Monthly Archives: December 2014

2nd Anniversary/Metaphors of Taste

blog - anniversary - 2 burning_candlesHello dear readers!  Before I get to the meat and potatoes of the blog post today, I have two quick announcements. First, I am proud to announce that this weekend marks the 2nd anniversary of the blog.  It’s hard to believe it has been two years already.  My how time flies when you are having fun with linguistics!  I have had over 70,000 views the past two years with 110 posts.  I am proud to help high school, college and graduate school students (and their teachers and professors) all over the world understand metaphor usage in American politics.  Keep the comments and emails coming!

Secondly, I should mention that this will be my last post for the year.  I am sure most of my readers will be busy with their families and friends for the holidays, as am I.  I will continue the blog after the first of the year.  The study of politics in the year 2015 promises to continue to be a rich source of metaphor usage.  There is no end of twists and turns in American politics:  Normalization of relations with Cuba after 50 years of an economic embargo?  A cyber attack by North Korea on Sony Pictures? A lame duck president?  Candidates are already lining up for the 2016 election? Dozens of Tea Party conservatives fighting for a chance to be the Republican nominee?  A possible square-off between the dynasties of the Clintons and Bushes?  The current 113th Congress with the worst record of passing bills in American history?  The most double speak and empty promises I have heard in a long time from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress?  Stay tuned for 2015!

Back to 2014, today I would like to share a few examples of metaphors of taste.  Since everyone is going to holiday parties to eat a wide variety of appetizers, entrees, desserts and drink specialized beverages, I thought it would be appropriate to end the year with a few examples of metaphors based on our experiences with one of our favorite senses.  Once again, we find instances of turning physical experiences into metaphorical expressions.

blog - taste - Christmas_Cookies_Platefultaste of something

Figuratively, we can also have a taste of something if we have a short experience with it.

Example:  Critics of Barack Obama complained that his first few years in office gave Americans a taste of socialism.

good taste, bad taste

The word taste can also mean the choices one makes in clothing, food, entertainment, etc.  For example, one can have good taste in clothes but bad taste in movies.  In politics, campaign ads can be seen as being in good taste or bad taste depending on their content.

Example:  American voters tend to think that negative campaign ads smearing the reputation of an opponent are done in bad taste.

blog - taste - sugarsweet

If food contains natural or artificial sugar, we say that it tastes sweet, such as fruit, candy or many types of desserts.  The word sweet can also figuratively mean anything that is very good.  In politics we may speak of sweet results of an election or a sweet victory in Congress.

Example:  When Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act was passed by Congress in 2011, it was a sweet victory for the Democrats.


Figuratively, we can also say that the words we say can be sweet, or that we can sweet-talk someone by telling them things that they want to hear to achieve a mutual goal.

Example:  An American president may have to sweet-talk the members of Congress to get bills passed.

blog - taste - Lemonsour

Another common taste is sour, as in lemons or green apples.  The word sour can also indicate a feeling of disappointment or frustration in people.

Example:  Some liberal voters who supported Barack Obama in the 2008 election soured on supporting him in 2012 since he was not able to accomplish the progressive reforms he promised during his campaign.

Chinese bitter melon
Chinese bitter melon


The opposite of sweet is bitter, a bad taste that most people avoid.  Metaphorically, people can have bitter attitudes or feelings if they feel that they have been hurt by other people.

Example:  In 2008, Barack Obama famously said that when people feel disappointed by their government, “…it’s not surprising then that they get bitter [and] cling to guns and religion…”.

Guittard bittersweet chocolate
Guittard bittersweet chocolate


A food that has a mixture of bitter and sweet taste can be called bittersweet.  Metaphorically, an event that has a mixture of good and bad results may also be called bittersweet.

Example:  The death of Osama bin Laden in May of 2011 was a bittersweet victory for the families of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  While they may have been pleased that bin Laden was gone, his death brought back painful memories of their loved ones.

bitter dispute, bitter defeat, bitter rivals

The word bitter can also be used to describe bad relations between people as in bitter rivals, bad arguments as in bitter disputes, or a bad loss in a competition as in a bitter defeat.

