Researchers in the US have been developing software which can track a metaphor to its lair, tag it, and then follow it in its natural habitat for the rest of its life.
Dubbed the Autonomous Dynamic Analysis of Metaphor and Analogy, or ADAMA, the researchers want to build a software system that can automatically analyse metaphorical speech in five different languages.
The US Army Research Laboratory is analysing a mountain of online data thanks to a $1.4 million contract to the team conducting the research.
The research has a shadow side. It has been financed by the US Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA).
The cunning plan is to build a repository of speech metaphors from American/English Iranian Farsi, Mexican Spanish and Russian speakers.
The software could be used in forensics, intelligence analysis, business intelligence, sociological research and communication studies.
In an IARPA statement, the team said that metaphors have been known since Aristotle as poetic or rhetorical devices that are unique, creative instances of language artistry.
Over the last 30 years, metaphors have been shown to be pervasive in everyday language and reveal how people in a culture define and understand the world around them, IARPA says.
Shlomo Argamon, an associate professor of Computer Science with the Illinois Institute of Technology who is heading up the research team, said that one of the goals of the programme is to get at the deeper meanings found in metaphoric and figurative language.
This means that you can understand messages and intentions of people from communities all over the world.
It might make it possible for people to understand a football commentator rather than think that they know what they are trying to say.
It will help us understand other cultures too. A shark in the UK is someone who is trying to pick up someone in a bar [No it isn't, Ed. We have pubs in the UK, not bars]. In Iran it means a smooth-skinned, effeminate, and weak person.