not convey any metaphorical content at all.1 Many linguists certainly agree with this, but why is it an issue in the first place?

CMT suggests that people learn abstract concepts after having developed the mental tools to deal with physical objects, by applying their knowledge concerning the world of concrete objects to explain other phenomena (Johnson 1992, Lakoff 1987, Lakoff & Johnson 1980). Cognitive linguists talk about mental schemas. One of these is the container schema, where one object is placed inside another object (Lakoff & Johnson 1980: 29–32, Johnson 1992: 18–40). To put it very simply, in the same way as a baby sees a ball in a box, people may talk about ideas in somebody’s head.

To take another example, in English, emotions are often talked about as if they were contained in a person’s body (Kövecses 1990: 144–159). Lakoff explains that there is a physiological basis to this conceptual metaphor, saying that people experience physiological symptoms of emotions which then become metaphoricized (1987: 380–415). But how and where do we draw the line between ‘literal’ physiology and ‘metaphorical’ containment?

The issue becomes even more complex if we take into account English speakers’ tendency to linguistically locate emotions in and around people’s minds. Consider, for example, the name of the song “Love on my mind”2. What does it mean that love is on a person’s mind? What is where? Is love a thought or an emotion or both? The more we like to see language as metaphorical, the more likely we are to see a metaphor there. We may also like to interpret love metonymically as referring to ‘thought(s) of love’ or ‘amatory intentions’.

Lakoff and Johnson (1980) wanted to advance the idea that the mind cannot be separated from the body. They agree with Damasio (2003: 195), who emphasizes that “body, brain, and mind are manifestations of a single organism”.

2.3. The continuum from metaphorical to conventionalized meaning

As noted above, many linguists cannot accept the claim that the preposition in in the phrase to fall in love conveys metaphorical containment, as suggested by early representatives of CMT (Lakoff & Johnson 1980: 32; Tyler & Evans 2003: 228 disagree). As mentioned earlier, Tyler and Evans (2003: 3–4) suggest what seems a reasonable solution and say that we have to distinguish between conventionalized expressions (e.g. on one’s mind) and actual metaphors (imagine love creeping into someone’s mind), without dismissing the embodied, experiential basis of meaning.

This is not an entirely novel solution considering how much the issue of ‘dead’ versus ‘live’ metaphors has been discussed within CMT. Among the ground-breaking discussions was Gibbs’s (1994) psychological work on the literalness versus metaphoricity of language. Lakoff and Turner (1989: 129) criticized what they called the “Dead Metaphor Theory”:

The mistake derives from a basic confusion: it assumes that those things in our cognition that are most alive and most active are those that are conscious. On the contrary, those that are most alive and most deeply entrenched, efficient, and powerful are those that are so automatic as to be unconscious and effortless.

According to them, the point is that, for example, the conceptual metaphor behind grasp, ‘to understand’, “is still alive, though it is not used in this word” (Lakoff & Turner 1989: 129).

Kövecses (2002: 248) uses the somewhat vague terms ‘conventional metaphor’ or ‘cliched expression’ as against ‘less conventional, or novel, metaphorical expression’ (compare to fall in love with to stumble into love). Goatly (1997: 32) goes as far as to suggest five degrees of conventionality from ‘dead and buried’ to ‘tired’ and ‘active’.

The attraction of Tyler and Evans’s (2003: 1–22) view of linguistic meaning lies in the fact that it caters both to more traditional linguists, who like to see detailed linguistic analyses and even take into account the historical development of meaning (e.g. Goatly 1997, Koivisto-Alanko 2000: 96–107, Sweetser 1990), and to cognitive linguists keen on present-day language use and the embodiment of meaning.

2.4. The continuum from physical to abstract meaning

We have already noted that CMT originally suggests an ontogenetic development from physical (roughly: ‘literal’) to abstract (more ‘figurative’) meaning (section 2.2.). We have also noted that this may be the direction of historical change, but that it is reversed somewhat in metaphors becoming conventionalized expressions (‘figurative’ to ‘literal’, section 2.3.). What I want to do in this article is to add some elements to the discussion concerning both the metaphoricity of prepositions, and the abstractness of nouns. My focus will be on synchrony (instances of current or earlier English usage) rather than child language development or diachronic semantic change.

What makes nouns for emotions interesting to me is that it is difficult to say to what extent emotions are abstract. Some people still seem to take it for granted that emotions are difficult to study, because they cannot be defined as exactly as physical objects, or even as exactly as syntactic properties. This view can be traced back to Bloomfield (1970 [1935]: 139). For many years, people at our research unit have referred to my research as the study of the semantics of ‘abstract’ words, emphasizing how intriguing it is to study something that cannot be seen or measured in the literal sense (cf. title of Koivisto-Alanko 2000).

However, the more I have done research on emotion words and concepts, the more I tend to dismiss the view that emotions should be called ‘abstract’: they concern our everyday evaluation of and interaction with the surrounding world. For example, data on the adjective happy produces a lot of evidence on what makes people happy and how happy people behave. It concerns, for example, events (what has happened) and actions (who did what), rather than simply what people felt (Tissari 2008a).3

2.5. Data

This article will only treat a small group of selected examples. Most of them come from data which I have collected and analyzed for earlier studies while working on my long-term project on emotion words. More particularly, I will discuss single sentences in order to illustrate the potential of nouns for emotions to be interpreted in more or less abstract terms. For each sentence, the whole paragraph has been checked in order to ensure the credibility of the reading. Every now and then, I will add some co-text of the example in square brackets for the reader to see. The purpose is to discuss in detail some phenomena, rather than give statistics on their frequencies of occurrence in the English language.

I first selected examples from four corpora. The Early Modern English period of the Helsinki Corpus of English Texts (HCE) and the Corpus of Early English Correspondence Sampler (CEECS) represent Early Modern English, ca. 1450–1700 (Kytö 1996, Nurmi 1998). The Brown Corpus of American English (Brown) and the Freiburg-Brown Corpus of American English (FROWN) represent Present-day American English at the beginning of the 1960s and 1990s, respectively (Francis & Kučera 1979 [1964], Hundt, Sand & Skandera 1999).

After having hand-picked interesting examples among the data from these corpora, which was already familiar to me, I was still curious to see whether I could find similar or even more exciting examples in the British National Corpus (BNC). The BNC was of particular interest because its size (100 million words) promises a wealth of variety (Hoffmann, Evert, Smith, Lee & Berglund Prytz 2008). However, I only hand-picked instances of preposition + noun phrases rather than conducting large seaches.4

For each example, I will give information on the author, the text and the file in the corpus. Note that the BNCweb (CQP-Edition) which I used to check the examples from the BNC does not give us names of authors.5

3. Emotional states as objects

When compared to physical objects such as a table or a chair, emotions may indeed be seen as abstract. Although Lakoff and Johnson (1980: 25–29) emphasized the embodied characteristics of language, their idea that states are metaphorically conceived as entities or substances may contribute to the notion that emotions are abstract, since clearly, they are not physical in the sense of forming similarly discrete visual or tangible wholes. We have already discussed the states are containers metaphor by referring to the phrase to fall in love (Lakoff & Johnson 1980: 30–32). The states are containers is a specification of the states are entities metaphor. I prefer the term object to entity here, because it underlines the difference between an ‘abstract’ emotion and say, a piece of furniture. The choice of term simplifies matters a little; I will return to substances in section 6.6

This section will present sentences containing particular preposition + noun pairs where the nouns for emotions represent metaphorical objects. The emphasis will be on considering the characteristics of each particular emotional state and how this influences their ‘objectness’. The main point is that not only may emotional states be seen as objects, but neither the emotional states, nor the metaphorical objects are all alike, although it may be difficult to find ways to discuss their nuances.

