Posted by: timiracobbs | June 5, 2017

A Metaphor Analysis of Roller Coaster Loops

As encouraged by exercise 10.1.2, I have chosen to conduct a metaphor analysis. 

Reading through some recent essays written by Third Culture Kids on, I noticed a frequent use of metaphors to visualize and explain particular experiences unique to the Third Culture Kid experience.

For the sake of context, Third Culture Kids (TCKs) are the sons and daughters of people whose careers require them to live in other cultures, such as foreign diplomats, international school teachers, missionaries, military members, etc. Their unique blend of cultures and experiences is often difficult to explain, so metaphors can come in handy. According to Lakoff and Johnson (1980), the very essence of a metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another (p. 5).

While reading through various essays, I noticed a TCK would tell a story that the reader can more easily relate to. One of those abstract TCK experiences is when they return to their passport country. The following story metaphor was not found by sorting through coded, isolated lexical units in an Excel spreadsheet. Instead, it was woven throughout the discourse (or article) and required an overall contextual understanding of the text. 

The author described her life as a “roller-coaster of emotions” and noted later that “when you throw in moving across oceans, it takes a few extra loops. One of its loops is returning ‘home’”. While “life is a roller coaster” may seem like a common metaphor, the author has actually made a complex, nuanced description of her experience. This metaphor is a mapping of knowledge about emotions to corresponding knowledge about thrill rides. According to Lakoff (1992), these types of correspondences allow the TCK to convey their emotions about returning home using the knowledge commonly known about thrill rides.


  • The TCK →  someone on a thrill ride
  • Life → a roller coaster
  • Emotions → the change in pace and orientation of the ride
  • Moving between continents → taking extra loops
  • Returning home → one loop

With this metaphor, not only does the author activate the reader’s roller-coaster schema, but also keeps it in a heightened state of activation by continuing the metaphor and relating each loop to a cross-continental move. For readers who have experienced riding the loops on a roller coaster, or are familiar with the height and speed at which they take place, there is arguably a partial simulation of some progression of fear, excitement, disorientation, perhaps one’s stomach dropping, perhaps one’s breath catching, or exhilaration. By referencing “extra loops,” one might partially simulate the effect of moving across oceans as being in a state of disorientation. This could be interpreted as exhilarating, dizzying, or perhaps frightening. In this way, the perceptual simulation that is activated by a metaphorical vehicle like “roller coaster” effectively nuances the author’s description of moving across oceans and returning “home”; something that may have otherwise been impossible to describe.  

This and other metaphors found in the essays on uncover some interesting implications about the TCK identity. Story metaphors like the “roller coaster ride” reveal the complex and ambiguous nature of returning home to one’s passport country. Without the use of story metaphors, it could be significantly more difficult, if not impossible, to relate this idea to someone unfamiliar with the TCK experience.

Without qualitative research, metaphors and insights like these would go unnoticed and unexplored.


Denizen for third culture kids. (n.d.). Denizen. Retrieved December 3, 2013, from

Lakoff, G. (1992). The contemporary theory of metaphor. Metaphor and Thought (2nd edition), Cambridge University Press.

Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors we live by. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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