Example:  In the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama became bitter rivals while Romney did not want to repeat the bitter defeat of John McCain four years earlier.

blog - taste - 2015_new_year

Next time:  Check back in 2015!

Thanks for reading my blog!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Metaphors of Physical Forces in Economics

Elizabeth Warren, Democratic senator from Massachusetts, has been in the news lately.  She has been fighting back against Wall Street firms who seem to have increasing control over our government.  A few weeks ago, Warren wrote a special article that appeared in the Huffington Post, outlining her reasons for opposing President Obama’s nominee for the Under Secretary for Domestic Finance at the Treasury Department, Antonio Weiss.  Apparently Mr. Weiss is a long-time Wall Street executive who has created mergers, so-called corporate inversions and other tax-dodging schemes for large corporations.  I couldn’t help but notice that such discussions of politics and economics normally involve distinctive metaphors derived from our experiences with physical actions.  You can read the full text here:

As first suggested by Lakoff and Johnson (1980) and Johnson (1990), we often create metaphors based on experiences with our own physical actions such as pushing, pulling, holding, cutting, etc.  We use such actions to create metaphors to describe economics.  First, however, I should also point out that common words for seeing with our eyes from a standing height can also be used metaphorically to describe political and economic processes.  Here are a few examples.  As usual, the quotations are directly from the text.  I have italicized the metaphors for easy recognition by the reader.  Enjoy!


blog - vision - viewoversee, oversight

                  To oversee something means to supervise or control it.  Metaphorically this process is called oversight.

Example:  “Last Wednesday, President Obama announced his nomination of Antonio Weiss to serve as Under Secretary for Domestic Finance at the Treasury Department. This is a position that oversees Dodd-Frank implementation and a wide range of banking and economic policymaking issues, including consumer protection.”

Example:  “According to a report by the Institute for America’s Future, by the following year, the six biggest banks employed 243 lobbyists who once worked in the federal government, including 33 who had worked as chiefs of staff for members of Congress and 54 who had worked as staffers for the banking oversight committees in the Senate or the House.”


We have the ability to look at objects that are close or far away by focusing our eyes to the correct distance.  Metaphorically we can also focus on issues or problems by examining them in closer detail.  We may also refer to this process as having a sharper focus on something.

Example:  “As someone who has spent my career focused on domestic economic issues, including a stint of my own at the Treasury Department, I know how important these issues are and how much the people in Treasury can shape policies.”

point of view

Being able to see something implies that one has a view of it.  Figuratively, however, a person having a view can mean that he or she has an opinion on a certain matter.  We may also say that a person has a particular point of view based on his or her position in relation to the object in sight.

Example:  “The over-representation of Wall Street banks in senior government positions sends a bad message. It tells people that one — and only one — point of view will dominate economic policymaking.”

blog - loopholeloophole

A loophole is an error in a policy or law in which someone can gain advantage for himself or herself, as in tax loopholes which allow wealthy people or corporations to avoid paying taxes.   The word loophole is actually derived from a phrase from the 15th century meaning to look through a hole in a wall as if it were a window.

Example:  “Basically, a bunch of companies have decided that all the regular tax loopholes they get to exploit aren’t enough, so they have begun taking advantage of an even bigger loophole that allows them to maintain their operations in America but claim foreign citizenship and cut their U.S. taxes even more.”

Holding objects

blog - phys forces - Hold_my_handhold posts

                  If someone holds a post, this means that he or she has a certain government job in an administration.

Example:  “Shortly before the [Eric] Cantor episode, another former member of Congress — Democrat Melissa Bean — took the same senior job at JPMorgan Chase previously held by Democrat Bill Daley before his recent service as White House Chief of Staff.”

blog - phys forces - adjustable_wrenchesloosen

The opposite of tightening something is to loosen it.  As with tighten, verbs such as loosen or relax are also used metaphorically to reduce the pressure on a situation.

