Category Archives: Martin Luther King Jr.

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.

Martin Luther King’s “Dream” Speech, Part 2

Hello and Happy New Year! This is my first post of 2016. You may have noticed that I changed the theme of the blog with updated photos and formatting. I hope it is a bit easier to read. The menus and social media buttons are now on the bottom of the page instead of on the side. Please let me know if you have any trouble reading any part of the blog. More updates will be coming in the next few months.

As for today, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day next week, I offer a few additional metaphors in his “I Have a Dream” speech from 1963. I first wrote about this famous speech a couple of years ago in a separate post. This article is by far the most often viewed post on my blog. It is clearly a popular research subject for high school and college students around the world.

In addition to the metaphors I discussed earlier, there are several others of note. I discussed the most obvious examples previously but I would like to add a few metaphors of chains, heat, buildings, banking, machines, medicine, family and journeys. I would argue that there is an overarching metaphor of a journey within the speech, with three stages of social position for African-Americans from slavery to freedom to achieving civil rights.  Along the way, the success of the journey was thwarted by societal pressures represented metaphorically by chains, heat, buildings and banking. As always, the examples presented below are taken directly from the transcript of the speech. Some examples are repeated if they contain two different types of metaphors. Italics are mine.

 

Slavery:

blog - MLK - chainsChains – Dr. King simultaneously describes the literal conditions of slavery in the past and the metaphorical oppression of African-Americans in the 1960s with the concepts of chains and manacles. He notes that even after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, they were still not free from discrimination.

Example: “But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.”

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com
www.public-domain-image.com (public domain image)

Heat – He also metaphorically and painfully describes the treatments of slaves as having been burned in flames.

Example: “This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice.”

Freedom:

Buildings – Martin Luther King uses a common metaphor about governments to say that the republic was built by architects in 1776 as if the country were a large building. However, by designing the republic, he argues that they were also promising a good life for all Americans, implicitly disregarding the practice of slavery that was occurring at the same time they were writing that everyone was “created equal.” Once the slaves had been freed after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, they were still not treated fairly in the United States. He describes the marginalization of and discrimination against African-Americans as them being in the corners of a house. However, the revolts against oppression would shake the foundations of that building as if it were an earthquake.

Example: “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.”

Example: “One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.”

blog - MLK - foundation earthquake

Example: “The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.”

Banking – As mentioned in my previous post on this speech, Dr. King uses many metaphors of banking to describe discrimination against African-Americans. Here are a few more examples that I did not include last time, implying that the U.S. government owes civil rights to African-Americans as a bank must pay back money owed to its customers.

Example: “In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

blog - MLK - bank vaultExample: “But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”

 

 

Machines – At the same time he describes the oppression against minorities in the United States, he also describes their reaction and advises them on appropriate behavior. He uses two metaphors describing African-Americans as machines that have been running so long that they are overheating. Thus, one might suggest that the machines need to cool off or blow off steam to protect them from breaking. However, he advises that that the people/machines should instead keep on running at full speed to achieve their goals.

Example: “This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.”

blog - MLK - blow off steamExample: “Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual.”

Medication – Similar to the idea of people as machines overheating, Dr. King also suggests a metaphor of a hospital patient who is so out of control that he needs to be tranquilized. Once again, he advises instead that no drug is necessary.

Example: “This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.”

 

Civil Rights:

Family – Another common metaphor used by Dr. King to indicate solidarity and fairness in the United States is the idea of all Americans as one family. In one case, he hopes that everyone can sit down together at a table of brotherhood. In another case, he dreams of a day when black and white children can walk together as brothers and sisters.

Example: “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.”

Example: “I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor’s lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.”

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www.public-domain-image.com (public domain image)

Journey – One of the most common metaphors in Dr. King’s speeches is the idea of the quest toward civil rights for African-Americans as a journey. As he described a metaphorical journey from slavery to freedom, he also describes a literal march in the streets of America without turning back on their goals. His speech analyzed here, of course, was two years before the famous march for voting rights in Selma, Alabama in 1965.

