Military Framing of Health Threats: The COVID-19 Disease as a Case Study

Sami Chatti[1] 

[1]  University of


Military metaphors matter. In war as in peace, the language of warfare serves communicative purposes for it appeals to fear to persuade or dissuade. Given the analogy between the experience of disease and the enterprise of war, public health communication has often been receptive to the use of military jargon and war-related metaphors. The global outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic earlier this year evidenced the role and value of the warfare metaphor in framing the understanding of the novel infectious disease and informing pandemic response plans to this unprecedented and multifaceted crisis. The versatile function of the warfare metaphor poses, however, more problems than it solves. The paper explores the multiple correspondences between the source domain of war and the target domain of disease to explain the merits and limits of the warfare framing of the COVID-19 disease. It offers also an analysis of the collocational properties of the ‘coronavirus’ and ‘COVID-19’ lexemes to show the visceral relationship between treating diseases and waging wars. The fear-driven implications of such conceptual link motivate the use of alternative, hope-oriented metaphors to reframe the COVID-19 disease.     

Keywords: War metaphor; Conceptual framing; Health communication; Covid-19


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