Example:  “It’s time for the Obama administration to loosen the hold that Wall Street banks have over economic policy making.”


To tap means to hit a surface lightly, especially as in tapping a table with one’s fingers.  In some cases, we must politely tap people on the arm or shoulder to get their attention. Metaphorically, asking someone to take a job may also be referred to as tapping them for a position.

Example:  “For the number two spot at the Federal Reserve, the President tapped Stanley Fischer, another former Citigroup executive.”

Raising the American flag on Mt. Suribachi in Iwo Jima during World War II.
Raising the American flag on Mt. Suribachi in Iwo Jima during World War II.


One way of describing the lifting motion is called raising as in raising our hands in the air. In a series of very common metaphors, we can say that we raise children, raise crops or raise money.

Example:  “So who is Antonio Weiss? He’s the head of global investment banking for the financial giant Lazard. He has spent the last 20 years of his career at Lazard — most of it advising on international mergers and acquisitions.  That raises the first issue.”

An upside down house built as a tourist attraction in Trassenheide, Germany.
An upside down house built as a tourist attraction in Trassenheide, Germany.


To invert means to turn something upside down.  An inversion is the result of that action such as in reversed word order in a sentence or different temperatures in layers of climates in a valley.   In economics, companies can create a tax inversion by moving their headquarters to a different country with a lower tax rate, even though most of their company’s operations stay in the first country.  The company can then save millions of dollars in taxes by being able to pay the lower taxes of the second country.

Example:  “No one is fooled by the bland words “corporate inversion.” These companies renounce their American citizenship and turn their backs on this country simply to boost their profits.”


To push someone or something up from a lower position is known as boosting.  Some high school or college clubs created to raise money for a certain cause are called booster clubs.  Metaphorically, to boost something means to increase its height, power or performance.

Example:  “These companies renounce their American citizenship and turn their backs on this country simply to boost their profits.”

Cutting and Slashing


The act of cutting involves a sharp object removing a piece of an object from a larger base, as in cutting a piece of paper with a scissors.  In common terms, we may also speak of cutting budgets, staff, or programs by reducing their size.

Example:  “Basically, a bunch of companies have decided that all the regular tax loopholes they get to exploit aren’t enough, so they have begun taking advantage of an even bigger loophole that allows them to maintain their operations in America but claim foreign citizenship and cut their U.S. taxes even more.”

blog - phys forces - cut down treecut a deal

Another figurative expression based on a cutting motion is to cut a deal.  This implies that an agreement is reached between two parties.

Example:  “One of the biggest and most public corporate inversions last summer was the deal cut by Burger King to slash its tax bill by purchasing the Canadian company Tim Hortons and then “inverting” the American company to Canadian ownership.”


Literally to undercut something means to make a low cut into an object such as a piece of wood so that the higher portion remains above the lower portion.  Metaphorically, undercutting refers to such things as offering lower prices than a competitor, or more abstractly, to reduce the effectiveness of another person’s actions or reputation.

Example:  “The White House and Treasury have strongly denounced inversions, and rightly so. But they undercut their own position by advancing Mr. Weiss.”


Another word for cut is slash, but the latter term implies a more drastic or violent cutting action.

Example:  “One of the biggest and most public corporate inversions last summer was the deal cut by Burger King to slash its tax bill by purchasing the Canadian company Tim Hortons and then “inverting” the American company to Canadian ownership.”

blog - phys forces - Car_crash_1crash

When two objects hit each other with great force, we call this crashing, as in a car crash.  Metaphorically, the word crash can refer to any event in which the process or result is totally ruined.  For example, we may refer to a dramatic drop in stock prices as a stock market crash.

Example:  “Soon after they crashed the economy and got tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer bailouts, the biggest Wall Street banks started lobbying Congress to head off any serious financial regulation.”