Example: “And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back.”

*******

Even though the speech is only about 1500 words long, it contains some of the richest metaphor usage in the English language. Martin Luther King, Jr. brilliantly described the plight of African-Americans going through the three-step process from slavery to freedom to achieving civil rights in the United States. I hope this second analysis of this amazing speech helps students and teachers gain a better understanding of the oratory skills of Martin Luther King, Jr. As always, feel free to send along further comments or questions.

 

Next time: President Obama’s Final State of the Union Speech

Pope Francis and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Pope Francis made a historic visit to the United States last week. His tremendous popularity around the world led to huge crowds of admirers wherever he went. Although he is primarily a religious leader, I believe his speeches are worthy of consideration in this blog for several reasons: 1) Politically, he made several powerful speeches concerned with American political, economic and environmental issues; 2) Culturally, he drew crowds unheard of for a religious leader or politician. No one has drawn such huge crowds since Barack Obama first ran for president in 2007 and 2008. 3) Historically, one is tempted to compare the speeches of Pope Francis to those of Martin Luther King, Jr. The pope actually refers to one MLK speech in his own speeches but it is doubtful if the pope has the rhetorical firepower that Martin Luther King demonstrated in the 1960s. 4) Linguistically, Pope Francis speaks several different languages but English is not is first language. I was very curious to see if his speeches contained the usual amount or type of conceptual metaphors that a native English speaker would use.

 

2014 Pastoral Visit of Pope Francis to Korea
2014 Pastoral Visit of Pope Francis to Korea

I have analyzed three of the Pope’s speeches – his remarks at the White House (henceforth referred to as WH), the speech he gave to a joint meeting of Congress (CG) and his talk at the United Nations (UN). As many people must have noticed, Pope Francis often referred to his previous writing, the Laudato Si, an encyclical he wrote and presented in April of this year. (An encyclical is a very lengthy article on a specific topic written by the pope and published by the Vatican. This year’s topic was on climate change.   The name Laudato Si’ is a shortened form of a line from a poem Saint Francis of Assisi, “Laudato Si”, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”.) Although it is not a speech, the Laudato Si’ contains many of the original language used in the speeches, so I will refer to it on occasion here as well. It is a thesis-length article (more than 37,000 words!) with more than two hundred separate issues discussed. The pope refers to some of these points by number in his own speeches.

 

Given that English is not the Pope’s first language, I was not surprised that I did not find a great deal of metaphor usage in his speeches. However, he used several interesting categories of metaphors that illustrate the ubiquity of many of our conceptual metaphors. Specifically, he used metaphors of family, homes, buildings and journeys. As usual, all the examples provided here are from the speeches and writings of the pope. Italics are mine. Some examples are repeated if they contain more than one type of metaphor.

Family

One common conceptual metaphor is to describe people who are not blood relations as brothers, sisters, fathers or mothers. Pope Francis used these metaphors extensively in his speeches. This is not too surprising since these metaphors are commonly used in Catholic naming of various roles within the church. Catholic nuns are referred to as Sisters, monks as Brothers, a head nun as Mother Superior, and priests as Fathers. Pope Francis extends these metaphors to other members of the church or different people around the world. He also uses the family members of sons and daughters to describe citizens of certain countries.

Example: “During my visit I will have the honor of addressing Congress, where I hope, as a brother of this country, to offer words of encouragement to those called to guide the nation’s political future in fidelity to its founding principles.” (WH)

blog - family - photoExample: “That freedom [religious liberty] remains one of America’s most precious possessions. And, as my brothers, the United States Bishops, have reminded us, all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.” (WH)

Example: “I would like all men and women of good will in this great nation to support the efforts of the international community to protect the vulnerable in our world and to stimulate integral and inclusive models of development, so that our brothers and sisters everywhere may know the blessings of peace and prosperity which God wills for all his children.” (WH)

