Monthly Archives: June 2014

Metaphors of Love and Romance

I can’t let the month of June pass without mentioning political metaphors derived from experiences with love and romance.   Traditionally, more people get married in June than in any other month.  We are all familiar with experiences of being romantic, i.e., behavior between boyfriends and girlfriends or husbands and wives. These experiences have inspired a small set of conceptual metaphors based on notions of romance.

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Being Romantic

cozy relations, cozy up to

The adjective cozy means to be very friendly or close to someone.  Metaphorically, a person or organization can also be cozy with other organizations.  This relationship can be described as having cozy relations with someone, or to cozy up to someone.

Example:  Many American voters are not pleased when a politician cozies up to millionaire lobbyists since they usually expect something in return when the person is in office.

flirt with

When a person is attracted to someone, he or she may flirt or tease someone playfully in order to begin a courtship with that person.  In common terms, when a person is trying to make an important decision, he or she may flirt with the idea of doing one thing or another.

Example:  Many American presidents have flirted with the idea of creating a new health care system in the United States, but Barack Obama was the first to make significant changes.

President Obama and his wife Michelle embrace after his swearing in ceremony in 2008
President Obama and his wife Michelle embrace after his swearing-in ceremony in 2008


To embrace someone means to wrap your arms around another person in a friendly or romantic fashion.  Metaphorically, a person can embrace a new idea by following or investigating it.

Example:  Not all Americans embraced Barack Obama’s new health care system since they believed it was too expensive and would increase the national debt.


When people are dating and getting to know each other to see if they want to get married, we may say that they are courting each other. In politics, public officials can court people or groups in order to gain favor from them to win elections or gain funding or privilege from them.

Example:  Presidential candidates often court Hispanic and African-American citizens to try to gain their votes in the next election.

fall in love with

When people are dating, one person may fall in love with the other in a very romantic sense of involvement.  In metaphorical terms, anyone who admires someone or something in a serious way may be described as falling in love with him or her.

Example:  In 2012, some conservatives wondered if American could really fall in love with the Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

have a crush on

In romance, someone who falls in love with someone may be described as having a crush on someone, meaning their love or infatuation for the other person is so complete that it would crush them with its weight.  In politics, a person who has a great admiration for an official may be described as having a crush on them.

Example:  Barack Obama was so popular when he was elected president in 2008, many liberals seemed to have a crush on him while conservatives did not like him at all.


Smitten is the past perfect tense of the verb smite meaning to hit or strike hard.  This word is used metaphorically to mean to be hopelessly in love with someone.  This term can be used in a romantic sense or in the case of people admiring celebrities or politicians.

Example:  Many conservatives were smitten with the looks and personality of Sarah Palin when she was chosen by John McCain to be his running mate in the 2008 presidential election.

Marriage and Divorce

blog - romance - wedding ringsmarried, marriage

Many courtships result in happy marriages that last a lifetime.  The idea of marriage is synonymous with a strong, long-lasting bond between two people.  In politics, we can also talk of people who are married to an idea or an organization.

Example:  Although many progressives embrace the idea of the government providing social services for all Americans while many conservatives are not married to the idea.


A honeymoon is the romantic vacation that a couple takes after their marriage ceremony.  In politics, the period of popularity during a short time after a person is elected may also be called a honeymoon.

Example:  Although Barack Obama was very popular when he was elected, the honeymoon did not last for long as he was faced with historical economic problems and opposition from Republican lawmakers.

Many people have their honeymoons in Hawaii.
Many people have their honeymoons in Hawaii.

love affair

A marriage can also be described a love affair between two people. In politics, a public official may also be described as having a love affair with an organization or process if he or she is often working hard to maintain that special relationship.

Example:  A good presidential candidate almost needs to have a love affair with the media in order to get positive press coverage before the election.

