The literature provides diverging perspectives on the universality and stability of economic metaphors over time. This article contains a diachronic analysis of economic metaphors describing trade in a corpus of 225 years of US State of the Union addresses (1790–2014). We focused on two types of change: (i) replacement of a source domain by another domain and (ii) change in mapping within a source domain. In our corpus, five source domains of trade were predominant: (i) PhysicalObject, (ii) Building, (iii) Container, (iv) Journey, and (v) LivingBeing. Only the relative frequency of the Container source domain was related to time. Additionally, mappings between source and target domains were mostly stable. Nevertheless, our analyses suggest that the Trade metaphors in our corpus are related to concreteness in a more nuanced way as typically assumed in conceptual metaphor theory: metaphors high in the concreteness dimension of physicality and low in the concreteness dimension of specificity are likeliest to be used over longer time periods, by providing communicators with freedom to adjust the metaphor to changing societal circumstances.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. For commercial re-use, please contact [email protected]