I will sketch a continuum presenting emotional states as (1) theoretical concepts to (2) long-term dispositions to (3) artistic or professional practices to (4) immediate behavioral reactions, the idea being that the category (1) is the most invisible and least immanent, and the category (4) the most visible and immanent, and thus the least abstract. That nothing is so black-and-white will become clear as we proceed. The prepositions in focus will be printed in bold, and the emotion words italicized.

3.1. Emotional states as theoretical concepts

In the first two examples, love is contrasted with other abstract concepts. Example (1) is one in a series of sentences from a religious book, discussing love and peace as if they were mathematical entities. The emotional state presented in it, love, may be considered a theoretical concept for two reasons. One is that the text is theological, the other is that love is part of a “mathematical formula”, in which war, peace and love stand for the figures used for calculation:

(1) War divided by Love is Peace. (BNC: In Good Faith by a male author [B1J 2059])
There is not only a difference between (a) war and peace as linguistic versus mathematical concepts, but also a difference between (b) words, such as war, and the physical action of warfare; these two differences create the somewhat surprising effect of the sentence. A mathematical entity is not very close to a physical object, while warfare or peace-making as human actions are not that abstract.

In contrast to the mathematical entities in example (1), the nouns usury and love resemble physical objects in example (2a) – an excerpt from a sermon – in that they are far from each other. Smith discusses these two concepts as though he were talking about any two physical objects:

(2a) Usurie is farre from loue (HCE: Smith, Two sermons “Of Usurie” [CESERM2B])7
Proceeding from the assumption that example (2a) represents the conceptual metaphor love is a physical object, we may note that there is also similarity between the examples (1) and (2a): usury in (2a) may be seen both as a theoretical (here: theological) concept, and as behavior (in fact, as a professional practice, cf. section 4). Considering this, love is not abstract in either of the examples. Rather, in example (1) it concerns a choice between warring, or living in peace, while example (2a) distinguishes between exploiting or not exploiting other people.

Then again, the effect that ensues from the brevity of example (2a) would be lost if the same idea were expressed through verbs, for example as follows, in Present-day English:

(2b) Charging illegal rates of interest for money on loan is far from caring for other people.
This illustrates the metaphorical potential of nouns. Goatly (1997: 83–85) explains that nouns lend themselves well to be used as sources for metaphors, above all because they represent things and are “either more recognizable as metaphors or yield richer interpretations than … other word-classes” (p. 83). Because nouns represent things, it is easier to see them as objects, as in example (2a), than to see the verbs in example (2b) in the same way. Moreover, the verbs in (2b) provide more specific information, while the nouns in (2a) leave more room for imagination. As target domains, nouns are probably easier to identify than verbs, at least in the case of English which has many phrasal verbs.

3.2. Emotional states as long-term dispositions

This section will discuss the nouns respect and hope, which are here considered long-term dispositions. I weighed between using either the term ‘disposition’ or ‘attitude’, and chose ‘disposition’, because it contains an apt spatial metaphor. The first sense of the noun disposition in the OED is the ‘action of setting in order, or condition of being set in order; arrangement, order; relative position of the parts or elements of a whole’. Note that we are dealing with emotions as objects and that physical objects such as boxes may be arranged in order. Moreover, both examples, (3) and (4), will concern social order, the first on a smaller, and the second on a larger scale.

Respect may not always be seen as an emotion, but is treated as one by Kövecses (1990: 109–127). Tissari (2008b: 155) considers his suggestion and arrives at positioning the concept of respect in a territory overlapping with the concepts of emotion, intelligence, and interpersonal communication. If one considers it difficult to see respect as an emotion, one may consider the possibility of distinguishing between people showing and feeling respect for each other.

The verb to continue in example (3), a letter written around 1632, suggests that respect is not a momentary emotion or feeling, but, rather, a long-term disposition. The pronoun he refers to the carrier of the letter, who is of a lower social rank than both its author (Dorothe Randolph) and recipient (Jane Lady Bacon). This is a cause of the above remark that respect concerns social order:

(3) I hope that he continewes in the same minde and dutifull respeckt to you that he profest the last time I spake with him. (CEECS: 1632[?] Dorothe Randolph 246)
Example (4) comes from a newspaper article discussing the political suggestion that Taiwan rejoin the United Nations and become a member of the GATT in order to defend herself in the face of China’s growing influence. In this way, it concerns the pecking order between the world’s nations:
(4) [Taiwanese are sceptical, but the president is determined. Challenged on the question on May 20th, he said: “Hope is more important than reality.] Without hope, how can one change reality?” (BNC: The Economist [CRB 728])

As regards the objectification of emotion concepts, respect in example (3) is, potentially, a (very abstract) container, and the person referred to as he may be seen as traversing this container. Hope in example (4) rather seems to be seen in terms of a metaphorical instrument, which can be used for changing the future (Lakoff & Johnson 1980: 48). These two different conceptual metaphors do not, in themselves, reveal that we are dealing with something that lasts a long time. Neither do they necessarily contribute to seeing respect or hope as anything concrete, because we need a linguistic theory in order to discuss their objectification.

To discuss the concepts of respect and hope a little more, to the extent that nouns receive their meaning from the surrounding context, the idea of a ‘long-term disposition’ seems to be part and parcel of the meaning of hope in example (4), because the article discusses the way people will be able to cope with growing threats to Taiwan’s future. The future of a country will hardly be planned only for a day or two. Moreover, the primary sense of hope, ‘expectation of something desired; desire combined with expectation’ (OED n1: 1a), concerns the future. In example (3), likewise, the respect discussed there receives its future orientation from the verbs to hope and to continue. The desirability of long-term respect ensues from social expectations, which is in line with respect having to do with interpersonal communication.

To conclude, the more we emphasize respect as interpersonal behavior (speech, prompt delivery of errands), the more concrete it becomes. The more we emphasize such underpinnings of hope as money (GATT), the more concrete it becomes.8

3.3. Emotional states as artistic or professional practices

Example (5), which concerns the film The Raven, is of interest, because it discusses horror in such a concrete manner, as a metaphorical place (container) where a person may go. The preposition to often implies change; here as well (cf. section 4):

(5) Corman returned to horror and Nicholson went with him. (BNC: The Joker’s Wild: Biography of Jack Nicholson by a male author [AP0 529])

In this example, the ‘emotion word’ horror in fact stands for a ‘genre’, which introduces the topic of this section, ‘artistic or professional practices’. I do not think that horror as a genre is the same as horror as an emotion, but I do think that because the genre has received its name from the emotion it intends to generate,9 the example is relevant enough to be discussed in this article. In fact, the noun horror, as used in example (5), shows how nouns for emotions may metonymically develop new senses.

For purposes of the current argument it is necessary to emphasize the amount of physical action involved in Corman’s directing and Nicholson’s acting. Surely, Nicholson did not only go once to a particular place. Rather, the phrase went with him either stands for recurrent action (acting while Corman directed, metonymy), or we may regard horror in the sense of ‘doing horror films’ as a metaphorical place (container) where the two men went.

