Is the Social Unrest like COVID-19 or Is COVID-19 like the Social Unrest? A Case Study of Source-target Reversibility

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Hong Kong is undergoing two overlapping crises: social unrest over anti-government protests, and COVID-19. The media has linked these events in both objective and subjective ways. While some liken the social unrest to COVID-19, others do the opposite. This is an intriguing real-world instance of source-target reversibility with interchangeable source and target resulting in two apt variants. This paper reports a survey study of the links between crisis perceptions and the aptness of metaphor variants. Participants (N = 93) rated 30 matched items on the effects of both crises on trust in governance, interpersonal relations, the economy, physical/mental health, and Hong Kong’s future. This determined, for each participant, a correlation coefficient reflecting perceived structural similarity, and absolute/raw difference scores reflecting perceived substantive similarity of the crises. They then explained which (or neither) of two constructed headlines depicting the SOCIAL UNREST as COVID-19 or COVID-19 as the SOCIAL UNRESTwas more apt. Logistic regression analyses showed that i) metaphor aptness was predictable from structural but not substantive similarity, and ii) the worse crisis was preferred as source domain, but only for its more experientially concrete aspects. The study exemplifies socio-culturally situated’ theoretical investigation and how metaphor research can shed light on crisis perceptions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)99-115
Number of pages17
JournalMetaphor and Symbol
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Communication
  • Linguistics and Language


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