The Syntagmatics of Metaphor and Idiom


Patrick Hanks

Brandeis University and Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences


1. Norms and Exploitations


This paper proposes an approach to the analysis of metaphors and idioms in accordance with the General Theory of Norms and Exploitations which I am currently developing, parts of which have been presented elsewhere (e.g. Hanks 1993). This is to be published in book form (entitled, unsurprisingly, Norms and Exploitations) in 2005 by MIT Press. For me, the need for a new look at theoretical foundations arose gradually from two sources: on the one hand a lifetime of dictionary editing, in which the fashionable linguistic theories of the 1970s, 80s and 90s proved utterly inadequate as a foundation for a satisfactory lexicographical account of words, phrases, and their meanings, and on the other hand the development of very large corpora, providing increasingly challenging evidence for how words and phrases are actually used.


The general idea behind the theory of norms and exploitations is not particularly controversial: human beings store not just words in isolation in their brains, but also the prototypical syntagmatic patterns associated with each word. Each syntagmatic pattern is associated with a ‘meaning potential’—i.e. the potential of a word or phrase to contribute in a given context to the meaningfulness of an actual utterance. From a cognitive point of view, it is quite possible that each individual member of a speech community stores an idiosyncratic set of prototypes with each word, slightly different from everyone else’s, but such is the normative power of social pressures that any gross differences in prototyping are rapidly eliminated and stereotypes of word usage emerge.


Describing the normal patterns of use of words and their association with meaning potentials is a task for lexicographers. The extent to which lexicographers have failed to carry out this task is partly a measure of the insufficiency of the evidence (a situation radically changed by the development of very large corpora in the 1990s) and partly a measure of other preoccupations, in particular the preoccupation with historical principles in the largest and most scholarly dictionaries. Big historical dictionaries such as OED and the New Grimm are concerned with tracing the history of word meaning and morphology, rather than with how words are currently used. The idea (admittedly rather obvious, but none the worse for that) of placing the current meaning of a word first was first attempted in a principled way in Funk and Wagnall’s Standard Dictionary of the English Language (1894). The announcement for this dictionary (1891) stated, among other things, that it would place “the etymology after the definition” and that it would place “the most important current definition first, and the obsolescent and obsolete meanings last—that is, the substitution of the order of usage for the historic order usually followed in dictionaries.”  Easily said!  In practice, for many words it was surprisingly hard until recently to decide what is “the most important current definition”.  To take a simple example, which is the most important current definition of the word funk: a state of cringing terror, or a style of dance music? It turns out that one of these senses is eleven times more common in the British National Corpus (BNC) than the other—a statistic that might well be relevant for computational natural language processing.


By studying concordances of words in a large corpus, it is now possible to identify patterns of linguistic behaviour associated with each word. In turn, by consulting our intuitions and those of other native speakers, it is possible to associate a meaning (or at least a meaning potential) with each pattern, and to attach frequencies to each pattern. Strictly speaking, therefore, what a large corpus enables us to discover is a stereotypical set of prototypes.


Corpora provide no direct evidence for meanings.  Meanings are inferred from contexts in reading texts in a corpus, in much the same way that meanings are inferred in reading any other kind of text, but with this difference: by seeing many uses of the target word in close proximity, the analyst can identify groups of normal uses of the target word according to their common syntagmatic features. A large corpus provides evidence of the patterns of usage with which meanings are associated. The larger the corpus, the more strikingly the patterns stand out. The analytic procedure is called Corpus Pattern Analysis, CPA for short.


Patterns of linguistic behaviour tend to recur, so it is a reasonable hypothesis that the association of meanings with patterns will have considerable predictive power for interpreting the meaning of words in unrestricted texts. For this to succeed, it is necessary to take seriously Fillmore’s 1975 proposal that, instead of seeking to satisfy a set of necessary and sufficient conditions, the meanings of words in text should be analysed by calculating resemblance to a prototype. CPA is concerned with identifying prototypical norms of usage, to which resemblance can then be calculated. It is possible (and certainly desirable, but not certain) than most norms will map onto Framenet’s emantic frames. In frame semantics, the relationship between semantics and syntactic realization is at a comparatively deep level. In CPA, on the other hand, the objective is to identify, in relation to a keyword the overt textual clues that activate one or more components of its meaning potential. And whereas Framenet research proceeds frame by frame, CPA proceeds word by word.


The focus of CPA (but not of this paper) is on norms for verbs. CPA verb norms show typical valencies or argument structures, with detailed information about the prototypical semantic values of the words that are normally found in each of the verb’s arguments or valency slots. A simple example of a complete set of verb norms is shown in Figure 1.


abate/V 185

1. [[Storm]] abate [NO OBJ]

2. [[Problem]] abate [NO OBJ]

3. [[Person | Action]] abate [[Nuisance]] (Domain: Law)


FIGURE 1: A set of CPA verb norms


The norms consists of sets accounting for all normal uses of the verb in question. As far as possible the norms in a set are mutually exclusive. An NLP programmatic application using the norm in Figure 1 to process unrestricted text would first have to establish whether the verb abate, when found, is being used transitively or intransitively. If transitive, it would, without further ado, activate the legal sense, translation, paraphrase, or synonym set, or whatever the application requires.  If intransitive, it would first have to decide whether the subject of abate has a semantic value more like [[Storm]] or a semantic value more like [[Problem]] before activating the relevant sense or synonym set.  Most verbs have very few pattern, but a few are very complex. Take, for example, has over 250 CPA patterns.  The distribution of patterns is Zipfian.


Any genuine uses of a word (i.e. other than mistakes) that do not fit a norm are called exploitations, with the occasional exception of comparatively usual uses, which are classified as  unassignable. Metaphors are typical exploitations. Many exploitations, but no means all, achieve their semantic interpretations through the kind of semantic coercion described in Pustejovsky’s Generative Lexicon theory (Pustejovsky 1995). The semantic values shown for verb arguments are intended to be correlated in some way with a semantic type system, which might for example be associated with WordNet. CPA semantic values are empirically based, and some adjustments would probably be necessary.


