Monthly Archives: May 2015

Hockey and Basketball Metaphors

Metaphors derived from sports terms are quite common. I have previously discussed general sports metaphors, and those from baseball and football. Today, I would like to discuss metaphors from two other sports. We are in the middle of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Tampa Bay Lightning will be facing my hometown Chicago Blackhawks. (Go Blackhawks!) The NBA playoffs are soon to start as well, with the Cleveland Cavaliers going against the Golden State Warriors. Here are a few common metaphors from basketball and hockey.


Michael Jordan at Boston Garden
Michael Jordan going up for a slam dunk

slam dunk

A basketball player can score two points by jumping and smashing the ball through the hoop. This is known as a slam dunk. Metaphorically, a slam dunk is any action that seems to be 100% certain.

Example: While supporters of Barack Obama hoped he would win reelection in 2012, they knew it was no slam dunk since Mitt Romney was a tough opponent.



                  In basketball, the game begins by the referee throwing the ball straight up in the air. This is called the toss up. The player who can reach and control the ball after the toss up will win the ball for his or her team. In common terms, any competition or election that might be one by any player or team may be called a toss up.

Example: Up until the last minute, the 2012 election between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama seemed like a toss up.

full-court press

When a basketball team puts pressure on the players with the ball on both sides of the court, this is known as a full-court press. In common terms, any group effort to pressure someone to do something or to achieve a goal may be called a full-court press.

Example: Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan gave a full-court press in trying to defeat Barack Obama in the 2012 election.

Shawn Marion pivoting to take a shot
Shawn Marion pivoting to take a shot


A basketball player handling the ball must pivot his or her feet to keep the ball away from the opponents. Pivoting in a new direction can help the player move forward with the ball towards the net. In common terms, any person who changes direction in order to focus on a new project may be said to be pivoting.

Example: In a presidential campaign, a candidate who does not to discuss certain issues may pivot to focus on other problems he or she would like to discuss in the media.

no harm, no foul.

Rules in basketball do not allow a player to deliberate push or shove another play. If this happens, the player is given a foul and may be removed from the game. If two players are in close contact but one player is not pushed, the referee may say that there is no penalty. This is called the no harm, no foul rule. In politics, if a statement or action does not insult or injure another person, we may also that there is no harm, no foul.

Example: Many American citizens have been frustrated that the Wall Street banks who created the 2008 economic collapse cried no harm, no foul and were not held accountable by our own Department of Justice.

blog - Basketball - ball

blog - hockey - hockey_puck_-_2






Hockey and Figure Skating

Wayne Gretzky skating as a New York Ranger
Wayne Gretzky skating as a New York Ranger

skate by

Both figure skating and hockey require the participants to skate on ice. The skates allow the person to glide over the surface of the ice with little resistance. Metaphorically, to skate or skate by something means that a person can do something without much pressure to do something different, or to do something illegal without being punished.

Example: Wall Street bankers who gave themselves bonuses while losing the pensions of thousands of investors in 2008 skated by with hardly any fines or prosecutions.


The actual skates worn by Boston Bruin great Bobby Orr in 1970
The actual skates worn by Boston Bruin great Bobby Orr in 1970


skate over, skating-over

If a person does a job in a superficial way or avoids dealing with a problem, we may say that the end result is a skating over of the responsibilities.

Example: Most viewers of presidential debates do not like it when candidates skate over problems brought up by the moderators and never really answer their questions.

Next time: Flag Day!

Memorial Day Metaphors

In honor of Memorial Day, and the thousands of servicemen and women who have given their lives in serving their country, I offer today a few comments on the metaphors of war. It is a sad fact that the United States has been at war for 222 of its 239-year history. That’s 93% of the time. Thousands of Americans have been killed fighting in these wars. I have done a little research, compiling data from several sources (primarily statistics from a Veterans Administration publication and from the Defense Department.)

Here is a summary of all military personnel killed fighting for our country. A few quick notes on the table below.  Only the largest wars are listed here and they are listed in reverse chronological order. The years of the wars are described according to the time of American involvement.  Battle deaths are listed separately from other types. As you may know, during the Civil War, more people were killed by disease than those killed in battle. Accidents and disease kill thousands of people in every war. There is not much specific data for the Revolutionary War or the War of 1812.  Please let me know if I have made any errors in this summary.


