Relevance theory and metaphor: An analysis of Tom Waits’ ‘Emotional Weather Report’

Hazel Price, Jack Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


‘Emotional Weather Report’ is a song by Tom Waits from his 1975 album, Nighthawks at the Diner. ‘Nighthawk’ is a US colloquial term popularised by its use as the title of Edward Hopper’s 1942 painting ‘Nighthawks’, which depicts a nocturnal scene in a New York diner. The term is used to describe people who habitually seek entertainment or companionship in the night-time hours. Waits refers implicitly to Hopper’s work throughout the song, using metaphorical language to present a first-person account of the emotional state of a nighthawk by drawing on the weather report format. Waits’ language relies on the listener’s specific geographical, meteorological and cultural knowledge to understand his communicative intention. The song prompts the listener to bring different levels of encyclopaedic knowledge to an interpretation, and affords differing levels of understanding without distorting the extended metaphor of ‘weather is Waits’ emotions’. This article explores the advantages of a relevance theoretic approach to the stylistic analysis of lyrics. We discuss how the figurative language in Waits’ lyrics is foregrounded by the listener’s schematic/encyclopaedic knowledge of Waits’ history as a performer, of meteorological phenomena and of American culture. We argue that a comprehensive stylistic analysis of a song necessitates a consideration of numerous factors in addition to linguistic choice, including the presentation of the performer, the genre of music and the performer’s history. Such a consideration is paramount to (a) successful metaphorical mapping for the listener, (b) a full analysis of the text as a cultural artefact for the critic, and (c) the achievement of a cohesive and distinct style for the performer.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-81
Number of pages21
JournalLanguage and Literature
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019


Dive into the research topics of 'Relevance theory and metaphor: An analysis of Tom Waits’ ‘Emotional Weather Report’'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this