2. Noun Norms


Norms for nouns are constructed quite differently from norms for verbs.  Noun norms say nothing about valencies or argument structures.  Instead, they focus on significant collocates, making statements about prototypical usage that have an uncanny resemblance to Old English gnomic poetry. Most significant collocates are in a standard syntactic relation with the target word, e.g. protest is a statistically significant collocate of storm, and usually (but not always) occurs in the phrase ‘a storm of protest’.  Other collocates must be mentioned that are not in any fixed syntactic relation to storm, but are freely associated, eg words such as rain, wind, hurricane, gale, flood. Together, all these statements add up to a cognitive profile of the way the noun is normally used. An example is given in Figure 2. The gnomic statements in this cognitive profile are not random, but are taken from the corpus. In fact, they are not merely corpus-derived but corpus-driven. Human intervention is used to organize the relations between the target word and its significant collocates. The collocates in this profile are the statistically significantly collocates associated with storm by the WaspBench program (Kilgarriff and Tugwell 2001). Collocates are highlighted in boldface. The bits of text not in boldface represent human intervention. It should also be noted that any one of these phrases may be taken as a chunk and used in a metaphorical way.



Storms break

Storms blow.

Storms rage.

Storms lash coastlines.

Storms batter ships and places.

Storms hit ships and places.

Storms ravage places.


Before it breaks, a storm is brewing, gathering, or impending.

There is often a calm or a lull before a storm.

Storms last for a certain period of time.

A major storm may be associated with a certain year or may be remembered as the great storm of [Year]


Storms abate.

Storms subside.

Storms pass.


People can weather, survive, or ride (out) a storm.

Ships and people may get caught in a storm.




There are thunder storms, electrical storms, rain storms, hail storms, snow storms, winter storms, dust storms, sand storms, and tropical storms.

Storms are violent, severe, raging, howling, terrible, disastrous, fearful, and ferocious.

Storms, especially snow storms, may be heavy.

An unexpected storm is a freak storm.

The centre of a storm is called the eye of the storm.


STORMS ARE ASSOCIATED WITH rain, wind, hurricanes, gales, and floods.


FIGURE 2: Corpus-based cognitive profile of storm, noun (literal uses)


3. Analytic Procedure


The methodology is to extract a concordance for each target word, scan it to get a general overview of the word’s behaviour, then select a random sample of between 200 and 1000 concordance lines for detailed analysis. In the course of detailed analysis, concordances lines are sorted into groups that have approximately the same meaning and similar syntactic structures. Semantic values are given for the arguments or valencies of the target word in each group.


Methodological discipline requires that every line in the random sample should be classified. The classifications are:




Names (Midnight Storm is the name of a racehorse)

Mentions (to mention a word is not to use it; the syntagmatics are different)

Mistakes (learned is sometimes mistyped as leaned)



Unassignables are kept to a minimum.  For example, expressions involving anaphoric pronouns could, strictly speaking, be classified as unassignable. However, in CPA anaphora are resolved as far as possible in order to assign semantic values.


The rest of this paper discusses just two points:


1.      To what extent can syntagmatic criteria be used to distinguish metaphorical uses from literal uses?


2.      What is the relationship between metaphors, idioms, and literal uses?


4. Gradability of Metaphor and Idiom


Three conventional idioms containing the word storm are found. These are:


a storm in a teacup

any port in a storm

to take (a place) by storm


In addition, two syntagmatic contexts normally indicate that storm has a metaphorical meaning. The prototypical syntagmatics of all these idiomatic and metaphorical uses of this word are summarized in Figure 3, in descending order of metaphoricity.


A lot of fuss about a comparatively trivial event is described as a storm in a teacup.

Someone who is in trouble is glad to find any port in a storm.

A personality such as an artist, or an artefact such as a work of art or a product may take a place by storm.

A military force or a military officer may take a place by storm.

An action may cause, provoke, raise, create, or unleash a storm.

A bad or unpopular thing may cause a storm of protest, controversy, or criticism.

A successful performance may be greeted by a storm of applause.

Someone who is upset may burst into a storm of weeping or tears.


FIGURE 3: Metaphorical and idiomatic uses of storm, noun


It is often said that an idiom, strictly defined, is semantically more than the sum of its parts, i.e. its meaning cannot be derived from analysis of the literal meanings of the words of which it is composed. This is a useful generalization as far as it goes, but it is of course an oversimplification. There are degrees of metaphoricity. The most literal uses of storm involve storms blowing and then abating or subsiding, and things being damaged in a storm—uses where a reductionist interpretation is appropriate. In other cases, the word storm itself is used in a literal sense, but the associated verb is more metaphorical. Typical of this second class is the expression to get caught in a storm, also expressions in which storms brew and rage, and expressions in which storms lash, batter, and ravage places. These clichés are so common that it is easy to overlook the metaphorical status of the verb. Thirdly, we come to cases where the noun storm itself is metaphorical: a political storm, a storm of protest. Fourthly, in the most extreme type of case, none of the content words are used in their most literal senses: a storm in a teacup is not literally a storm, nor is it literally located in a teacup. Insofar as cases of this fourth type are conventionalized, they are idioms.