Years War Battle Deaths

Total Deaths

2001 – ?

War in Afghanistan




War in Iraq




Desert Shield/Desert Storm




Vietnam War




Korean War




World War II




World War I




Spanish-American War




Civil War




Mexican War




War of 1812




Revolutionary War








As you can see from the table, over half a million people were killed in battle in America’s wars, and incredibly, there have been more than a million total deaths.

It is no wonder, then, that words, phrases and metaphors from war are in our everyday vocabulary. I have made several bog posts concerning war metaphors in the past two years. Feel free to use the search function to search for any specific metaphors you are interested in. Here are a few of the most common war metaphors used in American politics.

blog - war - war chest

war chest

Historically, the money needed to finance a war on the battlefield was kept in a large chest that traveled with the commanding officers. Metaphorically, the phrase war chest now indicates the amount of money that a candidate has to finance his or her election campaign.

Examples: Although John McCain had a large war chest when he ran for president in 2008, he did not win the election.

under the watch

Sentries are required to watch the perimeter of an army base. This process is referred to as being under their watch. In government, actions and events that occur during a presidency or governorship may also be described as being under the watch of the elected leader.

Examples: President Roosevelt was upset that the attack on Pearl Harbor happened under his watch.

blog - war - triggertrigger happy

If someone frequently fires a gun, we may that this person is trigger happy. In politics, a government official may be called trigger happy if he or she is prone to go to war very easily.

Examples: Many people thought that George W. Bush was a bit trigger happy going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan during his presidency. However, Barack Obama was also keen to continue the war in Afghanistan as well when he became president.

target demographic

With guns as well as bows and arrows, people practice shooting their weapons by aiming at a target a long distance away. The literal target has been changed to mean a metaphorical goal in a process or project. In politics, candidates and elected officials try to please their constituents who may vote for them.   A specific group of people in a certain area with certain political views is called a demographic.   Trying to please this group of people is called targeting the demographic.

Examples: Democrats tend to work with wealthy liberal voters as their target demographic for raising campaign money.

blog - war - horizonenemies on the horizon

Battles at sea require that naval commanders be able to see enemies approaching across wide areas of ocean. In other words, they must be able to see their enemies as they appear on the horizon. In politics, candidates or politicians must be able to see their opponents before they attack in a debate or written argument.

Examples: During the Republican presidential primaries in 2012, popular candidates such as Mitt Romney had many enemies on the horizon.


A swift boat was the name of small, fast boats used on rivers by American soldiers during the Vietnam War. Senator John Kerry from Massachusetts famously captained one such boat during the war. During his run for the presidency in 2004, opponents claimed that he was not a decorated war hero after all. These criticisms helped Kerry’s opponent win the election. Afterwards, the process of unfairly criticizing a political candidate based on prior experience came to be called swift boating.

Examples: American voters dislike the swift-boating practices in presidential elections, but, unfortunately, these types of attacks are very common.

The Battle of New Orleans - Andrew Jackson wins the final battle of the War of 1812 on January 8, 1815 (painting by Edward Percy Moran, 1910)
The Battle of New Orleans – Andrew Jackson wins the final battle of the War of 1812 on January 8, 1815 (painting by Edward Percy Moran, 1910)

battleground states

The land where battles are fought are called battlegrounds. In politics, states in which voters may vote for either Democrats or Republicans are called battleground states when candidates fight for the votes for their party.

Examples: Ohio and Florida are often considered battleground states in presidential elections.


under attack

When two armies are fighting in a battle, the army on the offensive will be shooting guns or missiles at the other army. The second army is said to be under attack. In politics, candidates running for office or elected officials may be described as being under attack if they are constantly criticized for their views of behavior.

Examples: George W. Bush was constantly under attack from Democrats while he was in office. Later, his Democratic successor, Barack Obama, was always under attack from Republicans.

MAP - war - arms trainingwar on terror

Although the word war is usually used in a military sense, it is commonly used metaphorically to describe the efforts of a government to fight against a social problem. Most famously, after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the United States began a so-called war on terror.   We also talk about war on cancer, poverty, or drugs.

Examples: George W. Bush’s war on terror led to the war in Iraq and trillions of dollars fighting al-Qaeda terrorists around the world.


