Category Archives: Figurative Language

Metaphors of Truthiness, Part 2

Today I continue Part 2 of my analysis of metaphors in a brilliant new article about facts and opinions in the latest issue of The Atlantic magazine by Kurt Andersen. (Mr. Andersen, by the way, will be a guest on the Bill Maher show this coming Friday.) This time I will analyze the conceptual metaphors of vision, objects, clothing, balance and gravity, science, buildings, movement and literary references.

Vision

Since we experience the world through our five senses, it is not surprising that we find metaphors of vision in many articles on politics. Andersen claims that being sane or insane is not a binary choice; rather we are on a spectrum somewhere between the two extremes, as if we are on a light spectrum representing all colors. Seeing reality clearly is very important. Metaphorically, not seeing clearly is referred to as blurring the lines, as if our vision is failing. In an unusual metaphor, Andersen also refers to these unclear lines as if they are obscured by smog on a city skyline.

spectrum

Example: “Each of us is on a spectrum somewhere between the poles of rational and irrational.”

blur the lines

Example: “Today, each of us is freer than ever to custom-make reality, to believe whatever and pretend to be whoever we wish. Which makes all the lines between actual and fictional blur and disappear more easily. Truth in general becomes flexible, personal, subjective.”

smog

Example: “The intellectuals’ new outlook was as much a product as a cause of the smog of subjectivity that now hung thick over the whole American mindscape. After the ’60s, truth was relative, criticizing was equal to victimizing, individual liberty became absolute, and everyone was permitted to believe or disbelieve whatever they wished.”

 

Objects

One of the most confusing types of metaphors to explain is the type in which an abstract concept is treated as if it is a physical object. In yet another way to describe people with crazy behavior is to say that they are untethered from reality. The word tether originally meant a rope to secure an animal on a farm. Later it was also used to describe a line used to secure a blimp to its mooring. In any case, someone who is untethered from reality is clearly disconnected from a position of safety or control. We also describe unusual or illegal behavior as if it is an object that can be hidden from view. Thus we have the metaphorical phrase of a cover up. Social events or services can also be described as having an upside or a downside as if we are looking at an object from a certain point of view. In an unusual metaphor, Andersen describes the contours of reality as if it is a round object with a particular shape to be studied. Finally, another strange but common way to describe crazy behavior is to say that people are loopy, as if their body is in the form of metal loops that never quite line up to a complete circle.

untethered

Example: “When did America become untethered from reality?”

cover up

Example: “The infiltration by the FBI and intelligence agencies of left-wing groups was then being revealed, and the Watergate break-in and its cover-up were an actual criminal conspiracy.”

downside, upside

Example: “Particularly for a people with our history and propensities, the downside of the Internet seems at least as profound as the upside.”

contours of reality

Example: “Today I disagree about political issues with friends and relatives to my right, but we agree on the essential contours of reality.”

loopy

Example: “Another way the GOP got loopy was by overdoing libertarianism.”

 

Clothing

It is always interesting to see metaphors of clothing in popular English writing. One common way of describing people whose behavior is well outside social norms is to say they are on the fringe of society. There is even a common phrase of the lunatic fringe to describe these people. The term fringe originally meant the decorative hem or border of a piece of clothing. Spatially, normal people are in the middle of the article of clothing, while people with unusual behavior are on the fringe. Similarly, intact clothing is considered normal while clothing with fraying or unraveling threads is considered abnormal. Thus, people can be described as unraveling as if they are threads on an old shirt.

General Armstrong Custer’s buckskin jacket with fringe

fringe

Example: “The old fringes have been folded into the new center. The irrational has become respectable and often unstoppable.”

unravel

Example: “I wonder whether it’s only America’s destiny, exceptional as ever, to unravel in this way.”

 

 

 

Balance and Gravity

As humans, we are well aware of our sense of balance. Otherwise we would not be able to walk or even stand up straight. Thus, it is not surprising that we have conceptual metaphors based on the idea of balance. In Andersen’s article we find the concept applied to both mental and political stability in the United States. He speaks of the balance, seesawing, tipping and the center of gravity.

balance

Example: “For most of our history, the impulses existed in a rough balance, a dynamic equilibrium between fantasy and reality, mania and moderation, credulity and skepticism.”

seesaw

Example: “We still seemed to be in the midst of the normal cyclical seesawing of American politics. In the ’90s, the right achieved two of its wildest dreams: The Soviet Union and international communism collapsed; and, as violent crime radically declined, law and order was restored.”

center of gravity

Example: “The party’s ideological center of gravity swerved way to the right of Rove and all the Bushes, finally knocking them and their clubmates aside. What had been the party’s fantastical fringe became its middle.”

tip

Example: “I really can imagine, for the first time in my life, that America has permanently tipped into irreversible decline, heading deeper into Fantasyland.”

 

Science

Although less common than other metaphors seen here, our experience with science lessons in high school or college allows us to use metaphors of scientific tools or phenomenon.   For example, a crucible is a small porcelain pot used for melting materials in a lab. Metaphorically, a crucible is a social situation in which great changes are happening. In biology, cell walls are not totally closed; rather they are permeable, meaning fluids can pass through the cell membranes. Metaphorically, borders between opposing ideas can also be permeable instead of fixed. In science, substances that are poisonous to plants, animals or humans are considered toxic. We use this same term to describe any event or situation that is harmful to the people involved. Scientists are sometimes engineers who create new inventions or design new projects. Metaphorically, we can speak of people engineering political situations to their advantage. Finally, Andersen includes a wonderful scientific metaphor (grammatically a simile) that compares the Christian dominance of right-wing politicians as the chemical change of phase from liquid to gas!

crucible

Example: “Treating real life as fantasy and vice versa, and taking preposterous ideas seriously, is not unique to Americans. But we are the global crucible and epicenter.”

permeable

Example: “The borders between fiction and nonfiction are permeable, maybe nonexistent. The delusions of the insane, superstitions, and magical thinking? Any of those may be as legitimate as the supposed truths contrived by Western reason and science.”

toxic

Example: “Those earnest beliefs planted more seeds for the extravagant American conspiracy thinking that by the turn of the century would be rampant and seriously toxic.”

engineer

Example: “I doubt the GOP elite deliberately engineered the synergies between the economic and religious sides of their contemporary coalition. But as the incomes of middle- and working-class people flatlined, Republicans pooh-poohed rising economic inequality and insecurity.”

a phase from liquid to gas

Example: “The Christian takeover happened gradually, but then quickly in the end, like a phase change from liquid to gas. In 2008, three-quarters of the major GOP presidential candidates said they believed in evolution, but in 2012 it was down to a third, and then in 2016, just one did.”

 

Buildings

As I have demonstrated many times in this blog, the concept of buildings is used to create very common metaphors in politics. In a very specific metaphor concerning door hinges, a door cannot swing open or closed properly unless it is correctly hinged to the doorframe. Metaphorically, someone who is unhinged is considered crazy as if they are not properly attached to reality. More commonly, the idea of old buildings that are crumbling or need to be torn down is used metaphorically to describe the changing of social ideas or political institutions.

unhinged

Example: “Left-wingers weren’t the only ones who became unhinged. Officials at the FBI, the CIA, and military intelligence agencies, as well as in urban police departments, convinced themselves that peaceful antiwar protesters and campus lefties in general were dangerous militants.”

crumbling

Example: “The distinction between opinion and fact was crumbling on many fronts.”

torn down

Example: “The problem is that Republicans have purposefully torn down the validating institutions,” the political journalist Josh Barro, a Republican until 2016, wrote last year. “They have convinced voters that the media cannot be trusted; they have gotten them used to ignoring inconvenient facts about policy; and they have abolished standards of discourse.”

 

Movement

We also have experience traveling in or driving vehicles such as cars or boats. A boat without power or a rudder will be out of control and drift with the current of a river or ocean. Metaphorically, any gradual movement that does not seem to be controlled may be described as a drift. A car or truck out of control may go off course or careen off the road. Metaphorically, any process that seems to be out of control may be described as careening instead of going in a straight line. A vehicle with a lot of power and zoom along at a high speed, while one that runs out of gas may sputter out and stop moving. Processes observed over a long time may also be described as zooming or sputtering out. Other vehicles with a great deal of mass, such as freight trains, may have trouble stopping after traveling at a high rate of speed because of its momentum.   Metaphorically, a process that seems to have a great deal of success may be described as having unstoppable momentum.

drift

Example: “But our drift toward credulity, toward doing our own thing, toward denying facts and having an altogether uncertain grip on reality, has overwhelmed our other exceptional national traits and turned us into a less developed country.”

careen

Example: “As the Vietnam War escalated and careened, antirationalism flowered.”

zoom, sputter out

Example: “As the pioneer vehicle, the John Birch Society zoomed along and then sputtered out, but its fantastical paradigm and belligerent temperament has endured in other forms and under other brand names.”

unstoppable momentum

Example: “The idea that progress has some kind of unstoppable momentum, as if powered by a Newtonian law, was always a very American belief.”

 

Literary references

In rare cases, we can find metaphors based on famous books or movies. Once in a while, we find people comparing strange behavior to the antics of the characters in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. In that story, Alice transforms herself by looking in a mirror and gets lost by chasing a rabbit down a hole. Metaphorically, passing through the looking glass or going down the rabbit hole are indicative of going into a fantasy instead of staying in reality. In a second example from the book and movie, The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy puts her faith in a magical wizard behind a curtain. However, she accidentally finds out that the wizard is simply an ordinary man. Metaphorically, a person who is not who people think he or she is may be described as the Wizard of Oz coming out from behind the curtain.

through the looking glass, down the rabbit hole

Example: “We have passed through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole. America has mutated into Fantasyland.”

Wizard of Oz

Example: “Karl Rove was stone-cold cynical, the Wizard of Oz’s evil twin coming out from behind the curtain for a candid chat shortly before he won a second term for George W. Bush, about how ‘judicious study of discernible reality [is] … not the way the world really works anymore.’”

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As one can see, there is a great variety of metaphors we can use to describe the changing belief systems in people, and how those belief systems influence voting decisions. Kurt Andersen’s excellent article reveals the complexity of our English language usage of both common and unique metaphors. Thanks for reading!

Metaphors of Truthiness, Part 1

Back in 2005, the comedian Stephen Colbert coined a new word, truthiness, meaning the truth of something that people feel in their gut instead of their mind. At the time, he was in the character of his alter ego, a conservative politician, who was parodying some of the comments of the Bush administration. However, the word has caught on, and now it has been used in a wide variety of situations in which people seem to have their own versions of the truth, much to the consternation of politicians and journalists. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the late senator from New York, famously said, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.”