The main point is that there are at least two ways in which we may read sentence (5) as either concrete or abstract: (I) On the surface level, the sentence discusses physical action, the men returned and went. However, the sentence is more abstract, because it calls for a less literal explanation. (II) We may also interpret ‘doing horror films’ as involving more or less physical action. For example, we could interpret this sentence as meaning that they both chose to start doing the horror film, emphasizing their intention rather than their subsequent action.

Let us then look at an Early Modern example involving the noun respect. It comes from The Trial of Sir Nicholas Throckmorton:

(6) … amongst other good Instructions, hir Majestie charged and enjoyned you to minister the Law and Justice indifferently without respect of Persons. (HCE: The Trial of Sir Nicholas Throckmorton [CETRI1])

Respect in example (6) is both similar to and different from horror in (5). The claim is that it may be regarded as a professional practice, ‘the right manner of administering law and justice’, as implied by the very quote. However, it concerns manner rather than genre. Furthermore, it concerns the behavior of the professionals rather than the behaviour of their clients. This contrasts with horror, where the emphasis is on the expected reaction of the audience. This relates to our interest in whether either respect or horror is abstract or not. The principle of ‘not respecting persons’ is more abstract than acting on the same principle. The idea of a genre is more abstract than any actual reactions of an audience watching a film. The question is what role such issues play in the meaning of a noun in general and in the meaning of a noun in a context such as the ones quoted in this article.

3.3.1. A note on with and without

As regards the concrete-abstract continuum, the meaning of the preposition with appears more immanent than the meaning of without, because with suggests the presence and without the absence of something. In the latter case, we thus need to imagine a potential presence. The prepositions are of particular interest, because sometimes with seems to suggest the metaphorical source domain of instrument (Koivisto-Alanko & Tissari 2006: 197–198). The question then becomes: is there a reverse metaphor for without?

Without respect of persons in example (6) can be compared with without hope in example (4), reprinted here:

(4) Without hope, how can one change reality? (BNC: The Economist [CRB 728])

Without hope
in (4) is the negation of the idea that ‘one can change reality with hope’, which represents the conceptual metaphor hope is an instrument. Similarly, one may discuss a person’s behaving with respect of/for persons. However, it is somewhat more difficult to see here the existence of the conceptual metaphor respect for persons is an instrument, unless it is in the sense of manipulation. This may result from the conventionalization of the phrase(s) with(out) respect of persons.

We are dealing with two theoretical issues here. One is the relationship between schemas that exist in the mind and their linguistic realizations. If a conceptual metaphor, such as hope/respect of persons is an instrument, exists, it may be “reflected in our everyday language by a wide variety of expressions” (Lakoff & Johnson 1980: 4). The other is that not all mental schemas are metaphorical. This does not mean that the non-metaphorical schemas cannot operate on what seems a rather abstract level, such as complex phrases representing principles of jurisprudence.

A further phrase, without fear, may be used to convey the idea of safety, as in the following example:

(7) [Of raising children:] They can grow emotionally, exploring their own inner lives, living without fear. (BNC: In Search of Happiness by a male author [ARG 367])
There, the undesirability of fear is countered by without, confirming its absence.

Apart from instrumentality, there exists a further possibility to interpret the preposition without as originating in spatial conceptualization, i.e. physical experiences common to any toddlers crawling into wrong places. Should we choose to do so, we would regard the unwanted feeling of fear in example (7) and of respect of persons in example (6) as suggesting a place (container) where one should not be.10

To conclude, it is good to note once again that this section has dealt with a more basic sense of hope and fear than of respect. Both hope and respect are usually considered positive emotions, while fear is rather seen as a negative one. However, the particular, conventionalized phrase respect of persons refers to ‘partiality’, which within jurisprudence is a (professional) practice which is often regarded as unethical. Such a phrase may be regarded as more abstract than the simple noun respect, although one may wish to take into account that the meaning of respect is rather complex in itself (OED respect n, Tissari 2008b).

3.4. Emotional states as immediate behavioral reactions

We are now approaching the end of the section on emotional states as objects, such as instruments and containers. The last task is to deal with immediate behavioral reactions. As a linguist, I would like to see immediate behavioral reactions as more physical or concrete than dispositions or practices, because they are more visible and tangible: simply consider an angry child whom I saw hitting his mother in a tram when she asked him to sit down rather than stand in a push-chair. The question is: can something like a little boy’s fist give rise to object metaphors for immediate behavioral reactions?

A further issue is that psychologists prefer to define an ‘emotion’ as something which does not last long (e.g. Frijda 2004 [2000]: 60–64). In this sense, my category of immediate behavioral reactions comes closest to what they term ‘emotion’, as opposed to long-term dispositions and artistic or professional practices. However, one may also object and say that the psychological term ‘emotion’ is a ‘theoretical concept’, and as such, relevant to my first category (section 3.1.).

Of course one may also object to the claim about the concreteness of immediate behavioral reactions and claim that there is little reason to say that any of the categories of long-term dispositions, artistic or professional practices and immediate behavioral reactions is, in fact, much more abstract than the others. The difference may be seen as not qualitative but quantitative. A person with a long-term disposition repeats the behavioral reaction many times, and a person practising a profession also performs similar (re)actions again and again.

What is interesting about immediate behavioral reactions is that I did not find any good examples of the emotions are objects metaphor in which the noun for emotion referred to a single occurrence of emotion. This suggests an interesting avenue for further research, but let us discuss a couple of cases here.

Example 8, which I found while looking for expressions with the preposition to, discusses a person’s immediate change of expression.

(8) His expression quickly changed to horror, then fear. (BNC: unpublished creative writing by an adult male author [HJD 597])
It employs the nouns horror and fear, referring to emotions which are suggested to appear one after the other. In that sense, example (8) is a good candidate for the category ‘immediate behavioral reaction’. However, it is not necessarily metaphorical. Consider replacing his expression with the pronoun he; it does not work.

Were it possible to replace his expression with he, we could be dealing with a metaphor similar to the one in example (5) where Corman and Nicholson went to horror as if to a room (Lakoff & Johnson 1980: 29). The expression changed to would simply suggest a different source domain, such as clothes.

While example (8) clearly refers to a single occurrence of emotion, but does not give us an object metaphor, example (9) yields a metaphor for respect, but does not seem to discuss short-term respect:

(9) [The fact that you’re frightened (and many men in prison have good cause to be frightened, either of violence from other prisoners and staff or else of homosexual demands) cannot be shown.] If you show it you’re finished, without respect from your peers and always an underdog. (BNC: Ceremony of Innocence by a female author [G0T 883])

The conceptual metaphor in (9) is respect is a commodity (Lakoff & Johnson 1980: 47–48), or respect is an economic exchange (Kövecses 2002: 46). A prisoner needs exchange of respect in order to thrive; in other words, it is not good to be without respect. This passage suggests that fear only needs to be shown once (immediate behavioral reaction), but the result will be long-term lack of respect (long-term disposition).

4. Movement and change

In section 3, we have already discussed two examples (5, 8.) with the preposition to. This preposition is of particular interest as regards the objectification of emotions, because it may suggest direction and movement into a container (Lakoff & Johnson 1980: 29–30). Lakoff and Johnson give the following examples of into (1980: 46–47, original emphases):
(10) Now there’s a theory you can really sink your teeth into.
(11) He breathed new life into that idea.

The sentences (10) and (11) suggest movement on the literal level, concerning the rather mundane act of sinking one’s teeth into something, as against the more god-like breathing new life into something. On another level, example (10) applies to reading a theory, and example (11) applies to explaining or employing an idea in a way that brings it to other people’s positive attention. Example (11) in particular suggests change (new life) .