Linguistically, it makes perfect sense that we use metaphors of war to talk about politics – both are intense competitions with great financial and human costs. However, psychologically it is sad that our system of government is so antagonistic that comparisons to war are almost second nature. Perhaps in the future, we will have more metaphors of peace in our politics. Please remember our service men and women on this national holiday.

Next time:  TBA

Mike Huckabee’s Metaphors

            In the past few weeks I have analyzed the metaphors used in the campaign announcements from Hillary Clinton and Rand Paul. Each had a variety of political metaphors derived from several different conceptual metaphor categories. Today I would like to share a few examples from the metaphors used by Mike Huckabee in his recent campaign launch. Mr. Huckabee did not use metaphors to the extent of either Mrs. Clinton or Dr. Paul. However, he uses several interesting metaphors from the categories of physical forces, machines, personification and journeys. All examples are taken from the speech which can be seen here.  As always, the metaphors are highlighted in italics. Some quotations are repeated if they contain more than one category of metaphor.

Physical Forces

As with Ron Paul, Mr. Huckabee describes the current Obama government in less than flattering terms. He uses several different metaphors based on physical forces to describe the national economy including unbalanced trade deals and wage laws that undercut American workers. He also described his governorship in Arkansas as very lopsided since he was a Republican governor with many Democrats in the state legislature. He also argues against chopping off Medicare and Social Security payments to people who have paid into the system. He argues that everyone needs a fair shake in life, originally meaning an honest deal sealed with a handshake.

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.comunbalanced and undercut

Example: “And we don’t create good jobs for Americans by entering into unbalanced trade deals that forego Congressional scrutiny and looking the other way as the law is ignored so we can import low wage labor, undercut American workers, and drive wages lower than the Dead Sea.”


Example: “I governed in a state that was the most lopsided and partisan in the country-no Republican Governor had more Democrats and fewer Republicans.”

chop off

Example: “Some propose that to save safety nets like Medicare and Social Security, we need to chop off the payouts for the people who have faithfully had their paychecks and pockets picked by the politicians promising that their money would be waiting for them when they were old and sick.”

blog - personification - handshakea fair shake

Example: “…even in that environment we passed 94 tax cuts, rebuilt our road system, saw dramatic improvements in student test scores, and fought the corruption of the good ol’ boy system so working class people would be given a fair shake.”


Also like Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee compares the American government to a machine. He describes the political machine that existed in Arkansas when he was governor and the power, money and influence in Washington D.C. that run the country. He also argues that financial markets can be shut down as if they are machines, although we can tinker with the tax codes as if they are metal objects in need of repair.”

run the country

Example: “Like a lot of Americans, I grew up in a small town far removed from the power, the money, and the influence that runs the country.”

political machine

Example: “I challenged the deeply entrenched political machine that ran this state.”

blog - machines - hot buttonshut down markets

Example: “We face not only the threats from terrorism, but also the threat of new kinds of dangers, from a cyber war that could shut down major financial markets to threats of an electromagnetic pulse from an exploded device that could fry the electrical grid and take the country back to the Stone Age in a matter of minutes.”


Example: “And I don’t want to hear politicians talk about tinkering with the tax code and making little adjustments that still let powerful Washington interests pick the winners and losers.”


As we have seen in many past posts, governments are commonly described as people. Huckabee complains that the government picks the pockets of hard-working Americans, or simply grabs their money. He also claims that President Obama’s Affordable Care Act is the result of creating a monster, while he compares the American education system a student to a student who has flunked and needs to be expelled.

pockets picked

Example: “Some propose that to save safety nets like Medicare and Social Security, we need to chop off the payouts for the people who have faithfully had their paychecks and pockets picked by the politicians promising that their money would be waiting for them when they were old and sick.”

blog - business - cashgrab money

Example: “You were forced to pay for Social Security and Medicare for 50 years. The government grabs money from our paychecks and says it will be waiting for us when we turn 65.”

created a monster

Example: “And instead of helping families find affordable health care, we created a monster that forces us to buy coverage we don’t want, don’t need, and can’t afford.”

flunked, expelled

Example: “Why even have a federal department of education? It has flunked and it needs to be expelled.   Education policy should be set by states, local school boards, and best of all, by the moms and dads of the children.”



