The data collected on the tapes reveal that the main type of connotative signified in discourse circuits is metaphorical. In their widely-known
1980 work, Lakoff and Johnson, call such signifieds conceptual metaphors. For example,
the expression "The professor is a snake" is really a token of something more general, namely,
people are animals. This is why we say that John or Mary or
whoever is a snake, gorilla, pig, puppy, and so on. Each specific metaphor ("John is a
gorilla," "Mary is a snake," etc.) is not an isolated example of poetic fancy. It is really a
manifestation of a more general metaphorical idea __ people are
animals. Such formulas are what Lakoff and Johnson call conceptual
The following brief stretch of conversation between two students (captured on one of the
tapes) shows how this metaphorical signified shaped the pathways of one of the circuits of their
Student 1: You know, that
prof is a real snake.
Student 2: Ya, I know, hes a
real slippery guy.
Student 1: He somehow always knows how to
slide around a tough thing.
Student 2: Keep away from his
courses; he bites!