I find the prepositions to and into particularly interesting in terms of any purported abstractness of emotions, because of the cognitive linguistic suggestion that our human embodiment forms the basis of linguistic meaning. Movement, a central element of the meaning of to, is very central to human embodiment.11

This section will discuss examples of preposition + noun for emotion pairs which suggest movement and change. A pivotal question is how physical the movement and concrete the changes are. Even the structure of the section suggests a continuum, or at least variation between abstract and physical phenomena: mental – behavioral – physiological.

4.1. Change of mental state

The title of this subsection suggests that nouns for emotions often refer to something that happens within, rather than without a person. This is what is meant by ‘mental state’. It may assumed that ‘mental states’ are rather abstract: apart from scientifically measured physiological states, which are not the topic of this section, we depend on subjective reports to discuss any person’s inner experience.

Let us look at an example:
(12) Lead me from Despair to Hope, from Fear to Trust. Lead me from Hate to Love, from War to Peace. Let Peace fill our Heart, our World, our Universe. Amen (BNC: An Alternative Assembly Book co-authored by many adults [ALH 733])

In this prayer, the preposition from marks the starting point, and the preposition to the end point of movement. Observe that the prayer not only deals with emotions such as despair and hope, but also with another set of mental or even physical states, war and peace (cf. example 1). As far as the prayer concerns people’s inner, spiritual life, the emotions discussed here remain rather abstract. However, it is quite imaginable that a person making this prayer actively thinks about the concrete circumstances of his or her life and asks for tangible causes of hope and trust, even for the whole world. That makes the prayer more concrete.

Occurrences of movement from one emotion to another, expressed with from [+ noun for an emotion] + to [+ noun for an emotion], are nevertheless rare. For example, a search for from fear to in the BNC yields two clear matches: from fear to disgust and from fear to rage. To give another example, a similar search for from love to yields no matches, neither does from happiness to.

Example 13 exemplifies movement from excitement to hope, where both emotions can be considered metaphorical containers, and any potential movement then occurs between these:
(13) Nevertheless his eyes had begun to gleam with an excitement that was unwilling to be lured into hope. (BNC: The Green Branch by a female author [K8S 1770])
The preposition with suggests that the emotions are contained in the eyes. The metaphor the eyes are containers for emotions is a typical metaphor occurring with emotion words (Loos et al 1999). One may disclaim the metaphor the eyes are containers for excitement in (13) by assuming that the eyes literally gleam, or arrive at a compromise and say that it is a metonymic expression, because gleaming eyes are associated with excitement. Consequently, we may or may not have two kinds of containment of excitement: in the eyes, and in(to) hope. A thorough discussion of (13) also needs to take into account the personification of excitement, as it is characterized by the adjective unwilling and may be lured. Thus to be more precise, the ultimate metaphorical interpretation is that the personified excitement that is contained in the eyes could move to another, or a second-level container (one within another), hope.

An interpretation of excitement and even hope actually showing in the eyes makes these emotions less abstract than a fully metaphorical understanding of the sentence as a figurative description of the emotions a person is going through. A preceding sentence in the same passage suggests that the author of the novel is interested in physical and physiological reactions: “Harry jerked up his head distrustfully, eyes flaring wide.”

4.2. Change of behavior

The purpose of this section is to further illustrate that the movement and change expressed by the preposition (in)to concerns not only mental, internal, potentially abstract states, but also concrete, physical actions resulting from emotions and changes in a person’s emotions. Example (14) comes from Directions Concerning Education; thus it does not only talk about what is in the head or heart, but also about how this shows, in particular in adults’ unreasonably allowing children to act silly.
(14) Parents being wisely ordend by nature to love their children are very apt, if reason watch not their natural affection very warily, are apt I say to let it run into fondnesse. (HCE: Locke, Directions Concerning Education [CEEDUC3A])
In example (14), wise love is contrasted with ‘foolish affection’ (fondness, OED n2), with affection as some kind of intermediate state in between, or rather, as a basis for both. Moreover, depending on our interpretation of the verb run, we may or may not see a metaphor in example (14). If we read a metaphor into the example, either the emotion which is active within the parent’s mind, affection, is personified and runs into a container, or affection is discussed in terms of fluids. The OED entry for the verb to run allows either metaphorical reading, because the senses include both the fast movement of people’s legs (1a) and the movement of liquids (20a). The latter reading may be too hypothetical, but it is made more plausible by the importance of bodily fluids in early modern “psychology” (Biewer 2006: 99–151, Harvey 1975).

However, the OED also records a sense ‘of thoughts’ (v13a) for run, noting that, from the 14th century onwards, run may denote a change of mental state. If we want to distinguish this sense from the others rather than emphasizing conceptual similarities between the various senses of run, that cancels the existence of any metaphor.12

To summarize, affection and fondness in example (14) represent concrete behavior to the extent that we relate them to the discussion of parental behavior in their co-text, but this of course does not make them metaphorical target domains. Whether example (14) contains a metaphor of affection is a matter of interpretation. If the meaning of run can be related to bodily fluids, then the discussion is even physiological.

The Present-day English example (15) presents us with the father of psychotherapy. The text is addressed to people who are familiar with “theories of the self” and can make the necessary connections to how these theories represent a person’s inner emotional life.
(15) [Breuer, the third of Freud’s spiritual fathers broke with him over the issue of sexuality.] Love turned to hate, or, more accurately, the flip side of Freud’s ambivalence towards fathers came to the fore, and Freud found it necessary to cross the street when he saw Breuer, his presence being so distasteful to Freud. (FROWN: Levin, Theories of the Self [J30:3])
Here the clause love turned to hate expresses movement (turned) and change of emotions. We also learn how this ‘mind-internal’ movement influences Freud’s external behavior. However, the co-text (including the paragraph where these sentences occur, and its preceding paragraph) does not discuss Breuer in any further detail.

Note how metaphorical this example is. In the first sentence, the expression broke with him conveys the idea of two objects separating from each other, love or friendship being metaphorically conceptualized as a unity of two parts. Love turned to hate is specified as the flip side … coming to the fore. It is interesting that both words, turned and flip, convey the idea of passive movement. The verb to turn is used intransitively. Neither turn nor flip have a conscious, active agent.

In other words, Freud does not decide to turn his love to hate. His love is not even personified, so that the personified love could decide to do something. This makes the process of love turning to hate relatively abstract, except for the crossing of the street.

4.3. Change of physiological state

This section develops the idea that an emotional change need not be conscious or voluntary. I would like to find a way to distinguish between the description of people’s inner, subjective states and that of states which are more “physical”. However, the adjective physiological suits the discussion better than physical, because it points to the internal bodily experience of the emotion and forms a link between this article and the metonymic basis of conceptual metaphors for emotions, discussed, for example, by Lakoff (1987: 380–415) in his study on anger.

Example (16) is an extreme case where a person is said to have no control at all, which results in panic. These expressions make it a good candidate for the category ‘change of physiological state’:
(16) However, there have been times where he has no control at all and this is where he slips into panic. (BNC: The Smiths by a male author [ART 1750])
If one looks at the preceding sentence, one learns that the person referred to as he in example (16) in fact enjoys [experiencing] the paranoia, which suggests that the panic may be voluntary in the sense that he is testing his limits. The metaphor slips into nevertheless suggests that the panic is not voluntary. Rather, it resembles slipping on a banana peel or accidentally falling into a pit. To be even more precise, the verb to slip suggests that he is either walking on, or hits, a slippery surface, and maybe the container (panic) where he ends is slippery as well, considering how difficult it is to control panic. This is a very physical metaphor for a physiological process.