Furthermore, whereas the meaning of an idiom is more than the sum of its parts, the meaning of a metaphor is less than the word’s normal meaning. For a word to be used metaphorically, at least one of its semantic values is set aside, while some other semantic feature is emphasized. In terms of Pustejovsky’s Generative Lexicon theory, one or more of its qualia are set aside, while some other quale is emphasized.  According to Pustejovsky (1995), qualia structure “specifies four essential aspects of a word’s meaning”.  These are as follows:


CONSTITUTIVE: the relation between an object and its constituent parts

FORMAL: that which distinguishes an object within a larger domain

TELIC: the purpose and function of the object

AGENTIVE: factors involved in the origin or “bringing about” of something


Not all lexical items carry a value for each qualia role. In the case of storm, the qualia for its most literal sense can be stated as follows:


CONSTITUTIVE=high winds, precipitation, thunder, lightning 

FORMAL=atmospheric phenomenon, violent

TELIC=disturbing effect

AGENTIVE=atmospheric conditions


We see immediately that a metaphorical expression such as a political storm emphasizes the telic and overrides the semantic values of the other qualia.  The CONSTITUTIVE of a political storm is human interaction, specifically political interaction, its FORMAL is quarrelling, and its AGENTIVE is disagreement.  Only the telic is unchanged.


5. Syntagmatic Criteria


In a large set of expressions, the fact that storm is being used in a metaphorical sense is signalled either by a causative verb or by a partitive use of the preposition of. 

5.1 [[Human]]/Subj + [[Causative]]/V + storm = metaphorical storm


Uses of storm after a causative verb are quite frequent; they are almost always metaphorical (see Figure 4). It is hard to be sure why this should be so, but it is an observable fact. There is no reason in principle why texts should not discuss the atmospheric causes of storms in terms in which storm is the direct object of a causative verb, but in practice, such uses are rare in general English. A causative verb with storm as its object typically signals metaphoricity.


 some buffing up. Their book caused a storm in America last year, mainly because

waiting. The Daily Telegraph caused a storm in a teacup last week at the Queen’s

cond instalment of the essay caused a storm. It appeared anonymously, but the au

ive comments to referees, he caused a storm by branding his players as # boozers

sperson. The proposal, which caused a storm at last week 's council meeting, has

difficult. Then, in 1989, he caused a storm over Wild Orchid, refusing to promot

wo years after Sir Claus had caused a storm by warning our crumbling schools wer

xandra and Sir Angus Ogilvy, caused a storm when she had Zenouska before her mar

terday. Judge Geoffrey Jones caused a storm by making the comment at an earlier

HAW DESPERATE John Major has caused a storm by trying to stop newspapers telling

 a consultant. Lady Thatcher caused a storm by considering the lucrative offer.

is new autobiography. He has caused a storm with his claim that their bowlers “s

fervour, the party 's leader caused a storm earlier this year when he said his

, Minister for the Arts, has caused a storm by calling into question one of th

the proposed deal which caused such a storm that it was dropped within days of

l soon see why they 've caused such a storm # VDO COMPACT SOUNDER Microprocessor

d comes on to the market it creates a storm. Most of the top dealers in the worl

    and forget the exceptions. What a storm Sandy Lyle created by making himself

n they heard what was afoot, raised a storm of protest and demanded that their r

f its existence and location raised a storm of protest from Nordic governments a

t it, the wider conflict "may raise a storm in Sussex, which county is full of n

president, Daniel, recently aroused a storm by pinning the Sandinistas ' highest

of football hooliganism and sparked a storm when he called English supporters de

r US series, Witness Video, sparked a storm of protest. The NBC show 's opening

al sex MIKE TOWERS A bishop sparked a storm last night after using the F-word in

OGER TODD. Mortgage lenders sparked a storm yesterday by launching a campaign to

ter. CHOICE LAMB Allan Lamb sparked a storm with his revelations OSLEAR was vote

is years in office which will spark a storm in Westminster. In the interview, Mr

er intended for the press, provoked a storm by declaring that God was in part th

 emerge well. The article unleashed a storm about his head, the more so because

d them. Jockey Club ruling whips up a storm. Isobel Cunningham reports on the la

ional Olympic Committee, whipped up a storm when she missed the spectacular open

h sous chef Mark Jordan whipping up a storm in the kitchen. The Park Room rest

seems to have whipped up as much of a storm around its head with its plunge into

OCK Britain 's big banks stirred up a storm last night after threatening to char

r leases. The leases have brewed up a storm in Darlington as landlords say they


FIGURE 4: storm as direct object of a causative verb


The metaphorical status of ‘[[Causative]] + storm’ is reinforced to the point of virtual certainty if the subject of the verb has the semantic value [[Human]].


Here we must distinguish between possible usage and probable usage. Storm in this sense is found as the direct object of both literal and metaphorical causative verbs. The apparent mixing of metaphors in expressions such as sparked a storm, unleashed a storm, and whipped up a storm has proved no obstacle to these expressions being conventionalized as normal expressions in English.


It is entirely possible that some text—a work of science fiction perhaps—may one day be found in which a human being causes a storm of thunder, lightning, rain, and wind. However, it so happens that no such texts are found in BNC (100m. words). My former colleague Ramesh Krishnamurthy kindly checked the Birmingham–HarperCollins Bank of English, a much larger corpus of general English (450 million words). He reports that there are over 500 occurrences of ‘[[Causative]] + storm’ in the Bank of English. Over 99% of them are metaphorical storms. Only one instance (1 below) was found of an animate subject with a causative and a literal sense of storm:


1.    As the invading ships came within sight, he created a storm that drowned them all.


On resolving the anaphora, we find that ‘he’ is not in fact a person, but a deity (the Great Spirit in Ojibway legend):


Ojibway legend has it that the giant was once Nanibijou, or the Great Spirit, who lived on Mount McKay, which is today an Indian reserve. He protected his tribe, but he warned that they would perish and he would be turned into stone if the white man ever discovered their silver mine. Alas, he was betrayed, and as the invading ships came within sight, he created a storm that drowned them all. The next morning he had turned to stone and was left in the bay to guard the silver mine.