Example: “I am most grateful for your invitation to address this Joint Session of Congress in “the land of the free and the home of the brave”. I would like to think that the reason for this is that I too am a son of this great continent, from which we have all received so much and toward which we share a common responsibility. Each son or daughter of a given country has a mission, a personal and social responsibility.” (CG)

Example: “The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps.” (CG)

Example: “Three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams: Lincoln, liberty; Martin Luther King, liberty in plurality and non-exclusion; Dorothy Day, social justice and the rights of persons; and Thomas Merton, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God.” (CG)

Home and Community

The word normally refers to the physical residence or location of a person or family. In the Laudato Si’, Pope Francis often refers to the earth metaphorically as our common home as if we all live in the same place. He repeats these metaphors quite often in his speeches. In one instance, he extends the metaphor of a common home to that of a community.

Example: “When it comes to the care of our ‘common home,’ we are living at a critical moment of history. We still have time to make the changes needed to bring about ‘a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change’ (Laudato Si’, 13).” (WH)

Example: “Our common home has been part of this group of the excluded which cries out to heaven and which today powerfully strikes our homes, our cities and our societies.” (WH)

blog - personification - homeExample: “The common home of all men and women must continue to rise on the foundations of a right understanding of universal fraternity and respect for the sacredness of every human life, of every man and every woman, the poor, the elderly, children, the infirm, the unborn, the unemployed, the abandoned, those considered disposable because they are only considered as part of a statistic. This common home of all men and women must also be built on the understanding of a certain sacredness of created nature.” (UN)

Example: “The United Nations is presently celebrating its seventieth anniversary. The history of this organized community of states is one of important common achievements over a period of unusually fast- paced changes.” (UN)

 

Buildings

Another common metaphor used by Pope Francis was that of building societies and communities as if they are physical structures. Thus we see metaphorical references to buildings, foundations, structures and pillars.

Example: “As the son of an immigrant family, I am happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families.” (WH)

Example: “Mr. President, together with their fellow citizens, American Catholics are committed to building a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive, to safeguarding the rights of individuals and communities, and to rejecting every form of unjust discrimination.” (WH)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAExample: “Here, together with their representatives, I would like to take this opportunity to dialogue with the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day’s work, to bring home their daily bread, to save money and –one step at a time – to build a better life for their families.” (CG)

Example: “The complexities of history and the reality of human weakness notwithstanding, these men and women, for all their many differences and limitations, were able by hard work and self-sacrifice – some at the cost of their lives – to build a better future.” (CG)

Example: “Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity.” (CG)

Example: “Even in the developed world, the effects of unjust structures and actions are all too apparent.” (CG)

Example: “In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly contributed to building and strengthening society.” (CG)

Example: “How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement!” (CG)

blog - SOTU 15 - pillars ParthenonExample: “For all this, the simplest and best measure and indicator of the implementation of the new Agenda for development will be effective, practical and immediate access, on the part of all, to essential material and spiritual goods: housing, dignified and properly remunerated employment, adequate food and drinking water; religious freedom and, more generally, spiritual freedom and education. These pillars of integral human development have a common foundation, which is the right to life and, more generally, what we could call the right to existence of human nature itself.” (UN)

Example: “The common home of all men and women must continue to rise on the foundations of a right understanding of universal fraternity and respect for the sacredness of every human life, of every man and every woman, the poor, the elderly, children, the infirm, the unborn, the unemployed, the abandoned, those considered disposable because they are only considered as part of a statistic. This common home of all men and women must also be built on the understanding of a certain sacredness of created nature.” (UN)

Example: “The contemporary world, so apparently connected, is experiencing a growing and steady social fragmentation, which places at risk ‘the foundations of social life’ and consequently leads to ‘battles over conflicting interests’ (Laudato Si’, 229).” (UN)

Journeys

Journey metaphors are among the most commonly used tropes in political rhetoric. A speaker will often compare the attempts at making progress on a certain political or social issue as people going on a journey. Thus we can see examples of people opening doors to start a journey, taking steps along the way, or moving forward along a path.   People can also get lost on their journeys or be led astray by making wrong choices.  Other people can be trapped where they are or stuck in a maze and not be able to make the journey they need to go on.