It is useful to contrast this example with other examples where the preposition (in)to conveys movement from an even more clearly physiological state to another, noting that these no longer include nouns for emotions. Consider the expression to break into tears:
(17) [His red, blotchy face turned to Joseph who lay on the ground nearby, then to Carter and finally to Ralph again.] He then broke into tears. (BNC: School essay on literature by a girl not over 14 years of age [KA1 917])
While slips into panic may be seen in terms of movement from one container to another, broke into tears rather seems to convey an image of a container which is so full of fluid that the contents burst out. This expression agrees with the conceptual metaphor a human being is a container, differing from slips into panic in that there, the human is being contained instead.

5. Forces and colliding, departing and bursting objects

The potential objectification of emotions as something which either attracts or repels is also significant in terms of the use of prepositions. Such attraction and repulsion can be considered in the light of the source domain of forces in general, or of magnetic forces or pressure in particular (e.g. Lakoff & Johnson 1980: 49, Kövecses 2002: 19–20). The target domain, emotions, will then be colliding, departing and bursting objects. These are the topics of section 5, which will give examples of the use of the prepositions by and for, and the prepositional phrase out of.

Johnson (1987: 41–64) discusses the concept of force in detail. He summarizes it as follows (Johnson 1987: 43–44, as abbreviated in Tissari 2003: 93):

1. Our awareness of forces is grounded in our interaction with the surrounding world.

2. A force is either something in the surrounding world that affects us, or something that affects an object which we perceive.

3. Forces usually move something in a certain direction.

4. This something that moves has a path of motion.

5. A force has an origin, or source, and is directed at a target.

6. The intensity of forces varies from case to case.

7. In our interaction of forces, we observe sequences of causality.

5.1. By

Let us consider example 18 first:
(18) Moved by love, Nicandra tried. (BNC: Loving and Giving by a female author [H7H 580])
It is possible to see love in example 18 as a magnetic force which pushes Nicandra into action, but one may also see this example in terms of love being contained in Nicandra and making her do something. A potential further reading is that love is understood in terms of personification: a superior makes her try. The superior interpretation mirrors the textual context in which Nicandra, a child, tries to eat something, because an adult asks her to. Nicandra could even be seen as a puppet that is being moved by love.

Example 19 can also be interpreted in several ways:
(19) His marriage ended, he was distracted by love, and for a while at the time of the oil crisis it was hard to make a sale, but towards the end of the Seventies and into the Eighties, things picked up. (BNC: Article in Daily Telegraph [AK4 897])
The interpretation of this metaphor depends on what the noun love and the verb to distract mean. Love may refer to a single emotional episode or a series of them, and it may refer not only to his feelings, but also to someone else’s feelings, and even to their actions. The ‘action’ reading is likely, because seeing people commit loving actions is often how other people learn about the love and can write about it.

The OED says that the original meaning of distract is both literal and figurative, without prioritizing either reading (v1). It also gives the sense ‘to divert the attention, the mind’ (distract v3). The OED thus does not resolve the question whether to distract, in terms of the mind, has a physical origin, although such an origin could be implied in the sense ‘to draw in different directions; to draw asunder or apart; to draw away; to separate, divide’ (OED v1). We may only assume a physical origin on the basis of the conceptual metaphor theory, but the issue calls for further philological investigation.

In both (18) and (19), the preposition by introduces an explanation for a change in behavior. This agrees with the suggestion that, in our interaction with forces, we observe sequences of causality (Johnson 1987: 44). What remains less clear is whether and how one might evaluate the distance between a person’s experience of a concrete, physical force such as being pushed or pulled, and linguistic expressions such as moved by love or distracted by love. At the moment, it may be assumed that there is a cline from (1) naming the experience of a concrete, physical force to (2) creating a metaphor based on such a force to (3) such metaphors becoming conventionalized. It has also been claimed that “imaginative simulations can carry out abstract conceptual reasoning” (Gallese & Lakoff 2005: 469, emphasis in the original), which suggests that when people say something like moved by love, their brains process imagined movement. However, it is not always easy to establish what is a conventionalized metaphor, and in which cases the original sense of a word was relatively abstract.

5.2. For

By is not the only preposition that may introduce an explanation for a change of behavior. The title of this article contains a phrase from example (20). There, people’s motivation is introduced by the preposition for:
(20) Simeon affirms, that for fear or hope of reward they attested what was not true: notwithstanding which he put many of them to death not long after. (HCE: Milton, The History of Britain, That Part Especially Now Call’d England [CEHIST3B])

If abstract meanings originate in concrete ones, we may assume that all the senses of the preposition for originate in its original sense ‘in front of’ (OED prep1). We may then see a systematic metonymic development via the senses ‘with a view to’ and ‘indicating destination’ to the sense ‘by reason of’ (OED for prep 8, 12 and 20, respectively), which appears in (20). Conceptual metaphor theory would also allow us to see the relationship between senses ‘with a view to’ and ‘by reason of’ in terms of the metaphor intellection is vision (Sweetser 1990: 23–48), where the seeing of a cause (‘with a view to’; source domain) yields the rational sense ‘by reason of’ (target domain).

If we accept this assumption and consider the senses ‘in front of’ and ‘with a view to’ of for, it allows us to imagine a mental schema in which the people evoked by the pronoun they have either (a) fear or (b) hope as objects in front of their eyes, and common sense makes them either (a) avoid colliding with (repulsion) or (b) reach towards the object (attraction). The reward of such an exercise is that it allows us to see sentence (20) as connected not only to the etymology of for, but also to our everyday experience of physical objects, and makes it less abstract than it first seems. Furthermore, such a mental schema agrees with typical behavior caused by fear, fleeing from something (Kövecses 1990: 74). The schema also nicely illustrates motivation through hope. In other words, it shows us how the emotions fear and hope work.

At the same time, example (20) also shows the power of metonymic association: a small word such as for may convey a lot of content, not only because it can be conceptualized in many ways, but also because it occurs in a specific context where the other words contribute to the associations. Furthermore, while one may regard this example as non-metaphorical, seeing it in terms of metaphorical objects helps us analyze its meaning in parts and allows us to understand the sentence in depth in terms of both emotions and of linguistic meaning.

5.3. Out of

Having observed that by and for may be used to express motivation or cause, let us look at another expression which behaves similarly. It is not a preposition, but a prepositional phrase, out of:
(21) Not many people murdered their wives out of dislike. [They usually did it for more obvious, sordid reasons; they wanted money, they had fallen in love with someone else or lost their temper.] (BNC: The Wimbledon Poisoner by a male author [ASS 2703])
If one reads out of in terms of conceptual metaphors, one may see dislike as a container from which the murderers emerge. Another way to look at (21) is to see dislike as as a more general metaphorical container, a source out of which the deed, murder, emerges. The second reading implies a connection between the emotion of dislike, thoughts of dislike, and actions resulting from those thoughts. These might be discussed in terms of conceptual metonymy as well, because the second reading agrees with the idea that thoughts breed words and deeds. This famous idea is discussed, for example, in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5–7), where Jesus likens angry words to murder, and adultery to lustful thoughts (Matthew 5).