We can therefore safely conclude, I think, that the numerous occurrences of causative verbs with storm as a direct object all involve the metaphorical ‘violent disturbance’ sense of storm, not the literal sense of a disturbance in the atmosphere. However, the corresponding inchoatives make no such distinction.  If someone brews up a storm, you can be pretty sure that the storm is a metaphorical discturbance of some kind; however, if a storm is brewing up, the storm itself may equally well be literal or metaphorical, although brew is metaphorical.


5.2 'storm' + partitive 'of' = metaphorical storm


If storm is used partitively, there is a high probability that the meaning is metaphorical (Figure 5). The expression ‘a storm of something’ almost always signifies a violent disturbance in the social sense rather than an atmostpheric condition. Typical phrases are a storm of protest, a storm of controversy, a storm of  criticism. Less common are storms of positive reactions—a storm of applause, a storm of cheers. There is something slightly odd about these positive reactions, and readers familiar with William Golding’s Lord of the Flies will know that the ‘storm of laughter’ in the last line of group I.1 is not positive, but rather hostile or threatening.  A thírd group consists of storms of emotion, in particular a storm of weeping. This third set illustrates the tension between prototype and superordinate: the superordinate is ‘a storm of emotion’, but the prototype is a storm of weeping/tears. Finally, there are storms of a miscellaneous ragbag of things, both entities—locusts, feathers, stones, etc.—and events—movement, noise, sexual behaviour, etc.—in all of which the storm is metaphorical.




llowing August. This unleashed such a storm of protest, in which branches in the

en Belt land is guaranteed to raise a storm of protest. As well as supporting hi

Federation they are likely to raise a storm of protest from residents and local

 in addition to Waterloo has raised a storm of protest not only from Camden Coun

ent origin. Its growth was to cause a storm of protest in the next century from

sing insulting language. Last night a storm of protest was growing over the Gove

influence of town halls would spark a storm of protest around the country. Gover

nd ordered the flogging. Last night a storm of protest was growing over the Gove

or the winter tour of India sparked a storm of protest, warned # These people ma

sas, were forced to back down after a storm of protest from residents. Price of

oode, a former number one, provoked a storm of protest after it was played on Ra

e to Manchester United has provoked a storm of protest in Leeds, with local radi

l Kingdom in Bedfordshire following a storm of protests. Lord Howland, son of th

from ref Roger Dilkes, who provoked a storm of protest when he decided an accide

e sense be # privatised # unleashed a storm of protest in the national press. Th

  costs, but it has predictably met a storm of protest from the consumer lobbies

o the Musée d'art Américain created a storm of protest. When the matter was disc

ovoked a major political crisis and a storm of protest throughout Japan, not onl

l The abortion pill has already met a storm of protest from anti-abortion campai

n they heard what was afoot, raised a storm of protest and demanded that their r

our Party made its voice heard, and a storm of protest blew up in Parliament. In

ed at him. He could n't be serious. A storm of protest broke out. "Aw no, corp."