In a brilliant article in the latest issue of The Atlantic magazine entitled “How American Lost its Mind” (September, 2017, pp. 76-91), Kurt Andersen details the growth of what he calls Fantasyland, the phenomenon of people all across America believing in statements and events that have very little basis in reality. Not surprisingly, he points to many half-truths spoken by Donald Trump (he cites one study which claims that Trump’s statements were found to be lies 50% of the time), or the “alternative facts” of his spokesperson Kellyanne Conway. However, it is not only those on the right who are guilty of living in Fantasyland. He notes people on the far left also believe in 9/11 conspiracy theories, that extraterrestrials have visited the earth, and that vaccines cause autism, despite a lack of evidence that any of these claims are true. In fact, Andersen provides a lengthy history of this phenomenon that includes Americans from all walks of life, tracing it all the way back to the Esalen Institute and counterculture movements of the 1960s, the Watergate conspiracy theories of the 1970s, the Reagan era, Clinton foibles, and the latest Trump political machinations.

As a linguist, I am fascinated by this phenomenon for two reasons. For one, linguists are normally concerned with the rhetoric or metaphors of political speeches designed to persuade an audience to agree with or vote for that speaker. However, in the case of Andersen’s Fantasyland, it is interesting to think of what the listeners are understanding rather than what the speaker is saying. Normally, we do not have the privilege of knowing what is truly going on in the minds of voters. The details that Andersen provides in his article shed light on the mind-sets of many Americans. Secondly, I am also fascinated by the metaphors used to describe this phenomenon. It is well known that we use a wide variety of metaphors to describe people who are allegedly crazy such as being batty, loopy, a few cards short of a deck, etc. However, I was amazed to see how many different metaphors Andersen used to describe other aspects of this truthiness phenomenon including conceptual metaphors from animals, nature, humans, family, farming, cooking, science, balance, vision, clothing, objects, movement, buildings, and literary references.

Today I include several examples from each type of metaphor. However, since I found such an incredible variety of metaphors, I will have to split this blog post into two parts. I will provide the second part of the post in about a week. As usual, the quotations are taken directly from the article. Some quotes are repeated in different categories if they have two or more types of metaphors. Italics are mine.

Animals and Arachnids

It is very common to create metaphors based on our common experience with animals, insects and arachnids. Andersen uses some colorful metaphors to describe various aspects of the phenomenon of people holding unusual beliefs. In one case, he describes some of these people as being batty, a metaphor perhaps based on the erratic flying motion of bats or the correlated metaphor of having bats in your belfry. He also describes certain groups working together as being a spider web of people or other groups of people as rabble, a Middle English word meaning a pack of wild animals. Anderson quotes Donald Trump reviving an old myth that Bill and Hillary Clinton had something to do with the apparent suicide of their colleague Vince Foster, calling it fishy. Finally, he describes the situation of Americans experiencing this Fantasyland phenomenon as being canaries in a coal mine since canaries were used in coalmines to detect poisonous gases. If they suddenly died, it was a warning to the mineworkers to get out of the mine as fast as possible.

batty

Example: “The Reagan presidency was famously a triumph of truthiness and entertainment, and in the 1990s, as problematically batty beliefs kept going mainstream, presidential politics continued merging with the fantasy-industrial complex.”

web

Example: “Within a few decades, the belief that a web of villainous elites was covertly seeking to impose a malevolent global regime made its way from the lunatic right to the mainstream.”

rabble rouser

Example: “But over the past few decades, a lot of the rabble they roused came to believe all the untruths.”

fishy

Example: “He revived the 1993 fantasy about the Clintons’ friend Vince Foster—his death, Trump said, was ‘very fishy,’…”

canary in a coal mine

Example: “I wonder whether it’s only America’s destiny, exceptional as ever, to unravel in this way. Or maybe we’re just early adopters, the canaries in the global mine, and Canada and Denmark and Japan and China and all the rest will eventually follow us down our tunnel.”

 

Nature

Other aspects of nature are also commonly used to create conceptual metaphors. Andersen’s article contains quite a few of these as well. A common metaphor from nature is to call a new social trend as a grassroots movement, as if the people are growing like grass in one’s yard. Roots of trees are also used metaphorically to indicate the origins of certain phenomena. In this case, Andersen talks about the taproots of certain kinds of prejudice in America. Another common nature metaphor is to talk about a trend as if it is a person sliding down a hill or a slippery slope. There are also quite a few examples of river metaphors: popular media is referred to as mainstream, as if it is flowing in the middle of a river; social trends may flow out from a source; there might be tidal surges of new social constructs knocking down the flood walls, while there may be efforts to slow the flood or repair the levees to stop the damage, and there may be a cascade of false beliefs creating a pool in which people surf and swim. Finally, there is a nice contrastive pair of metaphors, comparing the darkness of winter to the light of spring and hope for a better future.

grassroots movement

Example: “We must call out the dangerously untrue and unreal. A grassroots movement against one kind of cultural squishiness has taken off and lately reshaped our national politics—the opposition to political correctness. I envision a comparable struggle that insists on distinguishing between the factually true and the blatantly false.”

taproot

Example: “Trump launched his political career by embracing a brand-new conspiracy theory twisted around two American taproots—fear and loathing of foreigners and of nonwhites.”

slippery slopes

Example: “There are many slippery slopes, leading in various directions to other exciting nonsense. During the past several decades, those naturally slippery slopes have been turned into a colossal and permanent complex of interconnected, crisscrossing bobsled tracks, which Donald Trump slid down right into the White House.”

mainstream

Example: “The word mainstream has recently become a pejorative, shorthand for bias, lies, oppression by the elites.”

flow out

Example: “Conservatives are correct that the anything-goes relativism of college campuses wasn’t sequestered there, but when it flowed out across America it helped enable extreme Christianities and lunacies on the right—gun-rights hysteria, black-helicopter conspiracism, climate-change denial, and more.”

tidal surge, flood walls

In this case, Andersen is describing the work of Charles Reich, a 1970 book on counterculture called The Greening of America.

Example: “His wishful error was believing that once the tidal surge of new sensibility brought down the flood walls, the waters would flow in only one direction, carving out a peaceful, cooperative, groovy new continental utopia, hearts and minds changed like his, all of America Berkeleyized and Vermontified.”

slow the flood, repair the levees

Example: “But I think we can slow the flood, repair the levees, and maybe stop things from getting any worse.”

cascade, surf, swim

Example: “False beliefs were rendered both more real-seeming and more contagious, creating a kind of fantasy cascade in which millions of bedoozled Americans surfed and swam.”

winter, light

Example: “Even as we’ve entered this long winter of foolishness and darkness, when too many Americans are losing their grip on reason and reality, it has been an epoch of astonishing hope and light as well.”

 

Farming

I found it fascinating that Andersen often describes the growth of different belief systems as if they were crops growing on a farm. He claims that the beliefs were like seeds that flowered or sprouted into new social movements. He describes a case for the Esalen Institute, a pioneering New Age center in California in the 1960s, as a hotbed of ideas, as if they were plants growing in a greenhouse. In a common fruit metaphor, he describes some conservatives as cherry-picking libertarian policies to suit their needs, as if these policies were ripe cherries. Finally, Andersen claims that some of Donald Trump’s ideas are hogwash, named for the leftover food scraps given to hogs on the farm.

seeds

Example: “Those earnest beliefs planted more seeds for the extravagant American conspiracy thinking that by the turn of the century would be rampant and seriously toxic.”

flower

Example: “As the Vietnam War escalated and careened, antirationalism flowered.”

sprout

Example: “Conspiracy theories were more of a modern right-wing habit before people on the left signed on. However, the belief that the federal government had secret plans to open detention camps for dissidents sprouted in the ’70s on the paranoid left before it became a fixture on the right.”

hotbed

Example: “Esalen’s founders were big Laing fans, and the institute became a hotbed for the idea that insanity was just an alternative way of perceiving reality.”

cherry-pick

Example: “Republicans are very selective, cherry-picking libertarians: Let business do whatever it wants and don’t spoil poor people with government handouts; let individuals have gun arsenals but not abortions or recreational drugs or marriage with whomever they wish; and don’t mention Ayn Rand’s atheism.”

hogwash

Example: “During the campaign, Trump repeated the falsehood that vaccines cause autism. And instead of undergoing a normal medical exam from a normal doctor and making the results public, like nominees had before, Trump went on The Dr. Oz Show and handed the host test results from his wacky doctor. Did his voters know that his hogwash was hogwash?”

 

Cooking

Perhaps correlating with the farm metaphors are a few examples of cooking metaphors. In a common way to describe an unreasonable idea or person, Andersen describes them as being half-baked, as if it is a loaf of bread not quite ready to come out of the oven.   He also provides a wonderful metaphor based on a cup of tea – steeping the tea bag in water, letting the smells and vapors permeate the room.

half-baked

Example: “That is, they inspired half-baked and perverse followers in the academy, whose arguments filtered out into the world at large: All approximations of truth, science as much as any fable or religion, are mere stories devised to serve people’s needs or interests.”

steep, vapors

Example: “The right has had three generations to steep in this, its taboo vapors wafting more and more into the main chambers of conservatism, becoming familiar, seeming less outlandish.”

 

Human Body

Not surprisingly, we commonly create metaphors based on our own human experiences. In one unusual metaphor, we talk of a crazy person as a crackpot, referring back to an old slang term for the head as a pot. Another common way to describe crazy behavior as someone who is losing grip on reality as if it is an object that can be grasped with the hands. Andersen also compares Trump’s need for attention to a person who is ravenous and insatiable for food. I also noticed two metaphors of illness and cancer. Andersen quotes Rick Perry claiming that Donald Trump was a “cancer on conservatism” while he also notes that the American acceptance of Fantasyland has metastasized as if it is a cancer that will spread to other countries.

crackpot

Example: “Belief in gigantic conspiracies has moved from the crackpot periphery to the mainstream.”

grip on reality

Example: “Even as we’ve entered this long winter of foolishness and darkness, when too many Americans are losing their grip on reason and reality, it has been an epoch of astonishing hope and light as well.”

ravenous and insatiable

Example: “But Trump’s need for any and all public attention always seemed to me more ravenous and insatiable than any other public figure’s, akin to an addict’s for drugs.”

cancer on conservatism

Example: “Before Trump won their nomination and the presidency, when he was still ‘a cancer on conservatism’ that must be “discarded” (former Governor Rick Perry) and an ‘utterly amoral’ ‘narcissist at a level I don’t think this country’s ever seen’ (Senator Ted Cruz), Republicans hated Trump’s ideological incoherence—they didn’t yet understand that his campaign logic was a new kind, blending exciting tales with a showmanship that transcends ideology.”

metastasized

Example: “The American experiment has metastasized out of control. Being American now means we can believe anything we want.”