Next time:  Metaphors of Up, Over and Above

Metaphors of Height: Life at the Top

In my last post, I described a few metaphors based on visual experiences with width.  Today I will describe a few examples of metaphors of height. The concept of height is one of the most commonly used concepts of metaphors in the English language.  The notion of up is good, strong, and successful, while the notion of down is considered to be bad, weak or failing.  These metaphors are used in many areas of culture, economics, and politics.  I found almost 100 examples of metaphors of height, far too many to cover in one blog post.  I will describe a few examples with the words height, high, tall and top today.  I will cover the other examples in subsequent posts.  I hope you will reach new heights in metaphor comprehension as you read these examples!


Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada
Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada


The top of a hill, mountain or building is at a height taller than the average person.  Experientially, anything that happened above a person’s head was considered better or more important than people.  Metaphorically, we can talk about the height of an epidemic, a crime wave, the population of a city, or many other social conditions.

Example:  At the height of the cold war between the Soviet Union and the United States, both countries were spending millions of dollars on nuclear weapons to protect against attacks from the other country.

new heights

If one climbs to the top of a mountain or building, we may say that the person has reached a new height.   Metaphorically, when one reaches a large goal or completes a great achievement, we may say that the person has reached new heights.

Example:  The American civil rights movement reached new heights when Barack Obama became the first African-American president.

heightened awareness

We have various states of awareness of our surroundings.  We can be unaware or mildly aware of what is going on around us.  When something exciting or scary happens we become more aware of what is going on.  We may call this having heightened awareness.

Example:  After the 9/11 attacks in New York, Americans instantly developed a heightened awareness of possible threats from terrorist groups.


The Chrysler Building, New York City
The Chrysler Building, New York City

high office

An office can be a place of business, but it can also refer to the level of state or national government.  The office of the president is commonly considered to be the highest office in the country.

Example:  George Washington was the first person to be elected to the high office of President of the United States.

high command

In the military, there is a strong hierarchy of levels of command of other service personnel.  For example, while a sergeant may have a low command, a general has a high command.  In politics, the president is the so-called commander-in-chief while other leaders around the world are in the high command of their governments.

Example:  It is widely believed that Osama bin Laden was in the high command of the terrorist organization that attacked New York on 9/11.

General George Patton, 1945
General George Patton, 1945


As mentioned, there are different levels of commands or ranks in the military.  A person with a high command may also be referred to as a high-ranking member of the military.  In politics, a high-ranking person is a very important person in the government.

Example:  After the 9/11 attacks, President George Bush gathered together all of the high-ranking members of the military and the government to decide how to retaliate against the terrorists.

highly decorated

                  In the military, a soldier or any service member can earn decorations through acts of bravery.  A high-ranking officer such as a general with many such honors may be referred to as being highly decorated.

Example:  American presidents often choose highly decorated generals to be their military leaders.

high profile

A profile is a side or outline view of a person.  Metaphorically a profile of a person can mean how important a person is in a certain social group.  Someone with a high profile is an important or famous person in that social group.

Example:  When John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate for the 2008 election, Ms. Palin jumped from an unknown governor to a high-profile politician overnight.


When one thinks of the best reasons to do something, or to provide the best benefits for the most people, we may say that the person is being high minded.  Often, however, people use this term as a criticism towards people who talk about doing something for good reasons, but ends up doing something else for practical reasons.

Example:  When President Obama first took office, he made a high-minded speech about closing the prison at Guatanamo Bay, Cuba.  However, years later he still had not closed the prison because of practical problems of dealing with the terrorists locked up there.

high-value target

In a war against terrorists, the United States military forces try to eliminate leaders of the terrorist groups.  These people or groups are considered to be very important targets of the military.  Sometimes the military personnel refer to these people as high-value targets.

Example:  After the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, Osama bin Laden was the biggest high-value target in the Al-Queda group until he was killed in 2011.

higher ups

In any organization, there are leaders at the top and many other workers at lower levels.  The top administrators are sometimes referred to as the higher ups.  In politics, business, or military hierarchies, the higher ups are the people who get most of the credit when things go right, but they also get the blame when things go wrong.

