Legal Opinion Letter as Poetry. Really.

Hard to believe but maybe, in fact, true. I happened on this link over at the Legal Writing Profs Blog and followed it to the New York Times Opinion pages to find an analysis of literary devices inconspicuously hanging out in our everyday writing. David Brooks considers our extensive of metaphors in our communications, noting that we communicators drop a metaphor every 10 to 25 words.

Equally interesting are the types of metaphors we use for different subject matter. Brooks reveals the pairings described by researchers George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, e.g.: food metaphors for ideas; health metaphors for relationships; war metaphors for arguments; money metaphors for time; and, liquid metaphors for money (hit the jump above for the examples).

Brooks opines that metaphorical thinking obscures our perception and  understanding of reality by fitting our communication with lenses that alter the view. Pop quiz: how many metaphors did I bury in that sentence? (Answer: at least four and maybe five if you are being generous). In essence, Brooks equates metaphorical thinking with lazy thinking.

I am not convinced this “pedestrian poetry” is all wrong. As a writer, I seek to invoke visuals as well as impart concepts. Metaphors are an effective means of doing so. For creative writing, I consciously use  unusual metaphors to force a new concept or pairing. For business writing, I am more conservative but still use them to encourage a visceral response to my attempted persuasion. Go back and read a brief you crafted or an opinion letter you drafted and count how many metaphors you used. Then ask yourself: did those metaphors promote or obscure my intentions? Was the net result my design or wide of the mark? As long as you understand your message and feel your words convey that message, then all is well.

Metaphors are an important communications tool and even tie our present thinking to historical understandings, as explained by Brooks in his piece. Even unintended metaphors may subconsciously serve to italicize your point. As long as you are aware of their import, what is the harm in lighting your pen on fire with a few poetic devices? Metaphorically speaking, of course. 🙂


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