I believe these types of metaphors are strong evidence that we create conceptual metaphors based on body position and physical actions.  These types of physical actions seem very common in discussions of money, profits, taxes or other economic topics.  If you see any other examples, please let me know!

Next time:  Metaphors of Taste

More Metaphors on Immigration

Hello!  Sorry for my delayed posts the past couple weeks.  This is the end of the quarter at my college.  I have been swamped with lesson plans and committee meetings, mired in tests and grading and behind on my paperwork.  I have also been trying to keep up with my family obligations and stay on top of paying bills and other household chores. — Isn’t it amazing how many metaphors we use in every day speech?

Back to the blog, I would like to offer a belated analysis of President Obama’s speech on immigration a few weeks ago.  At first glance, it may seem that there were not many political metaphors in the speech.  However, there were quite a few metaphors that reveal how politicians – and most Americans – think about immigration issues and government policies in general.  All of the quotations today are from the speech itself.  Italics are mine.  You can read the entire speech here at:

Containers/Light and Dark

President Obama took pains to describe how immigrants felt if they did not yet have green cards or their citizenship.  Whether or not they came here illegally or had been born to illegal immigrant parents, these immigrants were described as being locked in containers or trapped in cages.  Here are a few examples:

blog - immigration - Lobster_traptrap

In a common hunting metaphor, one way to capture and kill a wild animal is to set a trap for it.  A person can leave a trap baited with food, and when the animal enters the cage to eat the food, the animal is trapped.  In common terms, when someone is caught in a trap, he or she is not able to exit from a situation. In terms of the immigration debate, President Obama refers to immigrants not being trapped by their past, but who can create a new future for themselves. The implication is that illegal immigrants in the U.S. today are indeed trapped by their circumstances.

Example:  “For more than 200 years, our tradition of welcoming immigrants from around the world has given us a tremendous advantage over other nations. It’s kept us youthful, dynamic, and entrepreneurial. It has shaped our character as a people with limitless possibilities – people not trapped by our past, but able to remake ourselves as we choose.”

come out

            When a container is filled with solid or liquid materials, it is a common experience to see these materials coming out of the container when it is used. To say something or someone is coming out, it indicates that it or they are being released from a confining situation.

Example: “…students who bravely come out as undocumented in hopes they could make a difference in a country they love.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAcome out of the shadows

A shadow is caused by something or someone blocking sunlight. In English the word shadow can have two meanings.  For one, someone in another person’s shadow is trying to be as good as that person who came before him or her.  Secondly, someone working in the shadows is thought to be doing something bad or illegal.  To say that someone is coming out of the shadows implies the person has been doing something immoral or illegal.  President Obama used this expression in several different ways.

Example: In describing the immigration activist Astrid Silva,  “…she mostly lived in the shadows – until her grandmother, who visited every year from Mexico, passed away, and she couldn’t travel to the funeral without risk of being found out and deported.”

Example: “And undocumented immigrants who desperately want to embrace those responsibilities see little option but to remain in the shadows…”

Example:  After describing the benefits of his new executive order:  “…you’ll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily, without fear of deportation.  You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law.”


            Social situations are sometimes described metaphorically as fabric as if they are part of a piece of cloth.  While fabric can be used as clothing which can be a strong, protective covering, it can also be something that is weak and can be torn or ripped apart.  Metaphorically we see all of these conditions described in political situations.


Clothing is made out of material or fabric.  The concept of fabric can also be used to describe something very broad that is held together by many threads running in different directions.

Example:  “I know that some worry immigration will change the very fabric of who we are, or take our jobs, or stick it to middle-class families at a time when they already feel like they’ve gotten the raw end of the deal for over a decade.”

blog - immigration - ripped jeanstear apart

Example:  “And undocumented immigrants who desperately want to embrace those responsibilities see little option but to remain in the shadows, or risk their families being torn apart.”


ripping children from their parents

Example:  “Are we a nation that accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents’ arms?  Or are we a nation that values families, and works to keep them together?”