r US series, Witness Video, sparked a storm of protest. The NBC show 's opening

nts in Africa. And rightly there is a storm of protest aimed at saving them. But

crimination." The decision provoked a storm of protest from civil rights organiz

ed cuts in pensions on Nov. 7 after a storm of protest including marches by reti

ion was suspended on June 28, after a storm of protest. China, which had reporte

f its existence and location raised a storm of protest from Nordic governments a

n the USA, it notes, there has been a storm of protest over a government decisio

pose of BSE infected cattle, caused a storm of protest when it was built. Fears

ity was minimal. The killing caused a storm of protest and an emergency meeting

eup. When the revival was announced a storm of protest followed. The Commission

llow homes to be built has provoked a storm of protest from local people. Reside

anti-racist policy, failed to quell a storm of protest over Mr McNeill 's remark

rt. Stephan Heitmann has stirred up a storm of protest for suggesting the German

anti-union legislation. It provoked a storm of protest from politicians, unions

of Jesse Ferguson. Bowe faced another storm of protest about the quality of his

ans, but these did not prevent a huge storm of protest at the time of the introd

rds or folders make up for the likely storm of protest that inevitably follows t

werfully demonstrated recently in the storm of protest which greeted, and revers

ovoked a major political crisis and a storm of protest throughout Japan, not onl

IRS issued earlier this year caused a storm of international protest; they are w

e had entered the police station in a storm of self-righteous protest and had be

 Save The Queen, which has provoked a storm of patriotic protests, was not influ

 Aston Villa in November 1987, amid a storm of controversy, for just 150,000 pou

e National Lottery Bill has sparked a storm of controversy with charities, footb

the 13th minute. The second created a storm of controversy. Robins looked offsid

iece of literature. The book raised a storm of controversy, and two of the autho

 violence. Lord Justice Kelly faced a storm of controversy and provoked sustaine

y the BBFC last week in the wake of a storm of controversy over claims that the

gn. On June 8, however, he ran into a storm of controversy by suggesting that th

 runway has whipped up the inevitable storm of controversy among local residents

pact, and became more so as a violent storm of influential criticism burst over

ing to the crowds. Next day a violent storm of criticism and derision was let lo

ubsidies. The announcement provoked a storm of criticism and anxious residents v

   altogether excluded from the angry storm of criticism which arose from the

e in August, and has had to weather a storm of objections from shareholders and

   put it, "counting the bodies." The storm of objections seems in have set Reag

ries of Jerry Lee Lewis who blew up a storm of indignation in the 1950s, not to

establish our own diplomacy." In this storm of righteous indignation few comment

once, and Mr Appin found himself in a storm of angry questions. You must stop th

eality, it provided no warning of the storm of anger and abuse which my series o

 Throughout the 1970s, in a gathering storm of discontent, the same accusations

n Ireland toured there in 1981 amid a storm of public and governmental condemnat

eks(as it were) during which a rotary storm of collective fulmination conjures u

nts that have been obscured by a dust storm of other allegations about the audit

and added their voices to the growing storm of unrest. Labour 's John Aberdeen t

 He was the first star to weather the storm of a dope scandal, emerging unscathe

sword: Lloyd George had weathered the storm of labour unrest, and after "Black F

 for the Assembly. The same month the storm of strikes at last abated, peace was



hopping Day at the last minute amid a storm of publicity over its tuna fishing m

pocalypse Now (1979) arrived amidst a storm of publicity attracted by its long a

ivert a footpath which have aroused a storm of debate. But two Babergh District

ed Ralph, "his real name 's Piggy." A storm of laughter arose and even the tinie



rightening in itself. But to hear the storm of applause with which his BUF follo

 hole. Patrick heard the roar and the storm of applause and guessed that his cur

, a seven-year-old child is raising a storm of cheers. It 's time for revolution

ll to within five feet of the hole. A storm of cheers. Andy, smiling despite the

ry ago, in 1887, to be greeted with a storm of ecstasy or alternatively of appal



at was too deep for tears. And in the storm of emotion that threatened to overwh

 She closed her eyes, buffeted by the storm of her own emotions. Well, Shae ...

heart, and begin to bring calm to the storm of our emotions. Ask yourseld: "Am I

k onto the settee. He waited till the storm of weeping had passed. Then he went

last phase of his youth, and that his storm of weeping had swept him into manhoo

et because you will finish your small storm of weeping here and be composed befo

y in earnest, abandoning himself to a storm of weeping, sobbing against his fold

on as this activity began in Vicky, a storm of weeping # as I judged the sensati

nst the stone curls, and burst into a storm of silent weeping. Aber: May to earl

d gone, Nancy fell to the ground in a storm of tears. Meanwhile, Noah Claypole,

sp stuff: it happened in the eye of a storm of tears that the whole house must h

said, before suddenly bursting into a storm of tears. Oh, yes, I have # How coul

 her being. After a while, that first storm of angry passion seemed to dissolve,

ime, Franca contained in her breast a storm of anguish and violence so terrible

y tower that spiked into her brain. A storm of pain ripped through her like the

r four, when I exist in a bewildering storm of hope, joy, incomprehension a

ivering, the force at the centre of a storm of sensation. The intimacy with whic

his arms. His mouth covered hers in a storm of intemperate kisses and then his h

which united them almost at once in a storm of love and need as fierce as the on



n true Exorcist 2 style from within a storm of locusts. The music and lyrical id

per flapped off round the corner in a storm of feathers with the blood coming ou

anging, the Retreat demolished in the storm of stones and a new structure raised

 immediately, shedding a little, grey storm of cigarette ash. I realized, sudden

 just blows it all away in a prodigal storm of confetti and rice." She gave me t

banks of units, sucking up a whirling storm of glass and wires that whiplashed t

. All she could see before a whirling storm of foam obscured everything were att

 a blizzard of wind and sleet, like a storm of human souls. Each day, when Tod a

e could survive in the middle of that storm of blades. Then Tyrion slipped and U

 Forster were engulfed in a hammering storm of water that forced them almost to

ood still, providing a centre for the storm of his movement; sometimes the roles

 Storm Over the Nile, there is such a storm of noise in the cinema from the drun

enly of a heart attack reacted with a storm of sexual behaviour with a successio

s of comparative quiet before another storm of quick-changes and running repairs

s, parties, theatricals -- "a perfect storm of unending pleasure," wrote Count H

rs the island vanished, around it the storm of magical energy. The ritual had be

p for saints and sinners, "before the storm of the Reformation razed its holy pl

were mere frissons compared with this storm of need." How had she managed to sur


FIGURE 5: Four prototypical classes of storm as a partitive noun (highly productive)


It is possible, but not normal, to talk about ‘a storm of thunder’, ‘a storm of rain’ or ‘a storm of hail’ in English.  Only three such usages are found in BNC (Figure 6).


ere was the most awful and tremendous storm of thunder and lightning and hail I

 than the back when you run through a storm of vertically descending rain. The b

ed to "stand behind a wall out of the storm of wind and dust." The wind and the


FIGURE 6: The few literal partitive uses of storm in BNC


Storm is not the only word denoting a natural phenomenon to be used as a metaphorical partitive. Other words exhibiting similar behaviour include torrent, flood, deluge, ocean, lake, and river. All of these words denote bodies of water. It would take a full-scale lexicographical study of partitives, beyond the scope of this paper, to determine exactly how many words are used as metaphorical partitives and what semantic features they share.


6. Relationship between Metaphors, Idioms, and Literal Uses


Now we come to the relationship between metaphors, idioms, and literal uses. For this purpose, we may look at a difficult case: the idiom to take (a place) by storm. According to OED, this idiom is first recorded in the 17th century as a military term, in association with the verb to storm (a place). In those days it was a metaphorical exploitation of the atmospheric-disturbance sense of storm. But, as Taylor (1995) points out, prototypicality is recursive, i.e. an exploitation of a prototype may itself become established as a prototype. This is what happened to take by storm. The military sense of take by storm is regularly exploited in several domains: for example in sports, culture, fashion, and commerce. In each of these domains a new norm for this expression has become established, contributing to the norm for general English. Partly because it originated itself an exploitation of an older idiom, syntactic clues that distinguish the newer metaphorical extensions from the ‘literal’ military sense are quite hard to establish.  The basic pattern in all cases is:


[[Person]] take [[Location]] by storm


In cases where [[Person]] alternates with [[Artefact]] as the grammatical subject, a metaphorical  interpretation is appropriate.  Only military leaders and armies take places by storm in the military sense, but designs, works of art, and new products take places by storm in the fashion, cultural, and commercial sense. An exception would be a case in which  [[Artefact]] had the CONSTITUTIVE [[Military]], but no such case is found in BNC.