As regards forces, the question concerning example (21) is whether a force is involved in the process of murder emerging out of dislike. The co-text does not give us any linguistic clues; we may only hypothesize about the metaphor. We may see a metonymic chain in the idea that thoughts breed words and deeds, or even discuss the idea in terms of attraction (thoughts attracting words and deeds). However, example (21) is perhaps more parallel with the bursting into tears example 17 (reprinted below), which operates on the source domain of  physical pressure:
(17) He then broke into tears. (BNC: School essay on literature by a girl not over 14 years of age [KA1 917])
If human beings are regarded as containers for emotions, the emotion of dislike in example (21) may be regarded as something inside a person which makes a person “burst into murder”.

6. Emotional states and other objects?

Concerning the topic of the abstractness versus concreteness of emotions, the question now remains whether emotions as metaphorical objects can be coupled in a sentence with physical objects. If such instances are rare, it lends some credence to the idea that emotions are relatively abstract concepts, because they are not associated with pronouncedly physical things apart from the body. This is my current hypothesis, based on all my research on words and metaphors for emotions so far.

If there exists a tendency not to parallel emotions as metaphorical objects with physical objects in clauses, example (22) is a potential exception to it – potential in that sound, wet and chill, while physical, are not the most distinct of objects:13
(22) Beaten with fear and sound and wet and chill, they crawled to the hurricane deck and looked out haggardly at a world of water that reached clear to the surrounding hills. (Brown: McClary, The Flooded Dearest [N20: 101])

The preposition with, coupled with the verb beat, lends credibility to a reading where fear, sound, wet and chill are all interpreted as metaphorical objects, since with may  convey instrumentality, as discussed in section 3.3.1. above. When interpreting example (22), it may also be good to take into account that the adjectival noun wet could be replaced by water, which, while not conveying an object, at least conveys a relatively more distinct substance than wet. Consider the theoretical assumption that states can be metaphorically conceived as either entities or substances (Lakoff & Johnson 1980: 25–29, beginning of section 3).

6.1. A small note on objects and substances

The difference between objects and substances is an issue which in itself could be discussed at length. Several examples above could be given a substance rather than an object reading. For example, the slips into panic in example (16) (reprinted below) could be seen in terms of someone’s falling into something fluid. Simply consider a person slipping into a swimming pool.
(16) However, there have been times where he has no control at all and this is where he slips into panic. (BNC: The Smiths by a male author [ART 1750])
That one may slip both into a solid container and into a fluid is relevant if a distinction is made between the concreteness of objects and substances as potential source domains for metaphors for emotions. While both exist in the physical world, substances may be more difficult to quantify (compare eggs with milk), or even see (e.g. water vapor, laughing gas, carbon monoxide).

7. Discussion

Now that this article has discussed 22 examples of preposition + noun for emotion pairs, it is time to start collecting the ideas presented above for a final evaluation. The discussion so far has meandered in many directions, because I have wanted to highlight many aspects of the abstractness versus physicality of the preposition + noun pairs. In this respect, I ask the reader to be patient with me and to allow these aspects, including all the categories of abstractness versus physicality presented above and below, to potentially overlap with each other. That is the best way I can present them at the moment, and agrees with the cognitive linguistic assumption that human categorization is not completely rigid, but fuzzy at the edges (e.g. Evans & Green 2006: 248–285, Lakoff 1987, Ungerer & Schmid 1996: 1–59).

The discussion below will proceed from section 3 to section 5, allowing section 6 to remain an additional remark. I will no longer pay attention to all the nuances and potential readings of the examples, but attempt generalizations in order to summarize and pave way for potential further research.

7.1. Emotional states as objects

The first topic of the analysis was the metaphor emotional states are objects. Section 3 discussed four kinds of emotional states: theoretical concepts, long-term dispositions, artistic or professional practices, and immediate behavioral reactions. The starting assumption was that these represented a continuum from the most abstract (theoretical concepts) to the most concrete (immediate behavioral reactions), although even theoretical concepts related to concrete issues in the real world (warfare, theft in usury). Table 1 sums up the discussion in section 3.

Table 1. Emotional states as objects. The characteristics of categories and prepositions listed only include those discussed in this article, i.e. other options certainly exist.




Characteristics of the use of prepositions Prepositions and prepositional phrases
Theoretical concepts abstract senses of nouns> very metaphorical use of prepositions by, far from
Long-term dispositions somewhat less abstract senses of nouns> metaphorical use of prepositions in, without
Artistic or professional practices nouns referring to a practice> metaphorical and conventionalized uses of prepositions to, without
Immediate behavioral reactions more physical senses of nouns> more difficult to find metaphors to, without


The use of prepositions may be characterized as very metaphorical in the category of theoretical concepts. In the first case (example 1), both the target domain love and the source domain of mathematics were regarded as abstract, as compared to physical objects. In the second case (example 2), there was quite a lot of conceptual distance between the target domain, a theological concept (love as compared to usury), and the source domain, a physical concept (physical distance between objects).

The distance between the target and source domains discussed under the category ‘long-term dispositions’ still remained significant. In example (3), the target domain was respect/respectful disposition towards a superior, and the source domain was a container. In example (4), the target domain was hope/hopeful disposition towards the future, and the source domain was instrument (for dealing with something).

Example (5) in the category ‘artistic or professional practices’ resembled  the previous. There, the target domain was horror/making of horror films, and the source domain was a container. However, the target domain horror/making of horror films was somewhat less abstract than the previous target domains. Example (6) in the category ‘artistic or professional practices’ differed from the preceding examples in that the phrase without respect of persons was very conventionalized.

The category ‘immediate behavioral reactions’ was supposed to represent more physical senses of nouns for emotions, but it was difficult to find metaphorical examples of these. This suggests two hypotheses for further research: (1) The more physical the sense (/reference) of a noun for emotion is, the rarer is the occurrence of conceptual metaphors with it. (2) The more abstract the sense (/reference) of a noun for emotion is, the more frequent are occurrences of conceptual metaphors with it. These two hypotheses may be summarized as one general hypothesis: The more physical the reference of a noun for emotion is, the less need there is for metaphorical explication of the emotion concept.

The summarizing hypothesis is in agreement with conceptual metaphor theory, because it agrees with the idea that metaphors help us to understand abstract concepts. The caveat is that even theoretical concepts are associated with concrete issues in the real world (such as warfare and theft in usury), where their ultimate value in fact lies.

7.2. Movement and change

Section 4 treated examples of preposition + noun for emotion pairs which conveyed movement and change, i.e. emotional motivation and emotive (re)actions. An abstract-to-concrete continuum was constructed using the categories mental state, behavior, and physiological state. Section 4 is summarized in table 2.

Table 2. Movement and change. The table only refers to this article, allowing room for other options to exist.


Type of change Characteristics of the use of prepositions Preposition(s)
Of mental state relatively subjective senses of nouns> movement from one container to another from, to, with
Of behavior relatively general senses of nouns in connection with descriptions of behavior> metaphors indicating more general movement to, into
Of physiological state fairly physiological senses of nouns> metaphors of containment into


 On the basis of the examples discussed in section 4, it seems that the categories ‘mental state’ and ‘physiological state’ resemble each other more than either of them resembles the category ‘behavior’. This is understandable, because both are ‘states’, and states are conceptualized as containers (Lakoff & Johnson 1980: 30–32). This challenges the idea that ‘physiological states’ would be even more concrete or physical than ‘emotional behavior’. Apparently, ‘emotional behavior’ is the most tangible and visible category. Following Ungerer and Schmid (1996: 99–110), we could call ‘emotional behavior’ a ‘basic(-level) experience’.