Houses and Machines


We commonly describe the creation of something abstract as if it is something physical we are building.  This usage can apply literally to buildings, machines or any physical object, while metaphorically the verb to build can apply to any abstract process or social relationship.

Example:  “First, we’ll build on our progress at the border with additional resources for our law enforcement personnel so that they can stem the flow of illegal crossings, and speed the return of those who do cross over.”  [Note the use of the river metaphor here stem the flow, discussed in an earlier post.]

blog - immigration - broken pistonbroken

Fragile objects and machines can be described as broken if they are no longer intact or do not function properly.  Once a machine is broken, someone must make the effort to fix it.  President Obama described our immigration program as being broken and needing to be fixed.

Example:  “But today, our immigration system is broken, and everybody knows it.”



Example:  “When I took office, I committed to fixing this broken immigration system.”

Example:  “I worked with Congress on a comprehensive fix, and last year, 68 Democrats, Republicans, and Independents came together to pass a bipartisan bill in the Senate.” 

Games and Rules

blog - immigration - play by the rulesplay by the rules

Whenever a game is played, the participants must agree to set of rules to avoid arguments and controversies during the game.  Anyone who cheats or does not follow the rules is not respected and usually not asked to play the game after that point.  In politics, candidates, government officials and businesses must play by the rules of their particular state or government with respect for the other people involved.  In discussions of immigration, people from other countries must play by the rules in order to obtain citizenship.

Example:  “Families who enter our country the right way and play by the rules watch others flout the rules.”

blog - immigration - straight lineright/straight

            Just as in the concept of playing by the rules in a game, we can also describe being right or straight in one’s behavior.  This common metaphor is derived from our experiences with shapes and lines.  When a line is drawn directly from one point to another, we say that the line is straight.  Describing something that is straight implies that it is true, clear and direct.  The word right also has its origins in describing a straight line.  President Obama often referred to proper behavior by illegal immigrants is by being straight or right with the law while referring to honest behavior as simply being straight as well.

Example:  “And let’s be honest – tracking down, rounding up, and deporting millions of people isn’t realistic. Anyone who suggests otherwise isn’t being straight with you.”

Example:  “You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law.”

Example:  “Are we a nation that tolerates the hypocrisy of a system where workers who pick our fruit and make our beds never have a chance to get right with the law?”


pathway to citizenship

A path is a small, narrow road.  Metaphorically, we speak of a path as being a process or a way to achieve a goal.  There is also a similar term pathway that is yet another word indicating a manner of doing something.  The process of becoming an American citizen is often described as being a pathway to citizenship.

Example:   “I worked with Congress on a comprehensive fix, and last year, 68 Democrats, Republicans, and Independents came together to pass a bipartisan bill in the Senate. It wasn’t perfect. It was a compromise, but it reflected common sense. It would have doubled the number of border patrol agents, while giving undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship if they paid a fine, started paying their taxes, and went to the back of the line.”

blog - immigration - Pathway_at_Udayagiri_Park

In summary, even though there were not many metaphors in President Obama’s speech on immigration, there were a few examples that reveal how we think about these important issues. Most of us know that illegal immigrants are living in the shadows while liberals and conservatives seem to disagree on whether or not they should come out of the shadows and become citizens or if they should be deported. We also compare our immigration system to a broken machine that needs to be fixed as if it is an old car engine.  But to fix this machine the immigrants must play by the rules as if it is a football game, and be right with the law as if they are walking on a straight line.  If the immigrants succeed they can be on a pathway or journey to becoming American citizens.

Most of us believe that immigrants, whether legal or illegal, add a valuable amount of diversity and hard work to the fabric of our economy and our society.  My own ancestors come from Ireland, France and Sweden.  I think most of us – unless we are Native Americans – can trace our heritage back to other countries.  Let us celebrate our diversity!

Next time:  Metaphors of Physical Forces in Economics