 

Family

I also found examples of metaphors based on family relations. Andersen describes Esalen as a mother church in the United States as if it had given birth to a new type of religion. He also provides another brilliant contrastive pair of metaphors, describes incredulity and skepticism as fraternal twins.

mother church

Example: “Esalen is a mother church of a new American religion for people who think they don’t like churches or religions but who still want to believe in the supernatural.”

fraternal twin

Example: “Trump’s genius was to exploit the skeptical disillusion with politics—there’s too much equivocating; democracy’s a charade—but also to pander to Americans’ magical thinking about national greatness. Extreme credulity is a fraternal twin of extreme skepticism.”

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That’s all for Part 1.  Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for Part 2 coming soon!

Health Care Metaphors

Hello! Anyone watching TV or reading the newspapers lately has no doubt seen the huge battle going on in Washington D.C. over healthcare. Barack Obama and the Democrats managed to pass the Affordable Care Act during his tenure as president. The Republicans promised for seven years to “repeal and replace” the so-called Obamacare as soon as they were in the office. Now, however, even though the Republicans control the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives, they have not been able to pass any new legislation to replace Obamacare. Several different versions of a new health care bill have been presented but they have all been defeated by either the House or the Senate. This past week, the latest version was voted down, in part because of three Republicans who voted against it, including a dramatic “thumbs down” vote by John McCain at the last minute.

Readers of this blog may have also noticed that there has been a bewildering variety of metaphors used to describe this process. Here are a few that I have been watching in the past few weeks. I list them here by conceptual metaphor with one or two examples of each. The sources for each quotation are included in the descriptions and explanations as a hyperlink. Italics are mine.

Body Shape: skinny

One of the most unusual metaphors to describe the latest health care bill was calling it the skinny repeal version, implying that it was a thin version of an earlier more comprehensive bill. We tend to describe people (or animals) as being skinny, normal or fat (more politely heavy) thus we can metaphorically use descriptions of body shapes to describe the thickness of a legislative document. Here is a headline from the New York Post.

Example:  Trump fumes over health care reform after ‘skinny repeal’ defeat

Food: vinegar and honey

We often use our experiences with food to describe abstract processes, such as something being bitter or sweet. Some writers at the Daily Beast have described the Republican healthcare bill as being all vinegar, no honey since it seemed to be taking health care away from millions of people while increasing premiums on those who do have insurance – nothing sweet about it, only a sour taste.

 

 

Example: How Donald Trump’s “All Vinegar, No Honey” Approach To Health Care Reform Ended Up Backfiring

Journey: rocky start, bridge

Journey metaphors are very common in political speeches, and they also appear in headlines and articles about political processes. In one case, a headline in the Washington Examiner describes health care reform as being off to a rocky start, as if it is a person walking on an uneven rocky path instead of a smooth walkway. In another example from Fox Business News, Senator Ted Cruz argued that he could bridge the gap between warring factions of the Republican Party as if he could making a connecting bridge between two distant parts of a road.

Example: Bipartisan healthcare reform off to a rocky start in the Senate

Example: Ted Cruz: Amendment can bridge gap between split Republican Party

 

 

 

Building: collapse, fall apart

            We often describe creating processes as if they are buildings we are constructing. Conversely, when processes do not work, we can describe them as if these buildings are collapsing or falling apart. Recent headlines at politico.com and cnn.com refer to these two processes.

Example: House Republicans despair after health care collapse

Example: How the Republican health care bill fell apart

Machines and Engines: fix, overhaul, backfire

When a machine is not working properly, we must make efforts to fix it. Metaphorically, we can also fix any process that is not working out well. Political writers and pundits commonly refer to legislative processes as fixing health care. Here is one example from the Atlantic magazine. Also, if a machine or engine is broken beyond a simple repair, we may need to totally overhaul it, taking it all apart and putting it back together again. An article at cnn.com refers to the Republican efforts to replace Obamacare as overhauling it.   Finally, when the gas mixture in an engine is not regulated correctly, it may backfire or produce a loud bang from the exhaust system. Metaphorically, when an effort to do something completely fails, we may say that it backfires. An article in the Daily Beast describes Donald Trump’s efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare as having backfired.

Example: How Republicans Can Fix American Health Care

Example: “We should not put our stamp of approval on bad policy,” Moran said in a bold statement that derailed Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s bid to overhaul the Affordable Care Act.

Example: How Donald Trump’s “All Vinegar, No Honey” Approach To Health Care Reform Ended Up Backfiring

Chemistry and Physics: litmus test, pressure

In chemistry, one way to test whether an element is an acid or a base is to put a small solution on a piece of special paper called litmus paper. This procedure is called a litmus test. Metaphorically, any process that determines if something will be successful may be called a litmus test. A recent NBC News story describes the efforts of the Democrats to retain Obamacare as federal law as a litmus test. In physics, the amount of force exerted upon an object is called pressure. We can talk of air pressure, barometric pressure, etc. Metaphorically, the power for a group of people to influence other people can also be called pressure. The Press Herald newspaper in Maine describes how the Maine senator, Susan Collins, withstood the pressure of her fellow Republicans to vote against the health care bill.

Example: Government-Run Health Care: Democrats’ New Litmus Test

Example: Susan Collins withstood intense pressure, ultimately voted against health care repeal

Boxing: round one, slam

Sadly, we also describe many aspects of the political process as if the politicians are fighting each other in a boxing ring. Most boxing matches last a total of 15 rounds. The preliminary battles between two opponents are often called round one. An article at cnn.com describes the defeat of the health care bill as a loss for Donald Trump in round one. Several weeks ago, an article in USA Today even described the diplomatic Bernie Sanders as slamming the Republican version of the health care bill.

Example: Health care defeat confirmed it: Trump has lost round one

Example: Bernie Sanders slams GOP health care bill, calls Trump CNN tweet ‘an outrage’

 

Military: kill, dead, blast, implode, torpedo

Even more violent metaphors can be found in military descriptions of political processes. An article at msnbc.com described how the health care bill was killed, while in an article in the New York Post, the authors describe the health care repeal process as a dead issue.   Other writers describe the process in terms of explosions or cannon fire. CNN describes President Trump as blasting the Senate rules that contributed to the defeat of the Republican bill, while a story at politico.com reports that Trump himself claims he wanted Obamacare to implode. Finally, another CNN story claims that the Senate has torpedoed the heath care bill.

Example: The stunning drama of killing the GOP health care bill

Example: President Trump hasn’t given up on health care reform — even though the Senate’s GOP leader say [sic] it’s a dead issue for now.

Example: Trump blasts Senate rules in Saturday morning tweets

Example: After health care loss, Trump tweets ‘let ObamaCare implode’

 

Example: House Republicans rail on Senate GOP for torpedoing health care

Science Fiction: the twilight zone

Last but not least, we find a metaphor derived from the name of a popular 1960s TV show called the Twilight Zone. In the TV show, the title referred to the time between day and night when normal rules of science are twisted into bizarre or unexpected occurrences. The term was originally was used as early as 1909 to describe the time between lightness and darkness when nothing could be seen clearly. Metaphorically the twilight zone refers to a situation in which normal social rules do no apply. Several articles reported that Missouri senator Claire McCaskill referred to the healthcare reform process as being in the twilight zone.

Example: “We’re in the twilight zone of legislating,” Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri said Thursday of the GOP’s strategy.

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As you can see, one political process may be described with a wide variety of conceptual metaphors. These examples offer more proof that the use of metaphors is a normal part of human cognition, not a specialized type of language. As always, comments, questions or additional examples are welcome. Thanks for reading!

 

 

Showing One’s True Colors

There is a particular metaphorical phrase that has been mentioned in the news the past few weeks, that of a person or group of people showing their true colors. This metaphor has a colorful origin:

In the 1700s, ships were required to fly the flag or colors of the country of their origin so ship captains could see at a glance who was a friend and who might be an enemy on the high seas. Some dishonest captains, however, would fly the flags of other countries in order to trick some ships into coming closer so they could attack. These attacking pirate ships would then show their correct flags or their true colors. So metaphorically, if people show their true colors, this means that they are showing what they really think or believe.

After the recent health care bill passed by the House of Representatives, allegedly cutting many people off from health care, and giving more power to insurance companies, while giving tax breaks to other wealthy corporation, some liberal critics complained that the Republicans were showing their true colors. See one such blog post entitled “GOP shows true colors: Profits before people, always” here.

Some of my friends and colleagues have also wondered if President Trump is showing his true colors by firing anyone who seems to challenge his authority. To be fair, conservative commentators have used to same phrase to criticize Democrats such as in the article “Obama Shows His True Colors as He Leaves Office” here.

With many colors of flowers and trees popping out in this spring weather, I thought it was time to review a few metaphors of colors. Here is a sampling of some of the more striking metaphors of color.

Red and Blue

red states and blue states

                  The United States has two dominant political parties, the Democrats and the Republicans. During presidential elections, each state will be won by either party. In the 1990s, television stations and newspapers struggled to show which party had won each state. Eventually the media began using two contrasting colors for the two parties, red for Republican-won states, and blue for Democrat-won states. In time, people began to shorten the names to simply red states and blue states. Technically, these terms are not metaphors. There is nothing intrinsically red or blue about any political party. In this case, the color-based origin of these political metaphors is completely arbitrary. I include them here for the sake of clarifying these examples.

Example: The west coast of the United States has mostly blue states such as California, Oregon and Washington. However, the Midwest and South have many red states. 


purple

Since purple is a mixture of the colors red and blue, some media analysts say that states with an even mixture of Democratic and Republican voters are called purple states.

Example: Virginia was formerly known as a red state, but it has been purple during the 2008, 2012 and 2016 elections.

red

The color red has many metaphorical meanings. In addition to the political meaning explained above, the color red is commonly used to mean anger.

Example: In the year 2000, many Democrats were seeing red when the Supreme Court voted to uphold George W. Bush’s election win although Al Gore had won the popular vote.

red ink

Pens with red ink were formerly used to write down the amount of money that was lost in a business. When a business or government is losing more money than it is earning, we say that it is in red ink.

Example: When the economy is in recession, many state governments get into red ink. They must begin to make budget cuts.

red tape

Many years ago, a kind of red-colored tape was used to hold together official government documents. Nowadays, the phrase red tape indicates the problems and delays one encounters when trying to get something done in a bureaucracy.

Example: Many Americans are frustrated by all the red tape they must endure every time they deal with the government for taxes, licenses, passports, etc. 

redline

As with the phrase red ink, the term redline originally meant to use red ink to highlight a problem. In some cases, the names of people who applied for a loan from a bank but did not qualify were crossed off a list with red line. Thus, to redline someone means to disqualify him or her from doing something.