When [[Location]] is realized as world, the interpretation is likewise metaphorical. However, when the direct object denotes a city, e.g. ‘took Paris by storm’, the interpretation is genuinely ambiguous. Further textual clues are required before the meaning can be determined. The most important clue in such cases is the domain in which the text belongs: military, sport, culture, fashion, or something else. And, of course, this is the way in which readers normally proceed. The text type and domain of a document set semantic parameters as soon as a reader picks it up and even before they start reading. Further semantic parameters are established in the early sentences of a document. A corpus linguist puzzled by an unusual use of a word in a set of concordances may sometimes find the answer to the problem in the opening paragraphs of the docuemtn, where writers sometimes declare text-specific meanings. The corpus linguist’s habit of plunging in media res, focusing on small fragments in the middle of texts, is illuminating in one way but also potentially distorting in another.  The corpus linguist must bear in mind that in reality the meaning of words in a text or discourse are built up as the document proceeds. BNC’s practice of taking samples from the middle of documents is regrettable for this reason.


I MILITARY USES OF 'take by storm'


anta Ana decided to take the Alamo by storm. He succeeded, and all the resisters

illy, Captal de Buch, took Limoges by storm and ruthlessly sacked it. Its destru

    They took St-Léonard-de-Noblat by storm, massacred its inhabitants, and then

orinth, which is very hard to take by storm: its most famous capture, by Aratos

arkably reluctant to take the city by storm. Despite all the obvious practical d

  castle could not have been taken by storm up the sheer cliffs rising from the

t Poitiers and took the city gates by storm. Richard and a few followers escaped

, especially when a city was taken by storm with all the looting, killing and de

heir ships and took their position by storm (455). A remnant escaped across the

ld not be betrayed or easily taken by storm. The English feared for their lives


II SPORTING USES OF 'take by storm'


