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Jensen, Robin E.

Spring 2015, 45:1, pages 25-46

From Barren to Sterile: The Evolution of a Mixed Metaphor

Abstract: Recent scholarship has called for the study of mixed metaphors wherein two or more phrases (i.e., vehicles) are enlisted to describe a single underlying idea (i.e., tenor). In this essay, I delineate the rhetorical predecessors of (in)fertility, a term that constitutes both a metaphor in and of itself and a tenor that has been explained in terms of mixed metaphorical discourses of the past. Through an initial analysis of the evolution of reproductive metaphors in texts spanning the mid-seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries, and then a follow-up analysis of those metaphors as they mixed together in early twentieth-century discourses, I illustrate how the interaction of a mixed metaphor’s distinct vehicles is dependent on those metaphors’ historical uses. My findings are considered in terms of their implications for positioning individual women—both in the past and more recently—as more or less at-fault for their lack of children.

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