Example: In part, the banking crisis of 2008 was caused by banks giving loans to people who should have been redlined since they could not afford to pay the high mortgages.

rosy

The rose flower has petals in beautiful shades of red. If we say something is rosy, this means that the situation is very good.

Example: When a new president is elected, most people have rosy expectations of making positive changes for the country.

blue

In addition to meaning explained above that blue states are Democratic, the color blue is also used to indicate situations that are sad or depressing. Also, as mentioned in the chapter on Clothing, blue-collar workers are those who work in factories and make middle class wages.

Example: In 2008, Barack Obama was able to turn some red states blue.

Example: Many Republicans were feeling blue when Barack Obama won the election.

Example: During the 2016 election, Donald Trump won many votes from blue-collar Democrats in the Midwest.

out of the blue

If something is unexpected, it seems to fall from the blue sky. Thus we have an expression that something we were not expecting is out of the blue.

Example: The rise of Hitler in World War II was not out of the blue; many Europeans knew he was gaining power in the 1930s. 

blue blooded

Many years ago in Spain, the term translated as blueblood meant someone who was very rich or from a high social class. This term may have started from the idea that blood looks blue in people with very fair skin especially when compared to people with darker skin.

Example: After the American Revolution in the 1770s and 1780s, citizens did not want any more royal British bluebloods controlling their government; they wanted to elect their own presidents.

 

Green and Yellow

green

The color green has many metaphorical meanings. Since most plants are very green when they start to grow, the color green is used to indicate people who are not yet mature or experienced. Since the color green is associated with plant growth, it has been used to describe programs, organizations and governments that take good care of the environment. Subsequently, one who works in a business promoting environmental concerns can be called a green-collar worker. Finally, since American money is colored green, the term green can also be used to indicate financial gain.

Example: Some critics said that Barack Obama was too green to be elected president since he did not have much executive experience.

Example: Traditionally American-made cars have not been good at saving gas or reducing pollution. However, now the companies are stating to make greener cars with better gas mileage and less carbon dioxide emissions.

green-collar

Example: After the high oil and gas prices in 2008, many companies started making alternative energy, creating many green collar jobs.

greenhorn

                  A person who is inexperienced can also be called a greenhorn, perhaps derived from animals with new horns when they are young. 

Example: Ronald Reagan was no greenhorn when it came to making public speeches. He was a famous Hollywood actor before becoming the governor of California and the president of the United States.

greenback

A greenback is another word meaning American money, due to its color.

Example: Americans seem to need more and more greenbacks to buy simple things like food and gasoline. 

yellow

In popular terms, to be yellow means to be afraid or cowardly, as in a soldier who is afraid to fight in a war. In politics, a leader may be called yellow if he or she is afraid to use military force against an enemy.

Example: After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, President Roosevelt was not yellow; he declared war on Japan the next day and immediately began plans to attack.

yellow journalism

In the 1890’s, a New York newspaper had a comic strip character who always wore yellow clothes. The Yellow Kid, as he was known, was so popular another newspaper created their own yellow characters to get more people to buy their newspaper. This competition became known as yellow journalism, later meaning the type of reporting relying on headlines, exaggerations and sensational stories to sell newspapers instead of trying to find all the facts.

Example: American citizens should be careful about yellow journalism when it comes to learning the truth about the news. They should only read newspapers that tell the real truth about events.

 

Silver and Gold

silver lining

Silver and gold are both names for colors and names for precious metals. Thus they are used to describe things that are very valuable.   There is an old expression that every cloud has a silver lining. This phrase is thought to come from the fact that even dark clouds may have sunlight coming through along the edge giving a silver look to it. This in turn means that even though the sky is dark, the sun is still there and will shine again. Metaphorically, a silver lining means that even when life is bad, good things can still happen so we need to stay hopeful.

Example: When the economy is bad and many people lose their jobs, one silver lining is that prices for many items such as houses, cars and gasoline actually go down. 

silver tongued

If someone is described as being silver tongued, this means that the person is very good at speaking.

Example: Barack Obama proved himself to be a silver-tongued politician during the 2008 presidential election.

golden

Gold is one of the most expensive metals and if something is called golden, this means that it is very valuable.

Example: During Ronald Reagan’s presidency, Republicans thought he was the best president ever; he was absolutely golden.

golden boy

A young man with potential for doing great things is sometimes called a golden boy.

Example: John F. Kennedy, Jr., the son of the late 35th U.S. president, was considered America’s golden boy until his tragic death in 1999 at the age of 38.

golden parachute

                  When a business executive retires, he or she is often given a sum of money as a retirement gift. In some cases, these gifts amount to millions of dollars. These gifts are sometimes called golden parachutes because they allow the person to retire as if they are jumping from an airplane and landing safely in retirement.

Example: American citizens become angry when they learn that some business executives get million-dollar golden parachutes even though their companies went bankrupt and investors lost a great deal of money. 

gold star

In many American elementary schools, children are given a gold star sticker on their schoolwork meaning that the work was very good. In popular terms, anything that has high quality can also be described as being gold star.

Example: The Kennedy family has a gold-star reputation in the United States because of the many contributions their family members have made to American politics.

gold star families

When a soldier is killed in a war, his or her family receives a gold star made from paper that they can put in the front window of their home indicating their loss. Thus gold star families are those who have lost a family member in military service.

Example: Some gold star families support political candidates who try to end wars; other gold star families support those who continue America’s military strength around the world.

Other Color Metaphors 

colorblind

If someone cannot physically see colors, this is called being colorblind. Metaphorically, being colorblind means that one does not form opinions or make decisions based on a person’s race.

Example: Did America become more colorblind after Barack Obama was elected the first black president? Or will race still an important issue in society for many years to come?

off-color

If a person is looking off-color, this means he or shoe does not have the usual color of healthy skin. In jewelry, a jewel that is off-color is less valuable because it is not as pure as other examples of that type of gem. In popular terms, a joke or story is considered off color if it is not accepted by normal society, usually because it has some sexual content.

Example: Good politicians are careful not to tell any off-color stories since many people will be offended.

If you hear of any unusual color metaphors in the news, please let me know. Questions and comments are always welcome!

 

 

 

President Trump’s 1st Address to Congress

This past week, Donald Trump made his first address to Congress as president of the United States. In contrast to his negative inauguration speech about “American carnage,” this speech was more positive and hopeful. You can read the transcript of the speech here.

Trump supporters were very pleased with the speech and claimed he was very “presidential.” Critics of Donald Trump were quick to point out many factual errors in his speech and were not very impressed. The Washington Post found errors on many different issues including immigration rates, defense spending, crime rates, welfare statistics and unemployment rates. You can read the summary here.

 

Regardless of the controversies surrounding the speech, I found that the frequency and type of metaphors also differed significantly compared to the inauguration speech. It has taken me a week to sort through all the different examples of metaphors in this long speech. Although there were many negative metaphors involving physical forces, there were also positive metaphors of vision and journeys looking forward as one might expect in an address to Congress. Here are a few interesting examples. As always, the quotations are taken directly from the transcript. I have added italics to mark the metaphors under analysis. In some cases, quotations are repeated if they contain more than one type of metaphor.

Building

            This speech presents an interesting contrast between using some metaphors in a negative manner, while using others in the same category in a positive manner. President Trump describes various aspects of the country as if they are buildings that are crumbling, collapsing or imploding. However, he also talks about building for the future.

crumbling

Example: “And we’ve spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas, while our infrastructure at home has so badly crumbled.”

Example: “Crumbling infrastructure will be replaced with new roads, bridges, tunnels, airports and railways gleaming across our very, very beautiful land.“

collapsing

Example: “Obamacare premiums nationwide have increased by double and triple digits. As an example, Arizona went up 116 percent last year alone. Governor Matt Bevin of Kentucky just said Obamacare is failing in his state — the state of Kentucky — and it’s unsustainable and collapsing.”

Example: “Remember when you were told that you could keep your doctor and keep your plan? We now know that all of those promises have been totally broken.   Obamacare is collapsing, and we must act decisively to protect all Americans. (Applause.)”

imploding

Example: “Action is not a choice, it is a necessity. So I am calling on all Democrats and Republicans in Congress to work with us to save Americans from this imploding Obamacare disaster. (Applause.)”

building

Example: “We must build bridges of cooperation and trust — not drive the wedge of disunity and, really, it’s what it is, division. It’s pure, unadulterated division. We have to unify.”

Example: “I am sending Congress a budget that rebuilds the military, eliminates the defense sequester — (applause) — and calls for one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.”

Example: “The only long-term solution for these humanitarian disasters, in many cases, is to create the conditions where displaced persons can safely return home and begin the long, long process of rebuilding. (Applause.)”

Example: “We’ve financed and built one global project after another, but ignored the fates of our children in the inner cities of Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit, and so many other places throughout our land.” 

Machines and Tools

Similarly, Trump’s speech contrasts what can be broken and what can be fixed as if the United States is a machine. He also offers to provide the proper tools to the U.S. military to prevent war.

broken, fixed

Example: “Everything that is broken in our country can be fixed. Every problem can be solved. And every hurting family can find healing and hope.”

tools

Example: “Finally, to keep America safe, we must provide the men and women of the United States military with the tools they need to prevent war — if they must — they have to fight and they only have to win.”

Physical Forces

            The Trump speech also contains a large set of metaphors in a category of what I called physical forces, i.e., using a physical action to describe an abstract process. Donald Trump uses many of these metaphors to describe the state of the country, in some cases, in ways similar to his ideas of “American carnage.” We find that the middle class is shrinking, and we have job-crushing government regulations while he desires to demolish, destroy and extinguish ISIS. He also claims that drugs are pouring into the country. In contrast, he also uses metaphors of physical forces to describe positive efforts. He describes a desire to expand treatment for drug users, while national pride is sweeping the country and optimism is surging in the United States.

shrink

Example: “For too long, we’ve watched our middle class shrink as we’ve exported our jobs and wealth to foreign countries.”

crush

Example: “We have undertaken a historic effort to massively reduce job-crushing regulations, creating a deregulation task force inside of every government agency.”

demolish, destroy and extinguish

Example: “As promised, I directed the Department of Defense to develop a plan to demolish and destroy ISIS — a network of lawless savages that have slaughtered Muslims and Christians, and men, and women, and children of all faiths and all beliefs. We will work with our allies, including our friends and allies in the Muslim world, to extinguish this vile enemy from our planet. (Applause.)”

pour in, expand

Example: “We’ve defended the borders of other nations while leaving our own borders wide open for anyone to cross and for drugs to pour in at a now unprecedented rate.”

Example: “We will stop the drugs from pouring into our country and poisoning our youth, and we will expand treatment for those who have become so badly addicted. (Applause.)”

sweep, surge

Example: “A new national pride is sweeping across our nation. And a new surge of optimism is placing impossible dreams firmly within our grasp.”

