An analysis of AIDS-related metaphors used in popular periodicals

The use of AIDS metaphors in AIDS articles from popular American periodicals is compared and contrasted. Articles from periodicals listed under the AIDS subject headings in the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature for January to March, 1983 are compared with articles for January to March, 1993. Analysis of AIDS Metaphors is divided into categories of crime, death, entity, otherness, plague, sin, war, and those not applicable to the first seven. The thesis hypothesis is that the number of AIDS metaphors per 1000 words is significantly lower in the 1993 articles than in the 1983 articles. Analysis does not support the hypothesis; the null hypothesis is not disproved. In fact, the metaphor rate for the 1993 articles is the same as the rate for the 1983 articles: ten AIDS metaphors per 1000 words written. x Further analysis of the types of AIDS metaphors used is conducted and differences between the 1983 and the 1993 articles are discussed. Of particular note is the high prevalence of AIDS crime metaphors in the 1983 articles, and their subsequent decline in the 1993 articles, and the increase in use of AIDS war metaphors and AIDS personification metaphors in the 1993 articles compared to the 1983 articles. These changes in AIDS metaphor usage appear to reflect changing perceptions about the disease. Specifically, there seems less fear as might be expressed in metaphorical terms of death, plague, or AIDS as a punishment. There also appears to be an expansion in the understanding of AIDS through more neutral personification metaphors and more acceptance of HIV disease as one of many illnesses that are part of human life. However, the continued prevalence of AIDS metaphors and the increase in frequency of war metaphors portends misapplication of metaphorical concepts in society's approach to the disease. It is important, especially for health professionals, to be aware of how metaphorical language regarding a disease like AIDS can reveal concepts and misconceptions about the disease. Further, these metaphorically-based concepts must be closely monitored because their use in policy and treatment decisions may affect individual liberties.