In the summer of 2019, Norwegian national newspapers shared the exciting news that Norway would soon become home to the world’s largest sperm cell: a polished steel sculpture standing 11.5 meters tall, to be situated alongside the E6 national highway in the agricultural municipality of Stange. Read here, for example (in Norwegian).
The statue, as later explained by the local mayor, “will symbolize something the community can brag about” — more specifically, “agricultural resources and the export of bull semen.” (Yes, you read that last bit correctly! Check this out for more info.)
This interpretation places the sculpture squarely in the domain figurative thinking – not just metaphor, but also metonymy.
Choosing a sperm cell to represent to the fertility of agricultural resources involves metaphor, a comparison between two different semantic domains. In this case, the mayor compares the domain of living creatures with that of landscape and vegetation: we can understand fertility of the land in terms of fertility of animals.
That the same sperm cell may also represent bull semen, by contrast, involves metonymy: a ‘stand-for’ relationship within a single semantic domain. One sperm cell represents all bull sperm cells produced in the municipality.
Stange’s sperm cell sculpture again made Norwegian national news in February 2020, when it became known that the Norwegian Public Roads Administration had denied the municipality permission to set up the sculpture in a commuters’ parking lot next to the national highway running through Stange. Read here (also in Norwegian).
Administration officials believed – perhaps not without reason – that the sight of an enormous, shining sperm cell might prompt curious drivers to pull over for a closer look. The parking lot was not designed for that type traffic, and no expansion was planned. So Stange officials will have to look elsewhere for a setting for their sculpture.
Conclusions to be drawn from all this?
Metaphor is all around us, as is metonymy.
Except for in commuter parking lots in Stange, Norway.