Binding objects

Similarly, we find examples of a specific type of physical forces dealing with using force to bind two objects together. Again, these metaphors can be used with either positive or negative connotations. He spoke movingly of a young woman named Megan who suffers from a rare disease and whose father had to fight the government to approve new drugs to help her. Thus, Donald Trump speaks of FDA regulations are restraints that need to be slashed, while the girl had the unbounded love of her father. He also said that we should not be bound by the failures of the past but have an unbroken chain of truth, liberty and justice in America.

restraints

Example: “If we slash the restraints, not just at the FDA but across our government, then we will be blessed with far more miracles just like Megan. (Applause.) In fact, our children will grow up in a nation of miracles.”

unbounded

Example: “Megan’s story is about the unbounded power of a father’s love for a daughter. But our slow and burdensome approval process at the Food and Drug Administration keeps too many advances, like the one that saved Megan’s life, from reaching those in need.”

bound

Example: “From now on, America will be empowered by our aspirations, not burdened by our fears; inspired by the future, not bound by the failures of the past; and guided by our vision, not blinded by our doubts.”


unbroken chain

Example: “Each American generation passes the torch of truth, liberty and justice in an unbroken chain all the way down to the present.”

Fragile Objects

            Processes can be described metaphorically as if they are fragile objects. Trump uses some of these metaphors to describe various aspects of government policies and processes. He claims that President Obama broke many of his promises about the Affordable Care Act, while we must break the cycles of poverty and violence. He also claims that we have an unbreakable alliance with Israel.

break promises

Example: “Remember when you were told that you could keep your doctor and keep your plan? We now know that all of those promises have been totally broken.   Obamacare is collapsing, and we must act decisively to protect all Americans. (Applause.)”

break the cycle

Example: “But to break the cycle of poverty, we must also break the cycle of violence.”

unbreakable

Example: “I have also imposed new sanctions on entities and individuals who support Iran’s ballistic missile program, and reaffirmed our unbreakable alliance with the State of Israel. (Applause.)”

Nature and Natural Disasters

            Metaphors of nature are very common in political speeches. I have already analyzed Donald Trump’s frequent claim of draining the swamp, meaning the process of removing corrupt officials from government. He uses the metaphor again here. However, he also uses more powerful metaphors of natural disasters comparing the tremendous rise in his popularity during the election campaign to an earthquake, even describing the earth shifting beneath our feet. In one case, he has an odd mixing of metaphors saying that the chorus became an earthquake.

drain the swamp

Example: “We have begun to drain the swamp of government corruption by imposing a five-year ban on lobbying by executive branch officials and a lifetime ban — (applause) — thank you — and a lifetime ban on becoming lobbyists for a foreign government.”

earth shifting

Example: “Then, in 2016, the Earth shifted beneath our feet. The rebellion started as a quiet protest, spoken by families of all colors and creeds — families who just wanted a fair shot for their children and a fair hearing for their concerns.”

earthquake

Example: “Finally, the chorus became an earthquake, and the people turned out by the tens of millions, and they were all united by one very simple, but crucial demand: that America must put its own citizens first.”

Military

Along with the large sets of conceptual metaphors described above, the speech contains a nice variety of unusual metaphors that occur only once. We find there are metaphors of the military, animals, light, literature and sports. In one military metaphor we find the example of a beachhead which is the area on a shore where an invading force lands in order to bring troops and supplies. Metaphorically a beachhead is the first step of progress in a complex operation. Here Trump compares the growth of ISIS to a beachhead of terrorism.

beachhead

Example: “We cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to form inside America. We cannot allow our nation to become a sanctuary for extremists. (Applause.)”

Animals

Animals have great strength and are often used as sources of metaphors. In one case, Trump compares the dying American manufacturing companies as lions that will come roaring back to life.

roar

Example: “Dying industries will come roaring back to life.”

 

 

 

Light

            Metaphors of light are often used in political speeches. Trump claims that his new government policies will light up the world. 

torch, light up

Example: “That torch is now in our hands. And we will use it to light up the world.”

Literature

            Politicians often claim that their policies will begin a new chapter of life as if American history is a book that is being written and they are the authors.

chapter

Example: “I am here tonight to deliver a message of unity and strength, and it is a message deeply delivered from my heart. A new chapter — (applause) — of American Greatness is now beginning.”

Sports

There is also a wide variety of sports metaphors used in political speeches. Strangely, I have not seen many of these yet in Trump’s speeches. However, there is one unusual metaphor used here describing tax codes for the middle class as being on a level playing field with corporations. As described in a previous post, the idea of a level playing field is derived from the problem in the early 20th century of creating level footballs fields so one team would not have the advantage of being able to run downhill and possibly score more points. Strange but true!

level playing field

Example: “At the same time, we will provide massive tax relief for the middle class. We must create a level playing field for American companies and our workers.”

Synecdoche

I also found a very strange and unusual example of synecdoche, the type of figurative language in which a part represents a whole. In this case, Trump speaks of “two world wars that dethroned fascism.” This is complex for two reasons. For one, the idea of dethroning a government implies that the throne represents the government because the leader sits on the throne to rule the country, a classic example of synecdoche. However, there is also an element of personification in that fascism is described as being a person, i.e., the leader that sits on the throne. It’s amazing that we can understand this type of figurative language!

dethrone

Example: “We strongly support NATO, an alliance forged through the bonds of two world wars that dethroned fascism, and a Cold War, and defeated communism. (Applause.)”

Personification

Speaking of personification, I found many examples of these types of metaphors. Trump compares cities to babies being born or having a rebirth, while America is strong, and we need to strengthen national security. We also find that countries are described as either friends or enemies.

rebirth

Example: “And our neglected inner cities will see a rebirth of hope, safety and opportunity. Above all else, we will keep our promises to the American people. (Applause.)”

strong, strengthen

Example: “All the nations of the world — friend or foe — will find that America is strong, America is proud, and America is free.”

Example: “I believe that real and positive immigration reform is possible, as long as we focus on the following goals: To improve jobs and wages for Americans; to strengthen our nation’s security; and to restore respect for our laws.”

friends and enemies

Example: “All the nations of the world — friend or foe — will find that America is strong, America is proud, and America is free.”

Example: “America is friends today with former enemies. Some of our closest allies, decades ago, fought on the opposite side of these terrible, terrible wars. This history should give us all faith in the possibilities for a better world.”

Vision

The final two sets of metaphors are very common in political speeches in which the speaker tries to convince his or her listeners that the country is moving forward with a strong vision and everyone in the country is on the same journey together.  Although these types of metaphors were absent in previous Trump speeches, they make their appearance here, perhaps initiating a newly positive direction for his speeches. In terms of vision metaphors, we find that Trump wants to focus on specific goals for the country with a collective vision for the future. In a nice contrast of light and dark, Trump contends that we need to be guided by our vision, not blinded by our doubts.

focus

Example: “I believe that real and positive immigration reform is possible, as long as we focus on the following goals: To improve jobs and wages for Americans; to strengthen our nation’s security; and to restore respect for our laws.”

vision

Example: “When we have all of this, we will have made America greater than ever before — for all Americans. This is our vision. This is our mission.”

Example: “When we fulfill this vision, when we celebrate our 250 years of glorious freedom, we will look back on tonight as when this new chapter of American Greatness began.”

guided, not blinded

Example: “From now on, America will be empowered by our aspirations, not burdened by our fears; inspired by the future, not bound by the failures of the past; and guided by our vision, not blinded by our doubts.”

Journeys

Finally, we find many examples of journey metaphors as Trump speaks of finding the right vehicle, following the correct path, clearing the way of obstacles, restarting the engine of the economy or reaching milestones in our journey to become a better nation.

vehicle, path

Example: “Free nations are the best vehicle for expressing the will of the people, and America respects the right of all nations to chart their own path.”

Example: “Tonight, as we mark the conclusion of our celebration of Black History Month, we are reminded of our nation’s path towards civil rights and the work that still remains to be done.”

clear the way

Example: “We have cleared the way for the construction of the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines — (applause) — thereby creating tens of thousands of jobs.”

restart the engine

Example: “But to accomplish our goals at home and abroad, we must restart the engine of the American economy — making it easier for companies to do business in the United States, and much, much harder for companies to leave our country. (Applause.)”

milestones

Example: “It will be one of the great milestones in the history of the world. But what will America look like as we reach our 250th year? What kind of country will we leave for our children?”

*******

            As one can see, President Trump’s first address to Congress contains a wide variety of metaphors. Although there are many examples of metaphors with negative connotations as in previous speeches, for the first time here we see some metaphors that are more positive and look to the future. Time will tell if President Trump can achieve all of the goals he laid out in this speech. Stay tuned for more analyses of Trump speeches… As always, comments and questions are welcome!

 

Trump’s Inaugural Address

Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States this past weekend.   He delivered a short 16-minute speech. It was not the normal inaugural address. Most new presidents make efforts to unite the country and outline the goals of their term.   These addresses also normally include some soaring rhetoric rich in metaphors to try to inspire the American public to follow the president’s new agenda. This address was surprisingly negative in tone. I looked back at Donald Trump’s acceptance speech at the Republican convention in July of 2016. That speech was much longer and was more positive in tone. This speech was apparently written largely by two of Trumps closest advisors, Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, who are known for their conservative approaches to politics. Most journalists were surprised and confused at how negative the speech was. George Lakoff published a very unflattering summary of the speech and Donald Trump’s politics on his blog at georgelakoff.com.  You can read the transcript of the speech here.

In any case, the speech is very interesting in its rhetorical style and the limited numbers of metaphors that were used. First, allow me to summarize some of the rhetorical strategies used in the speech. The speechwriters included a dystopian background, hyperbolic descriptions and deliberate repetition. As always, the examples below are taken directly from the speech. Some quotes are repeated if they contain more than one examples of a rhetorical style or a metaphor. Italics are mine.

RHETORIC

Hyperbole

Trump provides a very grim description of the United States, and uses words and phrases normally associated with violence, crime and death. He talks about people being trapped like animals, empty factories looking like tombstones, with gangs and drugs stealing lives and robbing people of their potential. Meanwhile, our infrastructure fallen into decay, and the wealth of the middle class is ripped from their homes. He also describes other countries as ravaging our borders, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.

Example: “But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.”

An abandoned factory outside Duluth, Minnesota

Example: “… America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay.”

Example: “The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed across the entire world.”

Example: “We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs.”

Dystopia

Needless to say, these types of hyperbolic descriptions do not paint a picture of a successful society. Rather, these terms describe a dystopian society on the road to ruin. In the middle of these descriptions, Trump summarized the society as “American carnage.” The term carnage is an especially violent connotation. The word is derived from the Latin word for flesh or meat. The word carnage literally means the slaughter of animals, and is most commonly used to describe a scene of many people being killed such as soldiers on a battlefield, or victims of a bombing. George Lakoff provides even more details about this term in his recent blog post. Nonetheless, Trump tries to explain how he can stop the carnage and provide a “glorious destiny” for all Americans.

