Audience perceptions of COVID-19 metaphors: The role of source domain and country context

Britta C. Brugman*, Ellen Droog, W. Gudrun Reijnierse, Saskia Leymann, Giulia Frezza, Kiki Y. Renardel de Lavalette

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Metaphors abound in descriptions of the COVID-19 pandemic: it is described, among other things, as a war, a flood, and a marathon. However, not all metaphors may resonate equally well with members of the public. Given that the pandemic has impacted people’s lives across countries in divergent ways–both in terms of spread and in terms of government-imposed measures, we investigated whether audience perceptions of metaphors for the COVID-19 pandemic depend on source domain and country context. This mixed-design study examined how individuals across three European countries (Germany, Italy, and The Netherlands) perceived different COVID-19 metaphorical frames. Participants (N = 216) were randomly exposed to nine metaphorical frames and one literal-language frame and asked to express their perceptions in terms of liking, aptness, complexity, conventionality, and credibility. Results showed that audience perceptions of metaphorical descriptions of the COVID-19 pandemic differed between source domains and country contexts, but mostly in terms of aptness. These findings suggest that experience with the target domain may indeed be relevant for metaphor perceptions and highlight the importance of studying metaphor appreciation as a multifaceted phenomenon. Findings may also inform metaphor choice by governments, journalists, and other actors to describe this novel situation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)101-113
Number of pages13
JournalMetaphor and Symbol
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Dutch Research Council (NWO) [276-45-005]; Horizon 2020 [845119]. We would like to thank Bernie Janssen for the inspiration for this study.

Funding Information:
The contribution of Britta Brugman and Ellen Droog was supported by the Dutch Research Council (NWO), Vidi grant 276-45-005. Giulia Frezza’s project MeNND “Metaphorical Narratives in Dementia Discourse” has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme, under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No 845119.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s). Published with license by Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.


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