t took the motorcycle racing world by storm 40 years ago. In the 1950 Isle of Ma

f young players can take the world by storm. Unfortunately it may not be this Wo

rd who had taken the golfing world by storm to win the 1979 British Open, Seve B

is new putter would take the world by storm because it was revolutionary and, as

llaby backs have taken world rugby by storm. If mckenzie ultimately gains the ca

lic to the finals could take Italy by storm # if the isobars are favourable. Bin

n went on to take the 1st Division by storm. Jerry also earned three full Intern

he can take the Centenary Olympics by storm in his other sport, hockey. Olympic

t. GOLD STARS: Taking the Olympics by storm. RINK OUTSIDERS: D.B.Sweeney and Moi

t Andrews, the Reds take the crowd by storm with their immaculate formation rout

he can take the Centenary Olympics by storm in his other sport, hockey. Olympic

llaby backs have taken world rugby by storm. If McKenzie ultimately gains the ca


III USES OF 'take by storm' in the arts, fashion, and commerce


 at the time and he took the world by storm. The Junior Gaultier collection pres

 later they took the fashion world by storm. At the end of the first public show

n is set to take the fashion world by storm as she steps out in the latest clot

 collection took the fashion world by storm, breathing new life into the stuffy

aken the beauty and exercise world by storm. Our telephones have not stopped rin

ess, yet grew up to take the world by storm. But he was also a complex, highly s

ughing and going to take the world by storm with our painting, our films, our cr

eckons it is set to take the world by storm. The systems integration company was

of ska music (which took the world by storm in the 1950s) and then to reggae, th

 take the city 's cosy legal world by storm. And in notebook, popular at home bu

nd r20x have taken the radar world by storm, it 's time for a little more radar 

ranz Anton Mesmer first took Paris by storm with his new, bizarre technique. Mes

ion the latest novel to take Paris by storm, the politics of the Comédie Francai 

olence in LA that 's taken America by storm. Here he talks to Neil McCormick abo

down And preparing to take America by storm. Two businessmen have just completed

ok the Moo-nited States of America by storm, bringing their brand of psychedelic

w cartoon series has taken America by storm. The Ren & Stimpy Show, featuring

America, which..they hoped to take by storm. Wishart frequently saw Minton in th

as already taken the United States by storm and is now doing the same here. Cine

 when he was trying to take London by storm. Foreigners always find that a diffi

ax legs and cat litter take London by storm. Reminiscent of the peak days of Stu

ch painters, Bonington took London by storm when he first exhibited at the Brit

e show was now called, took London by storm. The street procession prior to each 

work that took 18th century London by storm with its rich mixture of ballads and

-like cheekbones have taken Europe by storm and she is currently the toast of Ne

 Gorbachev took the United Nations by storm and wrongfooted the American adminis

 War Babies. The Teds took Britain by storm. The man who can win the allegiance

nd. On her visit Diana took France by storm and she has shown the world how happ

 three years," and has taken Japan by storm, was another winner as was Ipswich, 

an faces get set to take Hollywood by storm. MICHAEL TARAT. Asians in the West a

r whose nose-rings take Manchester by storm." If you can do business each week f

d takes Bristol and the South West by storm?" Answer: the Bristol Amnesty Film W

   had taken the Vale of Aylesbury by storm. The Victorian worship of money was

who did not quite take the country by storm during the election, as predicted, h

slide technique took the audiences by storm, and Gary has extended the invite to

he Daleks "took the viewing public by storm". David Whitaker contributed every b

 British natural history community by storm is simply not true # Gale himself qu

 but she has taken the indie scene by storm by writing some starkly troubled sex

 known, has taken the French media by storm. In the past month, not a day has go

Carol took the local Theatre Royal by storm. She went on to win a host of medals

 Edinburgh and the Financial Times by storm: basic, profound, thrilling musical

pected to take the American market by storm. It had overlooked the fact, however

ns to take the open systems market by storm with a range of ready-configured,   

   in the US are taking the market by storm, with ... 15,000 to 30,000 sq ft of

re taking the hospitality industry by storm. Whether your company prefers physic

t to take the hospitality industry by storm. Lauren Sterling is director of Ster

 was supposed to take the industry by storm. But nothing really happened. This y

ducts Group to take the Unix field by storm ... and there remains the Interactiv

al buzz takes the country 's raves by storm. Europe 's top glamour model launche

. She wants to take the pop charts by storm in the multi-talented manner of her

's young men are taking the charts by storm as a string of young dance bands fro

rk discounting took food retailing by storm, creating local Danish discounters,

 at six, she takes the other rooms by storm. At about eight-thirty, headlights s

r, jewellery shops have been taken by storm. Moscow stores alone report sales of


FIGURE 7: take by storm


The military metaphor of take by storm is further exploited in a few rather complex cases where more information from the wider context (to be specific, from the preceding part of the text) is required to enable the reader to know what's going on. In such cases, pragmatic knowledge about the domain is often important: one has to know not only what kind of document one is reading but also what normally happens in that kind of document.  However, in the vast majority of uses of polysemous words, a satisfactory interpretation can be deerived from close study of the immediate context.


2.    [From a Christian religious tract about heaven] There are no gate-crashers; it can not be taken by storm. To enter the Kingdom of Heaven one has to come as a little child.


3.    [From a review of a classical music recording] The very Spanish serenader of [Debussy's] ‘La sérénade interrompue’ [as played by Cortot] takes his intended by storm rather than stealth.


4.    [From a review of a performance of Wagner's Meistersinger] Transfers are good, though not of the sort that take the unsuspecting listener by storm.


5.    [From a book about living in the English countryside] I love to be here, private, subversive and free, in friendly company, where pigs on tip-toes piss with such a haunted look, you'd swear there was something amiss, and sleep-walking cattle dump wherever they go. Hens are galleon-hulled: we take them by storm, plucking the eggs from under their bodies, bony and warm freebooters against a proud and panicky-wheeling armada.


In 5, the metaphor is complex and extended.  The writer and her friends are portrayed as taking hens' eggs from under them just as English pirates in the 17th century took Spanish gold from the galleons carrying it from central America to Spain. If one of the functions of metaphor in literature is to make the reader see the familiar world in a new way, then (for me) this is good writing. This ornate excerpt evokes a sense of enhanced recognition, in contrast to the apparently unmotivated violation of norms that characterizes the romantic fiction of Mills and Boone and other soft pornography preserved in BNC.


7. Identifying Metaphorical Uses by Collocates


Somewhat similar to partitive uses are cases in which metaphoricity is signalled by a modifier or classifying adjective. Part of the function of a classifying adjective (as opposed to a qualitative adjective) is to pick out an appropriate subset.  The prototypical classifying adjective in this case is political. Clearly, a political storm is not a natural phenomenon, whereas a tropical storm is. However, for NLP purposes, we now run into a snag. If the correct interpretation of storm is be activated, it is necessary first to distinguish between those classifying adjectives that identify kinds of storms as natural phenomena and those where the word is used metaphorically.


The set of classifying adjectives and noun modifiers that activate a metaphorical sense of storm is very large indeed: virtually unbounded, in fact. Examples found in BNC are given in Figure 8.


g up a rescue plan amid a political storm that resulted in the resignation of tw

nd became the centre of a political storm between Michael Heseltine, then Defenc

 from the government. The political storm disguised the fundamental problems fac

 another inflationary and political storm for a government that could do without

rmination to ride out the political storm surrounding its compulsory repatriatio

ncing the calm before the political storm could well be proved right. And with h

ue for mid-size bands.  A political storm has also been sparked by the closure,

who escaped the immediate political storm by heading for his holiday home at Cam

e public reaction and the political storm created, but by Pilkington 's better t

r, the government faced a political storm. It followed shortly after the Westlan

 still seemed remote. The political storm generated in 1986 by the proposals to

sked being dragged into a political storm. And he suggested she had responded wi

arges " plan</headline> A political storm erupted today over suspicions -- not d

eat on sale of islands. A political storm which had developed in September aroun

aised more than the usual political storm, and plenty of ammunition for the Oppo

                        A political storm has blown up over public grants to Ame

                <headline>Political Storm Over Public Grants to U.S. Firm which

s of any abatement of the political storm after the mysterious appearance on a P

ing himself for a furious political storm when he unveils his autumn package on

ee to weather the current financial storm. ACE Bill(above and left) with Telepro

e weathered every kind of financial storm over the centuries and have skills whi

ufacturer will weather the economic storm, while competitors that have n't been

shington. Late in 1895 a diplomatic storm blew up between Britain and America o

ave caused a religious and academic storm. They have provided a fascinating insi

nches grass, unaware of the ethical storm brewing around it. In the wake of the          

es will not only result in a social storm around both the adult and child concer

h after the period of revolutionary storm and stress. After this time they were

ved the trigger for a revolutionary storm which the regime had barely survived.