The carnage after the Battle of Gettysburg

Example: “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now. We are one nation — and their pain is our pain. Their dreams are our dreams; and their success will be our success. We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny.”

Repetition

President Trump uses repetition of words and phrases very effectively to emphasize some of his main points. He claims that Americas have one heart, one home and one destiny. In his line about American carnage, instead of saying “the carnage stops right here and now” he repeats the word stop for effect. In another example, instead of saying he will bring back our jobs, borders, wealth and our dreams, he repeats the phrase bring back. Finally, to finish the speech with a bang, he repeats the phrase “We will make America _________ again” filling in the blank with many different adjectives describing the new country he hopes to create.

Example: “We are one nation — and their pain is our pain. Their dreams are our dreams; and their success will be our success. We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny.”

Example: “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”

Example: “We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth. And we will bring back our dreams.”

Example: “Together, We will make America strong again.

We will make America wealthy again.

We will make America proud again.

We will make America safe again.

And yes, together, we will make America great again. Thank you. God bless you. And God bless America.”

METAPHORS

In addition to these rhetorical strategies, President Trump uses a few metaphorical expressions to explain some of his goals for the country.

Personification

As mentioned many times in my blog posts, it is very common for politicians to describe the United States as a person, as if the country is one person, or if all the American citizens collectively are one person. Other countries act as a single person as well. So other countries are described as stealing our companies and destroying our jobs. At the same time, the United States will face challenges and confront hardships. Trump also claims that we share one heart and one home, and we will seek friendships with other countries.   In the end, America will be strong again.

stealing, destroying

Example: “We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.”

face, confront

Example: “Together, we will determine the course of America and the world for years to come.

We will face challenges. We will confront hardships.”

heart, home

Example: “We are one nation — and their pain is our pain. Their dreams are our dreams; and their success will be our success. We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny.”

friendship

Example: “We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world — but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.”

strong

Example: “Together, We will make America strong again.”

Taking

Following the logic of the personification metaphors, if a country steals something from the United States, the obvious question is if we can get it back. In a previous post on Donald Trump’s Streetball Rhetoric, I found that Trump sometimes thinks of politics as a street basketball game. In some cases, the person who brought the basketball to the game goes home and takes the ball with him. In those cases, the remaining players are hoping that the person can bring the ball back so they can continue the game. Similarly, Trump claims he can bring back what was taken from us, such as bringing back our jobs, our borders, our wealth and our dreams.

bring back

Example: “We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth. And we will bring back our dreams.”

Death

I do not believe I have ever had to explain a metaphor of death. In a strangely dark simile, Donald Trump compares abandoned factories to tombstones.

tombstones

Example: “But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation…”

Building

I have also mentioned many times that politicians use metaphors of building a new America. However, I could only find one example of this type of metaphor in Trump’s speech. In this example, we find a serendipitous pairing of the literal meaning of building with the metaphorical building. Enjoy!

rebuilding

Example: “We will build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation. We will get our people off of welfare and back to work — rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.”

Vision

Politicians also talk about having a vision for the future when they give important speeches.   I could only find two brief examples of these vision metaphors, looking to the future and having a new vision to govern the country.

looking

Example: “But that is the past. And now we are looking only to the future. We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power.”

vision

Example: “From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land.”

Sailing

Metaphors of sailing boats or ships are very colorful and powerful in a political speech. They have a sense of grandeur, great movement, and global implications. Trump uses two clever examples of sailing metaphors including saying that our factories have left our shores and our confidence has disappeared over the horizon as if they were large ships that recently set sail around the world. Instead, he wants to determine the course of America as if he is starting on a new sailing journey.

our shores

Example: “One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions upon millions of American workers left behind.”

Sunset Evening Cancun

horizon

Example: “We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon.”

 

 

course

Example: “Together, we will determine the course of America and the world for years to come.”

Journey

Finally, another of the most powerful political metaphors are journey metaphors. These metaphors also connote movement, power and progress. Strangely, there were not many examples of these metaphors, only one negative example and one positive example. Trump contends that many American workers have been left behind, as if the country has gone on a journey without them. And yet, he also maintains that America is unstoppable as if it is a powerful train.

left behind

Example: “One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions upon millions of American workers left behind.”

unstoppable

Example: “When America is united, America is totally unstoppable.”

*******

It is difficult to judge the rhetorical and metaphorical power of a speech that only lasted 16 minutes. Clearly, President Trump is going to speak and act completely differently than any previous president. I am looking forward to more detailed speeches from Donald Trump where we can learn more of his policies and vision for the future and, if the United States is truly in a dystopian condition, he can lead us to a brighter future.

 

Obama’s Farewell Address

Hello! Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day! I hope everyone can take a moment today to appreciate the work and sacrifices of this great civil rights leader. Unfortunately, I do not have any analyses of Dr. King’s speeches today. I have covered those in previous posts. However, today I present an analysis of President Obama’s farewell address, perhaps fitting today, as the final speech of our first African-American president.

But first I must say thank you to my many readers. I have recently reached many big milestones. I have now been writing this blog for more than four years. This month, in fact, is my 50th month of writing the blog. I have also recently passed the mark of having more than 400,000 total views! In 2016 alone, I had over 186,000 views, with more than 140,000 new visitors from 198 different countries. My posts on Martin Luther King’s speeches remain my most popular articles. Sadly, I still have been unsuccessful in getting my book published but I will continue to work on that this year. I am glad the blog continues to be useful to so many students, teachers and professors around the world. Thanks for reading!

Back to business…

After eight years of being the president of the United States, Barack Obama gave his farewell address this past week in a sold-out auditorium in Chicago where he began his political career. The speech was nearly an hour long, and covered many aspects of his two terms as president. He teared up near the end of the speech praising his wife Michelle for her support and leadership as first lady. He also thanked his staff for all of their hard work for many years.

Rhetorically, the speech was interesting since it is one of the few speeches by President Obama that was not confidently looking toward the future. Of course, since he was giving a farewell address, he was looking more backwards to what he had accomplished than what he would be doing in the future. However, he spent the bulk of the speech describing current threats to our democracy and asking the younger generation of Americans to save the country from those threats.

There were no soaring metaphorical passages or grandiose ideas in the speech. However, there was an amazing variety of metaphors used in the speech, once again demonstrating that it is nearly impossible to talk about politics without using dozens of common metaphors. In this case, we find examples of personification, and metaphors of vision, animals, shapes and sizes, strong chemicals, books, games, food, machines, buildings and journeys.

All examples below are from the transcript of the speech. Some quotes from the speech are repeated more than once if they contain more than one metaphor. The metaphors in question are presented in italics.  You can read the full transcript of the speech here.

Personification

It is very common to describe a country as if it is a person. This occurs in two different ways: either the government of a country or its citizens as a collective whole is imagined as a person who has a beating heart, has strength or weakness, can stand up to something, stand for something, fight back against bullies, or even buckle under pressure. The term buckle, by the way, is derived from the 16th century English word bokelen meaning “to arch the body.”

beating heart

Example: “After eight years as your President, I still believe that. And it’s not just my belief. It’s the beating heart of our American idea — our bold experiment in self-government.”

strength and weakness

Example: “And as it turned out, America wasn’t weakened by the presence of these newcomers; these newcomers embraced this nation’s creed, and this nation was strengthened.”

stand up

Example: “Whether or not we stand up for our freedoms. Whether or not we respect and enforce the rule of law. That’s up to us.”


stand for/ bullying neighbors

Example: “Rivals like Russia or China cannot match our influence around the world — unless we give up what we stand for — (applause) — and turn ourselves into just another big country that bullies smaller neighbors.”

buckle

Example: “But protecting our way of life, that’s not just the job of our military. Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear.”

Vision

Political speeches often contain metaphors of vision, i.e., speakers take the physical properties of seeing and extend those properties to abstract processes such as implementing governmental policies. Thus we have metaphors such as being in focus on something, setting sights on a goals, having a vision of a completed process or being able to describe political differences as a spectrum.

sights

Example: “…if I had told you all that, you might have said our sights were set a little too high. But that’s what we did.”

focus

Example: “That’s what I want to focus on tonight: The state of our democracy.”

vision

Example: “There’s a second threat to our democracy — and this one is as old as our nation itself. After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America. And such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic.”

spectrum

Example: “You can see it not just in statistics, you see it in the attitudes of young Americans across the political spectrum.”

Animals

Nature is one of the most common sources of political metaphors. Although we do not usually describe politicians as animals, we do use our common experiences with animals and pets to describe political positions or processes. One famous example is the lame duck, the position of the outgoing president in the time after the presidential election and before his or her successor takes office. The metaphor is derived from an old comparison to a duck that cannot walk because of an injured leg, sometimes attributed to a quote from Abraham Lincoln in 1863. In another example, we must often put our dogs on a leash to control them. When a dog or other strong animal is unleashed, it can run wild and cause unexpected consequences. Thus, metaphorically, an unexpected set of events may be described as being unleashed by a person in charge. Finally, wild animals, especially big carnivores such as wolves or tigers, jump or pounce on their prey as they try to kill it. Metaphorically, suddenly criticizing an opponent in politics may also be described as pouncing.

lame duck

Example: “You can tell that I’m a lame duck because nobody is following instructions.”

unleash

Example: “If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history…”

pounce

Example: “How do we excuse ethical lapses in our own party, but pounce when the other party does the same thing?”

Shapes and Sizes

We often describe abstract shapes in terms of well-known boxes, circles or spheres. Thus we can talk about corners of the globe, even though, of course, the world is spherical and has no corners. The world or any abstract process can also be described as a balloon that can expand or shrink depending on the air pressure inside.   We can also describe a process or an argument as if it is in the middle of a picture frame. George Lakoff has famously trained many politicians to frame arguments in certain ways to not only win the argument but become successful in achieving their political goals. Finally, we also talk about economic processes or political attitudes as being in a bubble. This term can have two metaphorical connotations. In some cases, the bubble describes an untenable set of circumstances that will eventually collapse, as when a balloon pops from too much pressure. Many experts talk about the housing bubble that burst in 2008 when housing prices suddenly fell. In other cases, a bubble refers to the close-mindedness of groups of people who only believe information given to them from like-minded friends, radio announcers or television pundits.

corner

Example: “Let me tell you, this generation coming up — unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic — I’ve seen you in every corner of the country.”

expand

Example: “That’s why we cannot withdraw from big global fights — to expand democracy, and human rights, and women’s rights, and LGBT rights.”

shrink

Example: “A shrinking world, growing inequality; demographic change and the specter of terrorism — these forces haven’t just tested our security and our prosperity, but are testing our democracy, as well.”

frame

Example: “If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and an undeserving minority, then workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves.”

bubble

Example: “For too many of us, it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods or on college campuses, or places of worship, or especially our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions.”

