For example, work is completely abstract but we talk about workflows, which is something pertaining to fluids. Why does this happen?

  • 10
    I'm assuming you want a longer answer than "metaphor"?
    – Draconis
    Sep 25 '20 at 2:57
  • Why does that metaphor work but "intelligence flow" sounds like a really bad scifi plot device? Metaphor is part of lexical semantics, right? Sep 25 '20 at 4:15
  • 4
    Semantics certainly, though not exclusively lexical (iirc; semantics isn't my forte). Have you already read Lakoff and Johnson's classic "Metaphors We Live By"? Some parts of it are rather outdated/superseded now but it's still a classic for a reason.
    – Draconis
    Sep 25 '20 at 4:40
  • 5
    Work is a process; it has progression. Intelligence doesn’t. There are lots of processes that can be metaphorically described as ‘moving’ (though of course they don’t move anywhere), and if it goes well, it ‘moves’ like water does, by ‘flowing’. A text can flow, too, as can thoughts, speech, traffic, etc. Even concepts that have no logical progression (like intelligence or feelings) can be described as flowing, though that’s a more explicit metaphor (“he felt hatred flow through him”). Sep 25 '20 at 6:32
  • 1
    Basically, anything continuous (i.e, involving real numbers and not just integers) can be described by a movement metaphor. And work is hardly an abstraction, unless you're talking about vector fields, in which case the fluid metaphors are pretty obvious. After all, Maxwell's equations derive from the dynamics of a conserved fluid.
    – jlawler
    Sep 27 '20 at 1:40

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