The Top Story! – Metaphors of Top and Bottom

We have many metaphors derived from our spatial perceptions of height and comparisons between the top and bottom positions of objects. Normally, people or things at the top are more important or powerful than things at the bottom. For example, in many news broadcasts, the announcers will speak of the top story, meaning the most important story of the day.  In contrast, people or things that are low or on the bottom have low status or low importance.  Here are a few examples of top and bottom metaphors.

Space Needle in Seattle, WA

people at the top

As with the idea of the leaders of an organization being high in the chain of command, we may also say that these leaders are the people at the top. 

Example:  In the U.S. government, the people at the top are the president and vice president, along with the Senate majority leader and the Speaker of the House.

top of the heap

A heap is a tall pile or hill of many items mixed together.  In yet another height metaphor, the people in leadership roles in an organization may be referred to as being at the top of the heap.

Example:  When a candidate wins an election, quite often the campaign staff members who helped the candidate win move into the top of the heap in the candidate’s new government.

top tier

A tier is a horizontal part of a stadium, theater or any tall building.  Metaphorically, any group of people can be described in terms of tiers such as political parties, business organizations or tax groups. The top tier of any organization is the group of the most powerful or important people.

Example:  Democrats tend to think that the top tier of income earners in the country should be heavily taxed to provide necessary income to the government, while the Republicans believe the top earners should be given tax breaks so that they can expand their businesses and create more jobs.

top drawer

Cabinets and office desks contain a variety of drawers.  Traditionally, the most important information, files or documents are placed in the top drawer.  Metaphorically, important or very talented persons are sometimes referred to as being top-drawer individuals.

Example:  Whenever there is a crisis, a good leader should consult with all the top-drawer advisors working in the government at that time.

top someone

To reach the top of a mountain is a great achievement.  To achieve more than someone else in a similar situation can be called topping someone. 

Example:  In the 2012 election, Barack Obama topped Mitt Romney to win the presidency of the United States.

over the top

To say something is over the top is to say that it is too extreme for a certain situation.

Example:  When Wall Street investment firms gave some of their employees million-dollar bonuses the same year that the economy was collapsing, many critics said their spending was over the top.


rock bottom

As with the concepts of top, we have metaphors of being at the bottom of something.  One way to describe being at the lowest point is to say we have hit rock bottom, as if we have sunk to the bottom of a lake.

Example:  President Obama’s popularity seemed to hit rock bottom when the Democrats lost so many elections during the 2010 midterm elections.

blog - height - bottom of well

low on the scale/lower down the scale

The word low describes the position of being towards the bottom of a place.  A scale is a tool for measuring the weight or height of something.  Metaphorically, being on the low end of a scale means that the person or thing has a lower value, such as lower income, or does not have much importance relative to other items measured on the same scale.

Example:  Tax cuts often help wealthy Americans, but they do not always help those people lower down the scale.

low profile

A profile is a side view of a person. Contrary to a high profile, a low profile indicates lack of visibility or importance in a certain situation.

Example:  After stepping down as president in 2009, George W. Bush kept a low profile until he released his book Decision Points in late 2010.

low moment

A low moment is a time when someone or group of people is unsuccessful, defeated or emotionally depressed.

Example:  The low moment for George W. Bush’s presidency was when we were attacked by terrorists on September 11, 2001.

Next time:  Flip that House!