Example: “And increasingly, we become so secure in our bubbles that we start accepting only information, whether it’s true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that is out there.”

Strong Chemicals

In an interesting and unusual metaphor, Barack Obama describes certain political processes as being corrosive, as if strong chemicals are eating away at a metal surface.

corrosive

Example: “But stark inequality is also corrosive to our democratic ideal.”

Example: “America, we weaken those ties when we allow our political dialogue to become so corrosive that people of good character aren’t even willing to enter into public service; so coarse with rancor that Americans with whom we disagree are seen not just as misguided but as malevolent.”

Literature

Political speeches often contain metaphors of literature such as telling a story, finding the correct narrative or turning the page on a new process. However, Obama’s farewell address was notably lacking in these metaphors, perhaps because his terms in office, and his narrative, are finished. However, there is one literature metaphor, opening a new chapter, used to describe his groundbreaking work to open new relations with Cuba.

new chapter

Example: “…if I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people…”

Games

Politicians are famous for comparing elections or economic processes to games or professional sports. In this case, Barack Obama describes the economy as a game that is fixed or rigged against working class Americans by corrupt politicians. He also describes the economy as a zero-sum game, a perception that the loss in wages or opportunities of the working class means huge gains for the corporations.

game

Example: “…the laid-off factory worker; the waitress or health care worker who’s just barely getting by and struggling to pay the bills — convinced that the game is fixed against them, that their government only serves the interests of the powerful — that’s a recipe for more cynicism and polarization in our politics.”

zero-sum game

Example: “And we have shown that our economy doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game.”

Food

Everyone eats so everyone is familiar with metaphors of food. A very common food metaphor used to describe a political process is to say it is a recipe as if one is baking a cake. Obama describes a theoretical government that only serves the rich and not the poor as a recipe for cynicism among our citizens. He also uses the metaphor of food scraps. After a large meal, most of the food is eaten but small portions called scraps may remain. Historically, in rich British and American families, the family members ate the main portion of the meal while the servants or the dogs were given the scraps. In cases of extreme hunger, poor people even had to fight for scraps just to get enough to eat.

recipe

Example: “…the waitress or health care worker who’s just barely getting by and struggling to pay the bills — convinced that the game is fixed against them, that their government only serves the interests of the powerful — that’s a recipe for more cynicism and polarization in our politics.”

scraps

Example: “If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and an undeserving minority, then workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves.”

Machines

Government programs and political processes are often compared to machines that can crank out the same results time after time. In this case, Obama refers to terrorists as groups with a propaganda machine distorting truth and lies. Economic processes can also be compared to computers. When a computer stops working it may need to be restarted or rebooted to get it going again. Obama uses the idea of rebooting to describe his administration’s success in saving the auto industry. A complex machine can also be shut down if it is getting out of control. Obama uses this metaphor to describe his work to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program.   Finally, sometimes machines break down and must be repaired or fixed. Metaphorically we can describe broken economic or political processes as something that can be fixed.

machine

Example: “It represents the fear of change; the fear of people who look or speak or pray differently; a contempt for the rule of law that holds leaders accountable; an intolerance of dissent and free thought; a belief that the sword or the gun or the bomb or the propaganda machine is the ultimate arbiter of what’s true and what’s right.”

reboot

Example: “If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history…”

 

shut down

Example: “…shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot…”

fix

Example: “But there are no quick fixes to this long-term trend.”

Buildings

Yet another common rhetorical strategy in political speeches is to compare governmental processes to buildings. The idea of physically constructing a building is used to describe abstracting creating political processes. In this case, Obama describes the necessity of rebuilding our democratic institutions. In an unusual metaphor, Obama also quotes George Washington’s farewell address in which he talked about the underpinning of democratic rights. The term underpinning originally referred to the materials used to create the foundation of a building or a bridge. Metaphorically anything that supports or sustains a process or programs can be described as an underpinning.

rebuild

Example: “All of us, regardless of party, should be throwing ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions.”

underpinning

Example: “In his own farewell address, George Washington wrote that self-government is the underpinning of our safety, prosperity, and liberty, but ‘from different causes and from different quarters much pains will be taken…to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth.’”

Journey

The final set of metaphors worth mentioning is that of a journey. Readers of this blog are well aware that journey metaphors are almost ubiquitous in political speeches since the speaker rhetorically wants to demonstrate to the audience that he or she is making progress towards goals that will be of benefit to them as if proceeding on a grand journey. Journey metaphors can be quite complex, and Obama uses a wide variety of them in his speech. In one case, one can describe a process as if people are walking along a road. One can meet people along the way, or approach a destination. Thus metaphorically, we can say that one can approach a problem or meet a challenge. In another case, people travelling as a group must be careful not to leave anyone behind when they take off. Metaphorically people can be left behind economically if they do not have living wage jobs. We can also talk about the speed at which one travels. Thus we can talk about the pace of an ongoing process as if it is a vehicle travelling down the road. And of course, one does not want to go in reverse when trying to reach a destination. But we can also speak of reversing a bad trend to make things better for the American people.  More commonly, we talk about achieving a goal as if we are taking steps along a path. Obama shares his frustration of not achieving as much as he wanted to by describing it as taking two steps forward and one step back, even though he claims that the country is still going in a forward motion. Captains of ships set a course when they set sail towards a new destination. Thus, we can talk about a journey as a long course of action. Finally, Obama uses a colorful phrase derived from an essay from Ralph Waldo Emerson, that of hitching one’s wagon to a star to achieve great things in life. Obama encourages young Americans to hitch their wagon to something bigger than themselves.

approach

Example: “Now, we can and should argue about the best approach to solve the problem. But to simply deny the problem not only betrays future generations, it betrays the essential spirit of this country — the essential spirit of innovation and practical problem-solving that guided our Founders.”

meet

Example: “We have everything we need to meet those challenges.”

left behind

Example: “While the top one percent has amassed a bigger share of wealth and income, too many families, in inner cities and in rural counties, have been left behind…”

pace

Example: “It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes a lot of good, middle-class jobs obsolete.”

reverse

Example: “If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession…”

steps/forward motion

Example: “For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back. But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all and not just some.”

course

Example: “Over the course of these eight years, I’ve seen the hopeful faces of young graduates and our newest military officers.”

journey

Example: “America is no fragile thing. But the gains of our long journey to freedom are not assured.”

hitch your wagon

Example: “Because I know our work has not only helped so many Americans, it has inspired so many Americans — especially so many young people out there — to believe that you can make a difference — (applause) — to hitch your wagon to something bigger than yourselves.”

*******

Barack Obama’s farewell address was a poignant description of his past accomplishments and his hopes for the future. While not deliberately grandiose with few rhetorical flourishes, the speech succeeded in pleasing his supporters in reminding them of his successes as the 44th president. As I hopefully have described here, the speech also contained a wide variety of political metaphors that illustrate how we conceptualize political processes. I look forward to analyzing the speeches of Donald Trump as he takes office this week.

Draining the Swamp?

One of the most common metaphors one hears in the news today is the idea of draining the swamp. During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump pledged that, if he were elected, he would drain the swamp, meaning that he would fire all of the politicians in Washington D.C. who were negative influences on the government. No one was exactly sure what he meant, but many us assumed that he was referring to career politicians, lobbyists, and those too closely connected to Wall Street and large corporations.

blog-nature-swamp-1This phrase is not new in politics. Originally it was derived from the physical draining of the water in a swamp where mosquitos were breeding and causing malaria or other diseases. In 1983, Ronald Reagan called for draining the swamp of bureaucrats in Washington D.C. while in 2006, Nancy Pelosi wanted to drain the swamp of Republican politicians in the U.S. government. Many other colorful examples can be found in a wonderful summary here.

Despite Donald Trump’s promise to rid the government of career politicians and lobbyists, he has so far named five millionaires and billionaires to his cabinet, including Steven Mnuchin, a Goldman Sachs executive as Secretary of the Treasury, billionaire businessman Wilbur Ross as Secretary of Commerce, billionaire Republican supporter Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s wife Elaine Chao as Secretary of Transportation.

While many Republicans are applauding these recent choices due to their business experience, other conservatives are not so supportive. In a recent interview, conservative radio host Mark Levin complained, “This is not Trump draining the swamp. This is the swamp draining Trump.”

blog-nature-swamp-alligatorDemocratic Senator from Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren was even more blunt in an address two weeks ago. “Trump is not draining the swamp, nope. He’s inviting the biggest, ugliest swamp monsters in the front door, and he’s turning them loose on our government and our economy.”

Many of the cabinet choices require Senate confirmation so these candidates are not officially hired quite yet. In the meantime, we will see if President-elect Trump continues to appoint Washington and Wall Street insiders to this cabinet.

We have several other metaphors based on swamps, marshes and bogs. Here are a few examples for your reading pleasure.

blog-nature-swamp-2
swamped

Many areas of the earth are covered in a mixture of water and soil in areas known as swamps, bogs, marshes or wetlands. Some of these terms are used metaphorically to indicate the difficulty in getting out of complicated situations. In one case, we say we are swamped with work if we cannot keep up with all the tasks that we are required to do at a certain time.

Example: In July 2011, President Obama asked Americans to call their members of Congress if they wanted to make a suggestion on how to reduce the national deficit. As a result, the phones of many Senators and Congresspersons were swamped with calls for several days.

blog-nature-mud-and-bootsbogged down

A bog is a type of marsh, a large area covered in water that is difficult to cross. In a similar sense, a person who cannot make good progress in a situation may be described as being bogged down.

Example: Much to the dismay of American voters, progress in Congress is often bogged down by disagreements between Democrats and Republicans.

 

 

mired

A mire is another word for bog or swamp. Metaphorically, a person who is mired in something cannot make progress in a certain situation.

Example: American politics is commonly mired in ideological differences between liberals and conservatives.

quagmire

A quagmire is another old world meaning a bog or marsh. In common terms, a quagmire is any difficult situation that is almost impossible to get out of.

Example: After the difficulties during the War in Vietnam, many Americans felt in 2003 that the War in Iraq would be another quagmire that would cost millions of dollars and many lives.

blog-nature-quicksand-warningquicksand

Quicksand is an especially dangerous mixture of water and sand that traps a person. The more one moves to get out, the more trapped one becomes. People die every year from being trapped in quicksand. Metaphorically, quicksand refers to any situation that looks safe but is actually a trap or a dangerous situation that one cannot escape from easily.

