5 Popular Figures of Speech That Have Creepy Hidden Meanings
Metaphors are a video game character, and your brain is the player. That right there is a terrible metaphor, and we sincerely apologize. What we were trying to say before we huffed all of this Russian spray paint is that human beings use metaphors to interact with and understand the world around us. If you ever dismiss the importance of metaphors -- they're mere figures of speech, literary devices nowhere near as cool as metaphives -- consider that ...
Our Concept of Good and Bad Is as Simple as Black and White (or Up and Down)
When we're in company too polite to employ the term "utterly gang-fucked," we often relay how good or bad something is in turns of elevation. The stock market is at an all-time high, you're feeling low, etc. Similarly, we use light and dark to represent good and evil. It's basically the go-to way of illustrating a character's alignment in pop culture -- if you're creating a villain or an anti-hero, dress that sucker in black and name him something like "Ruth Bader" and you're all set.
Grym Vyson is neither the hero we want nor the one we need.
This whole "up good, down bad" connection goes far beyond the words we use. Apparently, there's a wire somewhere between our eyeballs and our brains that takes this conceptual ladder and applies it to our actual judgment. Studies have shown that it's easier for people to recognize positive words if they're presented at the top of a computer screen as opposed to the bottom, and vice versa for negative words -- implying that we visualize their goodness in terms of their tangible elevation.
To see this in action, note the page location of most comments sections.
Crazier still is that negative emotions tend to drive our physical attention lower, which may explain that Charlie Brown stare-at-your-shoes mope-shuffle. And perhaps craziest of all, displaying a person's photo slightly higher than another's tends to make people identify that person as more religious, simply because his or her photo is displayed in slightly closer proximity to the Big Guy himself. Speaking of the Big Guy, there's a reason Renaissance painters depicted him up in the clouds firing beams of holy light from every orifice. That "light = good" connection is so hardwired into our brains that putting test subjects in a well-lit room made them more willing to donate money to charity than other test subjects, whom the researchers presumably locked in a dank basement.
Guilt Makes You Feel Physically Heavier
Guilt is a heavy emotion, and it really weighs on your mind. Why, just carrying around the psychic burden of what you did to Gary from Accounting's favorite coffee mug makes you feel ten pounds heavier. Every time he sips from that thing, you remember exactly where you stuffed it in that Tequila fugue last night, and it's really bringing you down.
Every needlessly prolonged "Mmmmmm" is both a pang of shame and a reminder of why you did it in the first place.
In a study at Princeton University, a group of participants were asked to sit and stew in a pool of their own personal wretchedness, while other groups were asked to instead ruminate on unethical acts performed by others, examples of their own inherent goodness, or nothing at all. Then, everyone guessed his or her current weight.
Wow, this is sounds like a really shitty carnival game, Science.
A barker yelling, "Step right up and contemplate man's inhumanity to man" would certainly class up the midway.
Those who'd wallowed in their own remorse reported feeling heavier. Guilt actually felt like it had a physical weight. Interestingly, this phenomenon seems to be unique to guilt -- other negative emotions, such as sadness or disgust, don't seem to induce the heavy feeling. So there you go; if you ever want to feel sexy and skinny, try being a totally remorseless psychopath.
Observing the Distance Between Random Objects Affects How Much You Care About Someone
Your significant other bought you a full-scale statue of Robocop, and now you've never felt closer to them. You and your BFF bonded after covering up your mutual embezzlement from the Orange Julius -- yep, you two are really tight these days. Or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, if your boyfriend's been acting distant as of late, that could be a strong indicator that it's time to assess the olfactory state of his genitals.
"Breakfast burrito!?! You son of bitch!"
Of course, physical and emotional distance are different concepts. Feeling close to someone doesn't always imply that you're standing within dick-smellin' range. Sure, physical contact is an important part of any normal human relationship, and being away from someone for an extended period of time might in turn result in drifting away from them emotionally. But simply looking at an entirely irrelevant distance between point A and point B while thinking about someone couldn't possibly affect how we feel about that person, right? There's no way we're so stupid of an animal as to think that because something is farther away from us, it's somehow less-
God damn it. We are, aren't we?
All that and more.
Yep. Researchers at Yale had study participants plot a series of points on a graph to prime them for thoughts of either closeness or distance, and they found that looking at some dots could make participants feel less empathetic to fictional characters, less upset by violence, and even less attached to their family members. Let's say that one more time: Looking at some dots on a piece of paper that were far away from each other made people report that they gave less of a shit about people to whom they had literally spent their entire lives forming emotional connections. And that's why playing connect the dots together is the single most romantic activity you can possibly engage in. Don't argue. It's science.
Physical Warmth Sparks Emotional Warmth
You like to surround yourself with warm people, because they're most likely to forgive your many, many transgressions, both past and planned. Not like those bastards at the Department of Homeland Security. You've made like a million sandwiches in your lifetime, but do they call you the sandwich maker? Of course not. But you commit one war crime and suddenly you're "a war criminal." Those cold-hearted bureaucrats can't let one measly fighter jet slide?
"Technically, my tax dollars paid for this, assholes."
It should come as no real surprise, then, that studies have also shown that holding something cold makes you feel lonely. Another study found that the simple act of holding a hot pad was enough to make participants display increased levels of generosity towards their friends. But that's not all. It also appears that when you're holding something warm (like, say, a cup of coffee) you perceive other people as being more generous and caring too, which could spell potential problems for our ability to accurately judge others in a society where 99 percent of cubicle workers have a coffee mug surgically grafted onto their hand.
Slowly blinding themselves to future treachery in a sea of Sumatra.
So is it just a coincidence that murder rates have gone down while coffee sales have gone up?
But feel free to use that argument in your commercials, Starbucks. Quote us as your source; everybody will take you super seriously.
Textures Dictate Your Assessment of Other People
Your hangover is rough -- it feels like your gray matter is being dragged beneath a Buick with shitty suspension down a patch of unpaved road. And your boss is such a hard-ass -- he won't shut up about somebody puking in the paper tray. Luckily, Gary from Accounting is a soft touch -- a little sob story about chemo or something, and he'll happily take the fall for you.
"Upon reflection, I'm beginning to think I might not be suited to office life."
When study participants were asked to complete a puzzle that was either rough or smooth, and then listen to two people having a conversation, the former group found the conversation to be more uncoordinated and harsh -- rougher, so to speak. Which is an interesting effect, but who the hell does puzzles anymore? So researchers conducted a subsequent study in which people haggled over the price of a car while sitting on chairs that were either hard or soft. Not only did the people on the hard chairs see their opponents as more stable, but they were also less flexible in their negotiations. If you walk into a car dealership and they have nice, comfy chairs for the customers, you're going to need them, because you're about to get reamed.
"Since this car comes with a new tailpipe, hopefully you won't mind me annihilating your current one."
Somebody hands you a clipboard full of resumes, and asks you to judge the first candidate objectively. Finally, a moderate amount of power with which to go mad! You plan to do your evaluations based solely on how stupid you think their name sounds -- a really objective assessment. And yet the weight of that clipboard might throw your careful decision making process into total disarray. Researchers found that people who were handed heavier clipboards tended to rate their candidates as both more qualified and more serious about obtaining the position, as opposed to those handed the same resume on a lighter clipboard.
"I chiseled mine on a discount tombstone. They made me CEO."
Having trouble finding a job in this economy? Just tape your resume to a brick and chuck it through your potential employer's window. Tell 'em Science sent you.
For more ways we don't understand our own language, check out 5 Words That Used to Mean the Exact Opposite and 6 Everyday Words With Disturbing Alternate Meanings.
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