Surprisingly, Mr. Huckabee uses several strange analogies describing certain aspects of American government and foreign enemies. He compares Middle Eastern jihadis to deadly snakes, the government to a roach motel, and he claims that he is a blue collar working man instead of being from blue blood royalty.

blog - forces - rattlesnakedeadly snakes

Example: “As President, I promise you that we will no longer merely try to CONTAIN jihadism; we will CONQUER it! We will deal with jihadis just as we would deal with deadly snakes.”


roach motel

Example: “Government in Washington is dysfunctional because it’s become the roach motel-people go in, but they never come out. As President I’ll fight for Term limits on all 3 branches of government.”

blue collar / blue blood

Example: “I don’t have a global foundation or a taxpayer funded paycheck to live off of. I don’t come from a family Dynasty, but a working family. I grew up blue collar and not blue blood.”


Finally, Mr. Huckabee uses some standard journey metaphors talking about his journey to the White House. Interestingly, his description of going to the White House is both literal and figurative, since Washington D.C. is literally a long way from his hometown of Hope, Arkansas, and figurative since he came a long way to run for president of the United States. Most remarkably, he also describes his journey as being from Hope to Higher Ground, the title of his 2007 book, in which he described working hard to improve one’s life. Metaphorically, Mr. Huckabee describes his own journey to the White House as one from Hope to Higher Ground.

blog - SOTU 15 - curve of the roadlong way to the White House

Example: “It’s a long way from a little brick rent house on 2nd street in Hope, AR to the White House.”

blog - white houseHope to Higher Ground

Example: “But here in this small town called Hope, I was raised to believe that where a person started didn’t mean that’s where he had to stop. I always believed a kid could go from Hope to Higher Ground.”


Clearly, Governor Huckabee is a product of his religious and political background in Arkansas. He has a colorful speaking style using rhetorical strategies and metaphors to relate directly to his fellow “blue collar, not blue blood” citizens. His metaphor usage indicates his ability to tap into common figurative language use especially with personification and journey metaphors. I look forward to analyzing more of his speeches. Stay tuned!

Next time: Metaphors of Memorial Day

Rand Paul’s Metaphors

Rand Paul, a U.S. senator from Kentucky, recently announced his candidacy for presidency. He gave a rousing speech announcing his plans to improve the country. While there are many similarities to the short video by Hillary Clinton discussed in a previous post, Rand Paul has his own unique rhetorical style and an interesting set of metaphors. In addition to the obligatory run for office horse racing metaphors, he uses a wide variety of metaphors from personification, body position, sight, machines and journeys. Here are a few examples. As always, the examples are taken straight from the transcript of the speech, the italics are mine to highlight the metaphors in question.  You can read the entire speech here.


One of the dominant themes in Paul’s speech is that the United States is a person who is strong but who has been taken over by the wrong people. Paul describes the current state of the country as being ugly and one that discourages people from achieving their goals. He also describes liberty as a woman who clutches the constitution (similar to the Statue of Liberty holding a torch and a tablet), while he argues that the U.S. defense system must be robust and nimble. Collectively, all the citizens of the U.S. are considered to be a sleeping person who needs to wake up and take action. The most forceful metaphor is one in which Paul compares the country to person who has been taken over by malevolent forces and it needs to be taken back.


Example: “In one America, people experience the opportunity of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In the other America, people experience a daily ugliness that dashes hope and leaves only the fatigue of despair.”

blog - rand paul - Statue_of_Libertyclutches the constitution

Example: “We need to boldly proclaim our vision for America. We need to go boldly forth under the banner of liberty that clutches the Constitution in one hand and the Bill of Rights in the other.”

defense robust and nimble

Example: “We need a national defense robust enough to defend against all attack, modern enough to deter all enemies, and nimble enough to defend our vital interests.”


blog - rand paul - Alarm_Clockwake up now

Example: “We borrow a million dollars a minute. This vast accumulation of debt threatens not just our economy, but our security. We can wake up now and do the right thing. Quit spending money we don’t have.”

take our country back

Example: “I have a message, a message that is loud and clear and does not mince words. We have come to take our country back. We have come to take our country back from the special interests that use Washington as their personal piggy bank, the special interests that are more concerned with their personal welfare than the general welfare.”

Body Position

In a correlated set of metaphors to personification, Paul compares the U.S. to a person whose body position indicates strength or weakness. Our bodies, like those of a boxer in a fight, must be ready to go on the offensive to withstand an attack. He contends that the country needs to stay strong and be wise. Paul also officially announces that he is running for president by saying that he is putting himself forward.

position of weakness

Example: “The difference between President Obama and myself, he seems to think you can negotiate from a position of weakness.”