Example: During the revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa that sprang up in 2011, most Americans were against any military involvement in those areas claiming it would be quicksand for our troops.

*******

To me it seems pretty sad that our government is described both as a swamp of evil creatures and as a place where we cannot easily escape with our lives. One can only hope that the new Trump administration somehow makes improvements in the effectiveness of our government working for the American people.

A Seismic Election – Trump Wins!

This past week, Donald Trump won the 2016 election, much to the surprise of most of the country. In fact, the result was so unexpected that most television, radio and print media reporters described it as a shock, a tsunami, an earthquake or a seismic election. It is not surprising that elections are described in terms of natural disasters. I have written about some of these examples in a previous post. This time, the usage is a bit different.

When one candidate wins the election by a large margin, we sometimes say that he or she won in a landslide, as if the election results came down a mountain after a heavy rain. However, in the most recent election, the margin of victory was very slim. In fact, it seems that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but Donald Trump won the electoral vote – a slim margin indeed. Since everyone was surprised that Donald Trump won the election, there were other examples of natural disasters to describe the unexpected results. Here are a few examples (italics are mine). The source of each quotation is provided below each example.

blog-trump-tsunami-wavetsunami

A tsunami is a huge ocean wave that devastates coastal communities as happened in Indonesia in 2004 and in Japan in 2011. Metaphorically, the word tsunami is used similarly to the term flood indicating a large amount of something happening quickly.

Example: Headline: The Pollster Who Foretold the Trump Tsunami : Robert Cahaly, derided by Nate Silver as a C-rate pollster, gets the last laugh on 2016 (http://www.lifezette.com/polizette/pollster-foretold-trump-tsunami/)

 

tremors/earthquakes

Earthquakes are caused by shifts in the earth’s crust or continental plates. Tremors are smaller quakes that happen before or after a major earthquake. Metaphorically, earthquakes and tremors can describe important events that happen in an organization that change the normal course of activities.

Example: Headline: ‘A complete earthquake’: Joe Scarborough reacts to Trump winning the presidency (http://www.businessinsider.com/joe-scarborough-donald-trump-2016-11) 

shock

The word shock has several different meanings. One can experience shock from an electrical outlet or a violent impact in a collision. There can also be shocks or aftershocks after an earthquake. There were many people who were shocked by the Trump victory this week.

Example: Headline: Donald Trump’s Victory Is Met With Shock Across a Wide Political Divide (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/10/us/politics/donald-trump-election-reaction.html?_r=0)

blog-trump-earthquake

seismic

The word seismic describes the level of movement in the earth’s crust during an earthquake. Metaphorically, any event that has deep and widespread effects on people or organizations may also be described as seismic. 

Example: Headline: Trump maps out a new administration to bring a seismic shift to Washington (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-maps-out-a-new-administration-to-bring-a-seismic-shift-to-washington/2016/11/09/8bb6629e-a6a6-11e6-8fc0-7be8f848c492_story.html)

blog-trump-eruptionerupt/eruption

When a volcano explodes, this is called an eruption. In common terms, anything that happens quickly without notice may be called an eruption.

Example: The eruption of shock, outrage, and action post-election is yet another parallel to Brexit. (https://thinkprogress.org/anti-trump-protests-sweep-the-nation-65b7b836457c#.thzsvjy9e)

flood

When a river overflows its banks, the surrounding countryside, towns, and cities can be flooded with water. As a metaphor, the concept of flooding is used to describe a large amount of something that covers a wide area.

Example: Headline: Thousands of outraged protesters flood streets across America to oppose President-elect Donald Trump (http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/angry-protesters-flood-nyc-streets-oppose-trump-election-win-article-1.2866671)

blog-trump-floodfloodgates

In some areas, rivers are dammed up and the water is held back with gates. When the water reaches a high level, the floodgates may be opened to release the pressure. Metaphorically, opening the floodgates means that a large amount of information or many actions are suddenly released.

Example: The predatory practices of the Washington elite were actively supported by congressional carpetbaggers who approved legislation that opened the floodgates to every imaginable form of financial manipulation. (http://www.atimes.com/trump-undermines-americas-already-tattered-authority/)

*******

Once again, we can see how our experience with nature, or in this case, natural disasters creates metaphors that we can use to describe political events. Sadly, New Zealand just suffered a 7.8 earthquake early this morning, with possible tsunami waves striking the coast. Fortunately, only two people were killed based on current news reports. The use of such violent metaphors of natural disasters indicate how traumatic the Trump victory has been to many Americans. Stay tuned for more interesting metaphors used to describe the Trump presidency.

A Rigged Election?

This past summer, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were tied in many national polls. More recently, however, Trump has been slipping in the polls due to the release of tapes of him making disparaging remarks about women, and many women coming forward accusing him of inappropriate behavior in years past. Donald Trump has denied all of the allegations, and has often repeated a complaint that the entire election is rigged against him, implying that the Democrats are somehow plotting to steal the election. Trump’s running mate Mike Pence has also suggested that the election is rigged. During the Democratic primary, supporters of Bernie Sanders also complained that the primary process was rigged in favor of Hillary Clinton.

blog-rigging-on-ships-3

The word rig has an interesting etymology. The word originally referred to the way that ropes were used to secure sails on a ship, a process dating back to the 15th century. The word also referred to a process of tricking or swindling someone, dating to 1775. Although one could argue that the more modern connotation is a completely different word, I believe that the idea of swindling is related to the original idea of using rigging ropes. Swindling someone involves an intelligent process of tying up many details that allow someone to trick other people. The idea of rigging an election requires a complex process of manipulating many details of election procedures. In any case, I would like to offer several other political metaphors derived from the specialized vocabulary of sailing ships.

captain

The person in charge of a ship is usually called the captain. Metaphorically, and sometimes jokingly, any person in command of an organization may be called a captain.

Example: When a candidate is elected president, her or she becomes the captain of the ship of the United States.

blog-sailing-wheelhousewheelhouse

The compartment of a ship where the pilot controls the steering wheel and navigation equipment is called the pilothouse or wheelhouse. In baseball, the area of the plate in which a certain batter can hit the ball is also called the wheelhouse. Thus, a good batter can get a hit if the ball is thrown into his wheelhouse. Metaphorically, a person’s area of expertise may be called his or her wheelhouse.

Example: Barack Obama’s supporters claim he can win a debate on foreign policy because that is his wheelhouse.

bring on board

When a ship takes on passengers or freight for a trip, we say that they are brought on board the ship. Metaphorically, when people are hired to work in an organization, we may also say that they are brought on board.

Example: A presidential candidate usually brings good advisors on board when he or she begins a long campaign.

miss the boat

Ships must keep tight schedules when traveling from port to port. If passengers are taking a ship, they must get there on time. If not, they will literally miss the boat. Metaphorically, the phrase to miss the boat means to miss an opportunity to do something.

Example: Somehow the U.S. defense department missed the boat and did not prevent Osama bin Laden from attacking New York in 2001.

embark on

When passengers do board a ship and leave port, we say that they are embarking on a journey. Metaphorically, whenever people begin a new project we may say that they are embarking on a new journey.

Example: A newly elected president embarks on a four-year journey in the White House.

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learn the ropes

Before the days of steam-powered or gasoline-powered engines, ships traveled across the oceans on wind power. Complex sets of sails were controlled by men pulling on ropes to get the sails in the correct position for maximum effectiveness at catching the wind. We have many metaphors in English from this difficult work of controlling these ropes. In one of these expressions, learning how to manage the sails was referred to as learning the ropes. In modern English, the phrase learning the ropes refers to the process of learning any new task.

Example: When Hillary Clinton became Secretary of State in 2008, she had to learn the ropes of complex international diplomacy.

pick up the slack

When ropes become loose, this is called becoming slack. To tighten the rope, people must do what is called pick up the slack. In metaphorical terms, helping a group of people complete a project when they are shorthanded is called picking up the slack.

Example: When the U.S. government cuts federal spending, state governments often have to pick up the slack to fund education and other social programs.

cut some slack

When one has the opposite problem of having a rope that is too tight, one must loosen it in a process we call cutting some slack. In common slang, whenever we need people to be lenient or allow more freedom in a certain process, we may ask for them to cut them some slack.

Example: When Richard Nixon was involved in the Watergate Scandal of the early 1970s, very few people were willing to cut him some slack. Most Americans were pleased when he resigned from office.

blog-sailing-loose-endsloose ends

Ropes used to control the sails had to be tightly secured to the ship. If they ropes were not tight, they were described as having loose ends. In yet another sailing metaphor, if a situation is chaotic or unorganized, we may say that the people involved are at loose ends.

Example: A good presidential candidate must tie up all loose ends in the campaign in order to win an election.

smooth sailing

When the weather is good and the ship is traveling safely, we say that there is smooth sailing. In common terms, any process that is working well may be referred to as smooth sailing.

Example: President Obama did not have smooth sailing in his first few years as president as he had to manage many different economic crises.

blog-sailing-anchornews anchor

When a boat or ship wants to fix its position in the water, the crew drops a heavy metal hook called an anchor into the water. Metaphorically, the concept of anchor has many uses in English. In one metaphor the person who holds the prominent position in a team of TV reporters is called the anchorman, or simply the news anchor.

Example: During a presidential election, TV news anchors work overtime providing the public with the latest information.

anchor of the team

In a similar sense, a person who is the leader of a group of individuals may be called the anchor of the team.

Example: For the last several elections, Karl Rove has been the anchor of the team of strategists helping Republican candidates win their races around the country.

anchor babies

When illegal aliens have children in the United States, these children are sometimes called anchor babies since the parents are then allowed to stay in the country and become eligible for government benefits. This phrase is considered pejorative and not used in normal speech.

Example: Some Americans claim that anchor babies cost the government millions of dollars in health care and social programs.

blog-sailing-harborharbor terrorists

When a ship arrives in a port, it will seek safety in a harbor where there are shallow waters, few waves, and access to land. Metaphorically, the term harbor is also used as a verb meaning to provide safety for someone.

Example: Most allies of the U.S. government do not harbor terrorists. They are arrested and brought to trial.

harbor resentment

In a similar sense, another meaning of the verb harbor is to hold a specific feeling or attitude about something for a long time. In a common phrase, people may harbor resentment against someone who has hurt them in some way.

Example: Some Vietnam veterans still harbor resentment against the U.S. government for treating them so poorly when they returned from combat in the 1960s and 1970s.

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These are just a few of the metaphors derived from sailing ships. The idea of rigging an election may be derived from the process of rigging the sails many centuries ago. It is interesting that we still use words to describe political processes that originated in other fields many years ago. As Trump and Clinton come to the end of the campaign for the presidential election with only a few weeks to go, I wonder if Mr. Trump will continue to complain that the election is rigged.