When a Liberal Use of Metaphor Is Really a Conservative One: The Case of Boris Johnson’s Televised Press Releases




Parole chiave:

Covid-19; metaphor; Boris Johnson; single-genre corpus; contextual constraints; cultural resonance


The Covid-19 pandemic has generated a number of studies on the use of metaphor to frame the disease and the trope has been presented as a prominent feature of Covid-19 discourse. The metaphor of war has been identified as the master metaphor for framing the health emergency, prompting reflections about its possible drawbacks and feasible alternative framings in order to generate a more constructive stance among the general public, politicians and administrators.

Such studies largely refer to corpora drawn from heterogeneous sources, combining official statements with coverage in mainstream media, blogs and opinion pieces. The present study is based exclusively on a homogeneous single-genre corpus, namely the official Covid-19 announcements made by the former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson from the beginning of March 2020 to December of the same year.

Using automated interrogation routines, frequency and keyword functions were examined to define the extent and expose underlying patterns of metaphor use in this genre. The quantitative data was also subjected to qualitative analysis from the perspective of Extended Conceptual Metaphor Theory, which led to insights into contextual constraints and cultural facets of metaphor use in this genre.

The results obtained could be considered surprising. It emerged that Boris Johnson resorted to metaphor only sparingly in this genre. The results highlighted that, on the rare occasions when he did rely on this trope, his usage was very predictable and conventional. However, despite the low frequency and keyness of metaphor in his Covid-19 announcements, this rhetorical figure was seen to offer diverse resources and produce multiple effects, even when used so conservatively.



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Biografie autore

Giorgia Riboni, Università degli Studi di Torino,University of Turin

Giorgia Riboni holds a PhD in English Studies from the Università degli Studi di Milano and works as an English Language and Linguistics Lecturer at the Università degli Studi in Turin. Her research interests lie mainly in the field of discourse analysis, with particular regard to new media communication. In her studies, the qualitative methods characteristic of discourse analysis are often integrated with the quantitative research typical of corpus linguistics and combined with other theoretical tools. Her latest publications include the journal article “‘Breast Is Best’ or ‘Fed Is Best’? A Study of Concessive Relations in the Debate on Methods of Infant Feeding” (2022) and the volume Discourses of Authenticity on YouTube: From the Personal to the Professional (2020).

Dermot Heaney, University of Milan

Dermot Heaneyholds a PhD from the National University of Ireland. He has a background in teaching English Language and Translation at a number of Italian universities. His last post was at the Università Statale di Milano, where he worked as a tenured researcher. His areas of particular interest include metaphor, both in translation and specialised discourse, media sports discourse, humour, and popularization in institutional contexts. His most recent publications include: “‘I want your brain’; Complimenting Behavior in Online Over by Over Cricket Commentary” (2020) and “Dog Fouling, Pooh and Poop Scoops in Belfast City: Plain English and Public Communication” (2020).

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Come citare

Riboni, Giorgia, e Dermot Heaney. 2023. «When a Liberal Use of Metaphor Is Really a Conservative One: The Case of Boris Johnson’s Televised Press Releases». Altre Modernità, n. 29 (maggio):173-94. https://doi.org/10.54103/2035-7680/20064.