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Punning Exploiting External and Internal Metaphors: A Study of Groucho Marx's Use of Metaphor Reversal
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of English.
2007 (English)Independent thesis Advanced level (degree of Master (One Year)), 10 credits / 15 HE creditsStudent thesis
Abstract [en]

The aim of this study has been to analyse metaphorical strings which have been interpreted literally, a process referred to as metaphor reversal. This was first described by Löflund (1999:18) and the specific term was later coined by Alm-Arvius (2006:6). Metaphor reversal is basically a subcategory of the broader term polysemy punning.

When a metaphor unexpectedly is interpreted literally, a humorous effect takes place and a pun is created. Especially if the metaphorisation in question has an entrenched figurative meaning, the unexpectedness of the literal interpretation is greater and the pun more obvious. The examples of these puns exploiting metaphor reversal have been taken from films featuring the verbal comedian Groucho Marx (GM), who frequently used this type and other kinds of puns in his films.

The terms internal and external metaphor, coined by Alm-Arvius (2003:78), have been used in order to distinguish between two different types of metaphorisations. Internal metaphor refers to metaphors with obvious internal collocational clashes and external metaphor refers to metaphors without such clashes, which can thus be given a literal as well as a figurative reading. However, this is not a clear-cut distinction and occasional overlapping between the two categories is common. Therefore, a continuum has been given which shows the overlapping category ‘more figurative external metaphors’. These are metaphors without collocational clashes, but with entrenched figurative meanings which make them metaphorical and not literal.

GM does not only revert external metaphors; he also reverts internal metaphors although this category contains collocational clashes which should make a literal interpretation impossible. Internal metaphor puns tend to be more absurd than external metaphor puns due to the collocational clashes which make the literal interpretation less probable. Reverted external metaphors are referred to as REM and reverted internal metaphors as RIM.

Most examples analysed are metaphorisations with idiom status with clearly preferred figurative meanings. Consequently, their figurative meanings are deeply entrenched and should not be altered. However, these figurative meanings are altered by GM in his punning; they are reverted and interpreted literally. This indicates that one of the few occasions when it is accepted or even possible to interpret a metaphorical idiom literally is in punning.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Keyword [en]
polysemy, punning, metaphor reversal, figurative meaning, literal meaning, internal metaphor, external metaphor, idiom, continuum, universe of discourse
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URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-6664OAI: diva2:196833
Available from: 2007-02-16 Created: 2007-02-16Bibliographically approved

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