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Can the word petri dish be used as a metaphor in a non-scientific context?

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Yes. You just did. – Mark Beadles May 1 '12 at 2:06
Note that it is Petri dish (with a capital P). It's named after a bacteriologist. – JLG May 1 '12 at 2:25
@JLG: NOAD has it lower-case. – Callithumpian May 1 '12 at 3:34
@Callithumpian. Ok. But in Dorland's Medical Dictionary and Saunders Comprehensive Veterinary Dictionary it is still a cap P. – JLG May 1 '12 at 3:42
@Mark No OP didn't use it metaphorically. – Kris May 1 '12 at 11:14
up vote 7 down vote accepted

Yes, it can!

The city was a petri dish for crime.

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Of course petri dish can be used as a metaphor. I think what you meant to ask was Is petri dish used as a metaphor in non-scientific contexts? And the answer is: yes.

Here's an example from The Economist, April 2011:

This grim scenario, however, was only averted by a deal that treated [Washington] DC as a sort of petri dish for House Republicans’ social experiment.

I.e. a petri dish is a place where (or upon which) experiments are conducted.

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It's where microbes grow, not quite where you 'conduct experiments.' – Kris May 1 '12 at 11:18
@Kris That's the literal meaning, but I was talking about the metaphorical meaning. – Pitarou Jun 16 '12 at 1:08

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