nt to step in. As yet another royal storm burst, an angry Palace aide, referring

ine>Previn slams Woody in sex abuse storm</headline> Music maestro rages at comi

 girl at the centre of a Home Alone storm should be returned to her mother when

aid. <headline>RTE in gender bender storm </headline> A ROW was raging last nigh

charged. <headline>Julia faces Cash Storm</headline> Miss World flew back to

of Rusayev. <headline>Palace in Cup Storm</headline> Des Kelly. Liverpool

iverpool ran into a Cup-Winners Cup storm. Stewart was sent off 18 minutes from

heila Ferguson cooks up a soul food storm. Soul food is all that 's best about

giant at the centre of a Government storm seven years ago, has managed to lift

    <headline>Judicial Review Legal Storm Brewing</headline> Local authorities a

SULT: Stunned Tory runs into a race storm</headline> MARK ELLIS Beauty queens br

e Premier, rocked by the Maastricht storm and last week 's sterling crisis, does

s first full cap. <headline>McKeown Storm</headline> An apology could go some wa

       <headline>Eyesore: BR office storm looms</headline> Chester City Council

me, usual outcome. Beat back a pawn storm on Queen side and eventually turned it

Sharry, despite the current protest storm over the CAP cuts. Many observers beli

 in the morning. An enormous public storm ensued -- both internally and external

attan: Airlines fly into regulatory storm</headline> By LARRY BLACK Re-regulatio

headline>Kelly hits back over trial storm</headline> Mike Walters GRAHAM KELLY,

ather the quiet and unargumentative storm. After one hundred days of world peace


FIGURE 8: metaphorical uses of storm identified as such by a modifier


So far, we have identified two specific clues for metaphoricity in the use of storm (causative verb and partitive of) and a generic clue (semantically mismatched modifiers).  We have also identified an idiomatic catchphrase, any port in a storm, and two idioms or so-called fixed phrases: a storm in a teacup and to take (a place) by storm, the latter having several levels of metaphoricity. In all these cases the syntagmatics are clear. Are there any examples of metaphorical uses of storm for which the clues are in a less clear syntagmatic relationship to the target word?  Possible cases are shown in Figure 9.



                          <headline>Storm over race killers ' sentences</headlin

            <headline>Archbishop in storm over contraception</headline>

er this week to try to sort out the storm over the Pakistanis. But he may well h

they would lead separate lives. The storm over the "Squidgy" tapes kept the pres

dan, said he is concerned about the storm surrounding his MP. Off-licence men su

hangers-on from the Civil List. The storm surrounding the Queen 's children has

ive rather than harming it. In this storm about finance, one phenomenon attracts

 the government from an approaching storm. But the military failures revealed

vent. <headline>Bann in calm before storm</headline> MEN 'S HOCKEY. An afternoon

r in August 1914, and the gathering storm in 1938-39. This too affected the soci

nails. He could sense the gathering storm in the room, and knew it was only a ma

          <headline>Pakistan in New Storm</headline> No one shall rub the ball o

ma of storm in nature, the drama of storm in life, is indeed the best # By its t

t seemed best to counter a possible storm by innocent guile. I now see the meani

 as the one rock in his own private storm. From that day, early in the October

 happy words which quell the rising storm # wrote one of them. His gentle wit wa

ivate sectors, Cuckney rode out the storm calmly. Once the Prime Minister had de

 away, Cullam, explain it away. The storm 's blowing over and you 've nothing to

ey watches the champion weather the storm with a mixture of shots to mount a spi

er drew its horns in to weather the storm and re-opened under a new charter as t

a record victory. In the eye of the storm, England prop Jason Leonard gets to gr

of a new product. We are riding the storm at the moment but things are getting w

penalty area. Norwich weathered the storm after the break and looked likelier wi

donna likes being in the eye of the storm but this time she was safely tucked aw

ater. Then came the lull before the storm. From the mid-50s, things were never t

r his departing figure, a turbulent storm gathering momentum in her green eyes.

irachs 's sculptures for the cathedral have placed him at the centre of a storm.


FIGURE 9: metaphorical uses of storm identified by collocates


In fact, each of these metaphorical uses can be identified by a particular collocate, though in these cases the relevant collocate is not always in a structured relation to the target word. The first six lines are uses in which storm governs a preposition, so they could be seen as variations on the partitive theme ‘storm of something’, but of course it would be quite wrong to say  that storm governing any preposition is a signal of metaphoricity.  For this reason, in such cases much more weight has to be placed on the semantic value of the noun phrase governed by the preposition.


In a few cases it is helpful or even necessary to import knowledge from outside the immediate context to make a correct interpretation, as we have already noted.  So, for example, it is necessary to know what happened in European history in August 1914 and again in 1938-39 to interpret the tenth line of this concordance satisfactorily. It is possible, but exceedingly improbable, that the writer is talking about rain storms or thunder storms in those years, and of course the wider context confirms this to the point of certainty.


8. Conclusions


By implication or explicitly, this paper has made the following points:


·        Idioms are phrases where the meaning is more than the sum of the parts.


·        Idioms are conventional phrases in which at least one word is used metaphorically.


·        When a word is used metaphorically, its meaning is less than the meaning of the word used literally. Alternate qualia explicitly present in metaphorical uses such as a storm of protest override the literal qualia of the word per se.


·        Idioms are norms, and to this extent they are like single words: each idiom is associated with a set of prototypical patterns of usage.


·        Because idioms and conventionalized metaphors are themselves norms,  they can be exploited.


·        Metaphors are distinguished from literal meanings by their collocations, typically but not always in a syntagmatic relationship.


·        Metaphoricity is a gradable. Some metaphors are more metaphoric than others.


·        In addition to semantic criteria for identifying idioms and metaphors, prototypical syntagmatic criteria for idiomaticity and metaphoricity can also be identified.


·        This task can be carried out effectively by systematic classification of observed uses as either norms or exploitations in a procedure called corpus pattern analysis (CPA).


·        Prototypicality is recursive.  Exploitations of prototypical patterns become conventionalized as idioms or conventional metaphors, and are then themselves available as prototypes for exploitation.


·        People’s ability to produce and recognize meaningful utterances is based on statistical approximations to a prototype, not on the certainties of a set of necessary conditions.


·        If we’re doing this right, CPA norms and Framenet’s semantic frames should ultimately be compatible, no doubt with some minor adjustments.


·        This task can be carried out effectively by systematic classification of observed uses as either norms or exploitations in a procedure known as corpus pattern analysis (CPA).


·        If we’re doing this right, CPA norms and Framenet’s semantic frames should in the end be compatible, with some minor adjustments.





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