Example:  When the reports of abuse emerged from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, many of the lower level military staff were punished but the higher ups seemed to avoid any blame.


tall order

A tall person or building is normally out of reach for most people.  Metaphorically, something that is tall is out of reach or difficult to accomplish.  An order is another word for a task or duty as in an order of food in a restaurant.  Thus, a tall order is task that is very difficult to complete.

Example:  During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln had the task of ending slavery, ending the war, and reuniting the country.  That was a tall order no U.S. president has had to face before or since.

A Paul Bunyan statue in Akeley, Minnesota
A Paul Bunyan statue in Akeley, Minnesota

tall tales

Similar to the idea of a tall order, a tall tale is a story that is too impossible to believe.  In a form of literature from the Western United States, there are many tall tales about giant lumberjacks or super strong cowboys.  In common English, a tall tale is any story that is difficult to believe.

Example:  It seems that in every election, there are candidates who tell tall tales about their background, usually about military service, that turn out not to be true.




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.

A heap of wood and other objects for a bonfire
A heap of wood and other objects for a bonfire

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.

Hmmm, I wonder what they keep in the top drawer...
Hmmm, I wonder what they keep in the top drawer…

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.

Next time:  Honeymoons and Romance:  Metaphors of Love!

Stretched Too Thin: Metaphors of Width

Recently President Obama gave the commencement speech for the graduates of West Point Military Academy.  It was an incredibly detailed speech about his views on U.S. foreign policy.  There are too many details to describe here but one item that caught my ear was a comment about not stretching our military “too thin.”  This is one type of conceptual metaphor I have not yet covered here in this blog.  Thus, here follows a brief description of metaphors derived from our experiences with width, i.e., thick and thin or broad and narrow…


broad-based movement

Some physical objects such as stone monuments have wide or broad bases.  Figuratively, any action or process that is supported by many people in many parts of the country may be called broad-based.  In politics, a liberal or conservative movement with popular support may be described as a broad-based movement.

Example:  The Tea Party grew into a broad-based movement in 2009 and 2010 due to a backlash against Barack Obama’s liberal policies.

broadly speaking

In a similar sense, to do something broadly indicates that it is done in a general, widely approved way.  Speaking in a general way may be called broadly speaking.

Example:  Broadly speaking, conservatives and liberals differ on many important issues such as women’s health, national security, taxes and government spending.

blog - width - Trinity_Bridge_-_span_of_a_bridge
Trinity Bridge, St. Petersburg, Russia


A large distance in space is called a span.  The physical concept of a span can be used metaphorically to describe abstract notions of time and cultural events.

Example:  The isolationist policies of the United States avoiding joining world wars spanned many decades in the 20th century.

across the board

Originally a phrase from a betting procedure in horse racing, to say something is true across the board means that it is true for many people, categories, or geographical areas.

Example:  In 2012, Mitt Romney accused Barack Obama of failing as a president across the board.

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A Japanese war fan

A hand-operated fan used to cool a person in hot weather is usually narrow at the base and wide at the top.  It literally fans out from bottom to top.  Metaphorically, any dispersal of people or goods to a wide geographical area may be described as fanning out.

Example:  During a presidential campaign, activists for each candidate fan out in their home states to try to gain more votes.

large swath

The term swath originally meant a section of crops on a farm that was cleared by a cutting tool called a scythe, for example, a swath of wheat.  Metaphorically, a swath indicates a large group of people across a large geographical area.

Example:  Campaign strategists must consider the large swath of independent voters across the United States who can tip the scales toward one candidate or another in an election.

at large

The notion of a large geographic space is used in a strange metaphor to be at large.  In one sense it may refer to a person who is not centrally located in his or her job as in a newspaper critic at large. It may also refer to a general sense of space and category as in society at large.