The famous boxer John L. Sullivan in 1898
The famous boxer John L. Sullivan in 1898

project strength

Example: “We must realize, though, that we do not project strength by borrowing money from China to send it to Pakistan.”

strong and wise

Example: “We’ve brought Iran to the table through sanctions that I voted for. Now we must stay strong.”

Example: “I see an America strong enough to deter foreign aggression, yet wise enough to avoid unnecessary intervention.”


putting myself forward

Example: “Today I announce with God’s help, with the help of liberty lovers everywhere, that I am putting myself forward as a candidate for president of the United States of America.”


There are several interesting metaphors that Paul uses comparing governments to machines. He refers to the U.S. government as the Washington machine which he later describes as broken. He then claims that socialism is a sputtering engine while the United States as an engine of prosperity.

blog - rand paul - milling machinethe Washington machine

Example: “The Washington machine that gobbles up our freedoms and invades every nook and cranny of our lives must be stopped.”


Example: “Washington is horribly broken. I fear it can’t be fixed from within. We the people must rise up and demand action.”

A Rolls Royce aircraft engine
A Rolls Royce aircraft engine


Example: “Resolutely we stood decade after decade against Communism, the engine of capitalism finally winning out against the sputtering, incompetent engine of socialism.”

Example: “I’m convinced that most Americans want to work. I want to free up the great engine of American prosperity.”


As is common in many political speeches, presidential candidates claim that they will take the American people on a journey with them. Hillary Clinton made this very clear in her announcement video. Rand Paul also compares the U.S. to people or vehicles on several types of journeys, possible boats, trains or walking on foot. He claims that under President Obama is getting off course as if we are on a boat and have lost our way. He also describes the country as being adrift as if we have lost our rudder or engine. He then uses a common metaphor of being left behind, as if Americans have not been able to catch the correct bus or train. Paul also compares the U.S. to a beacon and our cities shining and beckoning travelers.

on course

Example: “President Obama is on course to add more debt than all of the previous presidents combined.”

blog - rand paul - schoonerrescue a country adrift

Example: “Today begins the journey to take America back. To rescue a great country now adrift, join me as together we seek a new vision for America.”

left behind

Example: “I have a different vision, an ambitious vision, an ambitious vision, a vision that will offer opportunity to all Americans, especially those who have been left behind.”

The Louisbourg Lighthouse in Nova Scotia, Canada
The Louisbourg Lighthouse in Nova Scotia, Canada


Example: “America has much greatness left in her. We are still exceptional and we are still a beacon for the world.”

shining and beckoning

Example: “I see our big cities once again shining and beckoning with creativity and ingenuity, with American companies offering American jobs.”


Finally, the most dominant metaphor in Paul’s speech is that of having a vision. Of course, we commonly have the physical ability to see but we can also have the metaphorical vision to see into the future. Perhaps not without irony, Rand Paul is an ophthalmologist – an eye doctor – so he really does care about vision both literally and figuratively. Paul uses the vision metaphor ten separate times. Here are a few examples including one listed above.


Example: “I have a vision for America. I want to be part of a return to prosperity, a true economic boom that lists all Americans, a return to a government restrained by the Constitution.”

Example: “In my vision for America, we’ll bring back manufacturing jobs that pay well. How? We’ll dramatically lower the tax on American companies that wish to bring their profits home.”

blog - rand paul - vision _eye_of_a_girlExample: “I have a different vision, an ambitious vision, an ambitious vision, a vision that will offer opportunity to all Americans, especially those who have been left behind.”

Example: “More than $2 trillion in American profit currently sits overseas. In my vision for America, new highways and bridges will be built across the country, not by raising your taxes, but by lowering the tax to bring this American profit home.”

Example: “To rescue a great country now adrift, join me as together we seek a new vision for America. Today I announce with God’s help, with the help of liberty lovers everywhere, that I am putting myself forward as a candidate for president of the United States of America.”


Senator Paul clearly has ambitious goals for becoming president of the United States and reforming the government according to his libertarian and conservative principles. He believes that the U.S. is metaphorically on the wrong journey and that he can correct the course of the ship to regain success domestically and internationally. I am anxious to see how he describes his goals as he goes forward through the campaign.

Next time: The Metaphors of Mike Huckabee