Table 2 also highlights another issue, the senses of nouns involved in examples (12) to (17). The nouns for mental states discussed in section 4.1. included despair, fear and hope in a prayer for oneself and the world (example 12), and excitement and hope in the description of a fictional character’s eyes (example 13). In table 2, these nouns are labelled ‘subjective’, because they concern a person’s inner states more than their expression. The boundary between the nouns in the categories ‘mental states’ and ‘behavior’ is nevertheless fluid, because the nouns for behavior also concern the inner states of love and affection in example (14), and love and hate in (15).

The different metaphors better distinguish between the categories ‘mental states’ and ‘behavior’, the emphasis being either on movement from one container-state to another, or more general movement, respectively. This difference in the metaphors may be seen as a basis for calling the nouns in the section on behavior ‘general’. Moreover, although the focus of description could be on a single person (Freud in example 15), it was not only on his inner states, but also on how behavior indicates emotions. That the label ‘general’ may still be disputed probably depends on the tendency of nouns, apart from verbal nouns, to refer to states rather than behavior.

For the category ‘physiological states’, I searched for as many ‘physiological’ nouns as possible. These included panic and tears, the latter of which was no longer a noun for emotion.

To conclude on movement and change, the category ‘behavior’ seems to call for particular re-thinking and further investigation. One reason is the finding that behavior appears to be a basic-level experience (Ungerer and Schmid 1996: 99–110), against my expectations that emotional physiology would be more primary (cf. physiological metonymies as a basis of conceptual metaphors as suggested by Lakoff 1987: 380–415). Emotional physiology may indeed be more primary from the ontogenetic and consciousness points of view, but maybe not from the perception and human interaction points of view. Another reason to reconsider the category ‘behavior’ is that emotional behavior is better discussed in terms of verbs than nouns.

7.3. Forces and colliding, departing and bursting objects

Section 5 discussed forces in terms of examples of the uses of the prepositions by and for, and of the prepositional phrase out of. It is difficult to find a way to distinguish between the senses of nouns for emotions in the examples (18) to (21). For example, the noun love in (19) is opposite to dislike in (21), but it would be silly to suggest on that basis that only positive or negative nouns for emotions could be used with a particular preposition(al phrase). Rather, the very small set of examples shows that the meaning of each preposition, including their etymologies, is central to defining the characteristics of each metaphorical force. This is summarized in table 3.

Table 3. Metaphors indicating forces. The table only refers to this article.


Preposition(al phrase) Characteristics of the use of prepositions Force
by senses of verbs become important in evaluating the metaphoricity of expressions pushes and pulls
for etymology highlights metaphoricity repulsion or attraction
out of containment as a source of change pressure


As to the preposition by, regarding the 39 different senses the OED gives to the preposition and adverb by, a thorough investigation would require both discussing each of these senses and searching for more linguistic data on it. The many senses of by may also be the reason why this study suggests that the meaning of the verbs to move in example (18) and to distract in example (19) becomes important in evaluating the meaning and metaphoricity of the preposition + noun for emotion pairs. Because by can be interpreted in so many ways, we need contextual help for understanding it.

Section 5.2. discussed an example of the use of for (20) by referring to its etymology and the metaphor intellection is vision (Sweetser 1990: 23–48), where the seeing of a cause (‘with a view to’; source domain) yielded the rational sense (‘by reason of’; target domain). Section 5.3. discussed the prepositional phrase out of, which is quite transparent in terms of the likelihood of container metaphors.

In all cases, the prepositions pointed to an effect an emotion has on a person, which agrees with the general notion concerning forces that they are something in the surrounding world that affects us, or something that affects an object which we perceive (Johnson 1987: 43). The gist of the matter is that emotions are like forces which affect us. This has already been thoroughly discussed by Kövecses (1990). However, the role of prepositions in conceptual metaphors for emotions has, to my knowledge, not been investigated in detail. Such an investigation could focus both on the meaning of different prepositions, including its relationship to the concept of force(s), and on what any relevant metaphorical expressions tell us about emotions. Interestingly, part of the issues which prepositions reveal about emotions seem quite subconscious. For example, the use of for in example (20) may not have been intended as a metaphor, but its metaphorical reading illustrates how fear and hope affect people.

8. Conclusion

To conclude, what has this article told us about words for emotions and emotion concepts and their abstractness versus physicality? It has suggested at least the following notions worthy of further investigation and verification:

1. Avoidance of zeugma: there probably exists a tendency not to parallel emotions as metaphorical objects with physical objects in clauses in the manner of in love and water. This distinguishes emotions from physical objects and lends metaphoricity to expressions presenting emotions in terms of physical objects.

2. However, both physical objects and emotions come in many varieties. Several of the senses of the nouns for emotions discussed above could also be excluded by claiming that they no longer represent emotions. Distinguishing between various senses of words is a perennial problem in the semantics of the emotion lexicon.

3. The more physical the reference of the noun for emotion, the less need there is for any metaphorical explication of the emotion concept. The caveat is that even theoretical concepts are associated with concrete issues in the real world, where their ultimate value in fact lies. Beware of too easy statements about abstractness.

4. The category ‘change of emotional behavior’ seems to call for particular re-thinking. While emotional physiology may indeed be more primary than emotional behavior from the ontogenetic and consciousness points of view, it may not be primary from the perception and human interaction points of view. Another reason to reconsider the category ‘emotional behavior’ is that it is better discussed in terms of verbs than nouns.

5. As regards a deeper understanding of preposition + noun for emotion pairs and the emotions they refer to, it will be important to discuss both the meaning of different prepositions and the issue of what the metaphorical expressions tell us about emotions. Interestingly, part of the issues which prepositions reveal about emotions are more subconscious than others, in agreement with the idea that some senses of words and phrases are more conventionalized than others.14


1. Tyler and Evans (2003) use the term ‘principled polysemy’ to cover their own approach.

2. Name of a song performed by the Freemasons / Amanda Wilson, see e.g. <> (Accessed: 13 November 2009).

3. Another way to see the language of emotions as measurable is to consider the current popularity of corpus studies on emotion words and their metaphors, involving statistics on linguistic expressions (e.g. Janda & Solovyev 2009, Stefanowitsch 2006).

4. More examples were originally chosen for a presentation which I gave at the Metaphor Festival at the University of Stockholm, Sweden, on 21 September 2007. This article discusses a part of those examples in more detail.

5. For more information about corpora and metaphor analysis, you may want to look at Deignan (2005) or Stefanowitsch & Gries (2006).

6. Swedek (2007) discusses in detail the issue of abstract concepts as metaphorical objects.

7. ‘The practice of charging, taking, or contracting to receive, excessive or illegal rates of interest for money on loan’ (OED usury n1).

8. Cf. one of the senses of hope, ‘ground of hope, promise’ (OED n1: 4a).

9. In my view, this is self-evident. However, it is also suggested by the order in which the OED entry for the noun horror presents its various senses: the emotion comes first (3a), then the film genre (5b).

10. Here my reading is different from Tissari 2007: 79.

11. A reader may wish to comment that the preposition to has many different senses, as listed, for example in the OED. The cognitive linguistic suggestion is to see these senses as connected to one another through embodiment (e.g. Brugman 1988 [1981], Evans 2003).