Example:  A good president must consider society at large instead of just narrow interest groups in deciding how to govern the country.


narrow the lead

The opposite of wide is narrow.  The concept of a narrow physical space is used metaphorically in many English phrases.  In one instance, a small difference in poll numbers during an election is called a narrow lead.  Making the lead smaller may be called narrowing the lead.

Example:  A presidential candidate behind in the polls will try to narrow the lead of his or her opponent by increasing fundraising, campaign stops and television interviews.

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The gap between the train and the platform at Victoria Station, London

narrow the gap

A gap is a physical space between two objects.  In politics there may also be a gap between mean and women, rich and poor, winner and loser, etc.  To make this gap smaller is sometimes called narrowing the gap.

Example:  Most middle-class American voters hope that the U.S. government can narrow the gap between the rich and the poor.

narrow decision, narrow ruling

The concept of a narrow space is also used to describe the small difference in votes from the judges on the Supreme Court.  For example, a 5-4 vote will be called a narrow ruling or a narrow decision.

Example:  The Supreme Court upheld Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act by a narrow 5-4 ruling.

eke out a narrow victory

When a candidate wins an election by a very small margin, we may say that he or she has won a narrow victory.  There is also a word eke that means a small increase in the quantity of something.  In a common phrase we can say that the candidate might eke out a narrow victory.

Example:  In 2012, Barack Obama eked out a narrow victory over Mitt Romney.


thick with lobbyists

A solid object may also be described as being thick or thin.  Being thick means that the object is wide on at least two dimensions.  The term can also describe a physical space with objects close together.  In a metaphorical phrase, a specific place can be thick with people that work in that general area.

Example:  Americans who want to take money out of politics are dismayed when they see that Washington D.C. is often thick with lobbyists.

fat profits

Another way of describing a wide object is saying that it is fat.  While this is considered a derogatory term to describe people, it may be used to describe a large quantity of anything.  A large amount of profits for a company may be called fat profits.

Example:  Many Americans are frustrated that gas prices continue to rise despite fat profits of the oil companies.



wear thin

The opposite of thick is thin.  The concept of a very thin object can be used metaphorically to describe anything that is very small in quantity or in intellectual substance. In one instance, the popularity or a patience of a person can wear thin as if it is an old shirt.

Example:  Barack Obama’s popularity began to wear thin for liberal supporters when he was not able to achieve many progressive goals.

thin gruel

Gruel is a type of simple porridge some people eat for breakfast.  A bowl of porridge with a great deal of oats or other grains is considered a thick and hearty gruel. A bowl with few grains and more water would be considered a thin gruel, meaning it was lacking substance and nutrition. Metaphorically, a policy or program that is weak and ineffective may be called a thin gruel.

Example:  American voters need a president to deliver effective social programs not just thin gruel.

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Pancake batter stretched too thin

spread too thin, stretch too thin

The origins of the phrases spread too thin or stretch too thin are not clear.  However, it seems that we have a common experience of spreading a semi-solid substance such as butter, peanut butter or jelly on a piece of bread or cracker.  If we spread the substance too thin, it won’t have much flavor.  Also, if we spread a substance such as pancake batter too thin on a griddle, it might burn.  Similarly, if we make pie crust or pizza crust too thin, it might burn in the oven.  Also, when making pottery, if one makes the wall of a pot too thin, it might break upon firing or its first usage.  The idea of stretching something too thin is similar.  When stretching a piece of plastic wrap or rubber balloon too thin, it might break.  Metaphorically, when we have too few people to do many jobs, we may say that we are spreading or stretching them too thin with the result that one cannot achieve a good result of the process.  In businesses, employees may be spread too thin, while in the armed forces, soldiers may be stretched too thin for a military operation.

Example:  In a recent speech to West Point graduates, President Obama claimed that our military personnel overseas could be attacked anywhere by rebel forces.  “So we have to develop a strategy that matches this diffuse threat, one that expands our reach without sending forces that stretch our military too thin or stir up local resentments.”

Next time:  Metaphors of height