Linguist Elena Semino warns of the negative impact of war metaphors on cancer patients.
The expert, who gave a lecture organised by UIC Barcelona’s Hestia Chair, has analysed 1.5 million words taken from online interviews and comments about cancer
On 21 February, Elena Semino, a full professor of Linguistics at Lancaster University (United Kingdom), gave a lecture as part of an event organised by the Hestia Chair in Integrated Health and Social Care. The linguist told attendees that metaphors in general “can affect how we see or experience a particular phenomenon, and this is especially important in the case of illness”.
Based on her research, Semino pointed out that a number of the most frequent metaphors used in allusion to cancer “have a violent component, such as ‘battle’, ‘struggle’ or ‘war’”. The use of such metaphors has a negative impact on many patients, as they can make them feel guilty and responsible, while the use of positive metaphors, on the other hand, can prove inspiring. In this regard, Semino and her team have assembled a “metaphor menu for cancer patients”, which includes the most frequently used cancer metaphors and a series of new ones, some associated with other cultures such as Eastern culture, for instance. The purpose of this list is to help patients reach a consensus with their doctors about the metaphors with which they are most comfortable talking about their illness.
Semino’s research aims to “put all of these metaphors on the table” and allow each person to “choose the one they want and find most useful”.