12. The fluid metaphor may nevertheless connect the ‘thoughts’ sense of run with Early Modern psychological theory, because it involved fluids which operated in the brain (Harvey 1975: 44). To make matters even more complex, a belief in the existence of brain fluids contradicts the idea that the fluid is a metaphorical source domain.

13. I base the claim concerning the ‘distinctness as objects’ of sound, wet and chill on research on categorization and, in particular, on basic level categories. A good introduction to the theme can be found in Ungerer & Schmid (1996: 60–113).

14. I thank Howard Sklar for many pertinent comments on this article, which improved the article considerably. I also thank Terttu Nevalainen and Matti Rissanen for discussing preposition + love pairs with me while supervising my Ph.D. thesis. Those discussions generated a lot of thinking. In spite of all the thinking, this article remains imperfect, for which I take ultimate responsibility.


Corpus manuals

(Information on several of these corpora can be found and accessed at the CoRD corpus site of the Research Unit of Variation, Contacts and Change in English, Department of English, University of Helsinki:

Francis, W. Nelson and Henry Kučera (1979 [1964]) Manual of Information to Accompany A Standard Corpus of Present-Day Edited American English, for Use with Digital Computers. (Revised and amplified.) Providence, Rhode Island: Brown University, Department of Linguistics.

Hoffmann, Sebastian, Stefan Evert, Nicholas Smith, David Lee and Ylva Berglund Prytz (2008) Corpus Linguistics with BNCweb – a Practical Guide. Frankfurt am Main etc.: Peter Lang.

Hundt, Marianne, Andrea Sand and Paul Skandera (1999) Manual of Information to Accompany The Freiburg-Brown Corpus of American English. Freiburg: Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg, Englisches Seminar.

(Accessed: 13 November 2009)

Kytö, Merja (comp.) (1996) Manual to the Diachronic Part of the Helsinki Corpus of English Texts: Coding Conventions and Lists of Source Texts. 3rd edition. Helsinki: University of Helsinki, Department of English.

Nurmi, Arja, ed. (1998) Manual for the Corpus of Early English Correspondence Sampler CEECS. Helsinki: University of Helsinki, Department of English.

(Accessed: 13 November 2009)


Biewer, Carolin (2006) Die Sprache der Liebe in Shakespeares Komödien: Eine Semantik und Pragmatik der Leidenschaft. Heidelberg: Winter.

Bloomfield, Leonard (1970 [1933]) Language. London: Allen & Unwin.

Brugman, Claudia (1988 [1981]) The Story of Over: Polysemy, Semantics, and the Structure of the Lexicon. New York & London: Garland Publishing.

Damasio, Antonio (2003) Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain. Orlando: Harcourt.

Deignan, Alice (2005) Metaphor and Corpus Linguistics. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Dirven, René and Ralf Pörings, eds. (2002) Metaphor and Metonymy in Comparison and Contrast. Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Evans, Vyvyan (2003) The Structure of Time: Language, Meaning and Temporal Cognition. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Evans, Vyvyan and Melanie Green (2006) Cognitive Linguistics: An Introduction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Frijda, Nico H. (2004 [2000]) “The Psychologists’ Point of View.”  In Michael Lewis and Jeannette Haviland-Jones, eds. Handbook of Emotions (2nd edition). New York & London: Guilford: 59–74.

Gallese, Vittorio and George Lakoff (2005) “The Brain’s Concepts: The Role of the Sensory-Motor System in Conceptual Knowledge.” Cognitive Neuropsychology 22 (3/4): 455–479.

Gibbs, Raymond W. (1994) The Poetics of Mind: Figurative Thought, Language, and Understanding. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Goatly, Andrew (1997) The Language of Metaphors. London & New York: Routledge.

Harvey, E. Ruth (1975) The Inward Wits: Psychological Theory in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. London: University of London, The Warburg Institute.

Janda, Laura A. and Valery D. Solovyev (2009) “What Constructional Profiles Reveal about Synonymy: A Case Study of Russian Words for Sadness and Happiness.” Cognitive Linguistics 20/2: 367–393.

Johnson, Mark (1992 [1987]) The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination, and Reason. Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press.

Koivisto-Alanko, Päivi (2000) Abstract Words in Abstract Worlds: Directionality and Prototypical Structure in the Semantic Change in English Nouns of Cognition. Mémoires de la Société Néophilologique de Helsinki LVIII. Helsinki: Société Néophilologique.

Koivisto-Alanko, Päivi & Heli Tissari (2006) “Sense and Sensibility: Rational Thought Versus Emotion in Metaphorical Language.”  In Stefanowitsch and Gries 2006: 191–213.

Kövecses, Zoltán (1990) Emotion Concepts. New York etc.: Springer.

Kövecses, Zoltán (2002) Metaphor: A Practical Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lakoff, George (1987) Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind. Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press.

Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson (1980) Metaphors We Live By. Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press.

Lakoff, George and Mark Turner (1989) More than Cool Reason: A Field Guide to Poetic Metaphor. Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press.

Loos, Eugene E., Susan Anderson, Dwight H. Day, Jr., Paul C. Jordan and J. Douglas Wingate, eds. (1999) Metaphors in English.

(See: “What is an eyes-as-containers-for-emotions metaphor?”)

(Accessed: 13 November 2009)

OED, the. (2009) The Oxford English Dictionary Online. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

(Accessed: in January–February and July 2009)

Panther, Klaus-Uwe and Linda Thornburg, eds. (2003) Metonymy and Pragmatic Inferencing. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Stefanowitsch, Anatol (2006) “Words and their Metaphors: A Corpus-Based Approach.” In Stefanowitsch and Gries 2006: 63–105.

Stefanowitsch, Anatol and Stefan Th. Gries, eds. (2006) Corpus-Based Approaches to Metaphor and Metonymy. Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Szwedek, Aleksander (2007) “An Alternative Theory of Metaphorisation.”  In Małgorzata Fabiszak, ed. Language and Meaning: Cognitive and Functional Perspectives. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang. 313–327.

Sweetser, Eve (1990) From Etymology to Pragmatics: Metaphorical and Cultural Aspects of Semantic Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tissari, Heli (2003) Lovescapes: Changes in prototypical senses and cognitive metaphors since 1500. Mémoires de la Société Néophilologique de Helsinki LXII. Helsinki: Société Néophilologique.

_____. (2007) “Compressing Emotion to Politeness: On I fear and I’m afraid.”  In Matti Rissanen, Marianna Hintikka, Leena Kahlas-Tarkka and Roderick McConchie, eds. Change in Meaning and the Meaning of Change: Studies in Semantics and Grammar from Old to Present-Day English. Helsinki: Société Néophilologique: 57–90.

_____. (2008a) “Happiness and Joy in Corpus Contexts: A Cognitive Semantic Analysis.”  In Heli Tissari, Anne Birgitta Pessi and Mikko Salmela, eds.  Happiness: Cognition, Experience, Language. COLLeGIUM Studies Across Disciplines in the Humanities and Social Sciences 3. Helsinki: Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies, University of Helsinki: 144–174.

_____. (2008b) “A Look at Respect: Investigating Metonymies in Early Modern English.”  In Richard Dury, Maurizio Gotti and Marina Dossena, eds. English Historical Linguistics 2006. Volume II: Lexical and Semantic Change. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins: 139–157.

Tyler, Andrea & Vyvyan Evans (2003) The Semantics of English Prepositions: Spatial Scenes, Embodied Meaning, and Cognition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ungerer, Friedrich & Hans-Jörg Schmid (1996) An Introduction to Cognitive Linguistics. London: Longman (Pearson Education).