It is no coincidence that we describe the “pain” of loneliness or the “agony” of rejected romantic feelings. Paper cuts can be “excruciatingly painful”, but so can watching the social mishaps of Basil Fawlty or David Brent. Personal criticism can be “stinging”.
The book The Patient’s Brain outlines the evidence that later evolutionary traits such as social cognition and language appear to have grafted themselves onto the ancient brain functions that alerted us to external threats or bodily damage.
Words are neurological events. They are meaning-laden puffs of air that our brain transforms into knowledge, opinions, emotions or danger signals.
Shakespeare, perhaps the greatest wordsmith of all time, frequently used bodily sensations including sensitivity to pain as metaphors. If you’ve ever complained about the “bitter cold”, called an ugly sight an “eyesore” or felt it “sharper than a serpent’s tooth … to have a thankless child” you might know what I mean.