blog - pathExample: “The efforts which were recently made to mend broken relationships and to open new doors to cooperation within our human family represent positive steps along the path of reconciliation, justice and freedom.” (WH)

Example: “I also want to dialogue with all those young people who are working to realize their great and noble aspirations, who are not led astray by facile proposals, and who face difficult situations, often as a result of immaturity on the part of many adults.” (CG)

Example: “We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.” (CG)

Example: “At the same time I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty.” (CG)

Example: “In Laudato Si’, I call for a courageous and responsible effort to ‘redirect our steps’ (ibid., 61), and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity.” (CG)

Example: “When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue – a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons – new opportunities open up for all.” (CG)

blog - journey - mazeExample: “In particular, I would like to call attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. Their problems are our problems. We cannot avoid them.” (CG)

blog - journey - footstepsExample: “This is the fifth time that a Pope has visited the United Nations. I follow in the footsteps of my predecessors Paul VI, in 1965, John Paul II, in 1979 and 1995, and my most recent predecessor, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in 2008.” (UN)

Example: “Our world demands of all government leaders a will which is effective, practical and constant, concrete steps and immediate measures for preserving and improving the natural environment and thus putting an end as quickly as possible to the phenomenon of social and economic exclusion, with its baneful consequences: human trafficking, the marketing of human organs and tissues, the sexual exploitation of boys and girls, slave labor, including prostitution, the drug and weapons trade, terrorism and international organized crime.” (UN)

Echoes of Martin Luther King, Jr.

As a final note, Pope Francis refers to the speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. at several points in his own speeches. He directly quotes MLK’s use of the metaphor of the promissory note that he used in the “I Have a Dream” speech. He also comments extensively on MLK’s use of the idea of pursuing a dream to make life better for citizens of the world.

blog - business - promissory noteExample: “Our common home has been part of this group of the excluded which cries out to heaven and which today powerfully strikes our homes, our cities and our societies. To use a telling phrase of the Reverend Martin Luther King, we can say that we have defaulted on a promissory note and now is the time to honor it.” (WH)

Example: “Here too I think of the march which Martin Luther King led from Selma to Montgomery fifty years ago as part of the campaign to fulfill his ‘dream’ of full civil and political rights for African-Americans. That dream continues to inspire us all. I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of ‘dreams.’ Dreams which lead to action, to participation, to commitment. Dreams which awaken what is deepest and truest in the life of a people.” (CG)

Example: “Three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams: Lincoln, liberty; Martin Luther King, liberty in plurality and non-exclusion; Dorothy Day, social justice and the rights of persons; and Thomas Merton, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God.” (CG)

Example: “A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to ‘dream’ of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton. “(CG)

*******

Although Pope Francis clearly does not have the oratorical style or rhetorical power of Martin Luther King, Jr., his ability to draw huge crowds of people indicates he is reaching millions of people with his messages. His popularity is perhaps partially due to his lack of partisan politics or hidden agendas. His piety and world-wide respect allow him to comment on political and social issues with great gravitas. Time will tell if American politicians and citizens will truly help the dreams of Pope Francis to become reality.

Next time: More metaphors of containers.

Independence Day Quiz

Hello! Happy 4th of July! Today I will depart from my usual description of metaphors to first talk a little bit about the history of our Independence Day. I am not an expert on American history by any means, but I teach quite a bit of history to my students as they prepare to pass their high school equivalency exams. Here are five questions I ask my students. How well do you know American history?

blog - 4th of July - Artillery_gun_crew-illustration

  1. July 4, 1776 is the day our founding fathers wrote the Declaration of Independence. When was it written in relation to the Revolutionary War? It was:
  • a) before the war
  • b) during the war
  • c) after the war

2.  When was the U.S. Constitution written?

  • a) 1776
  • b) 1781
  • c) 1787
  • d) 1789
  1. The famous phrase, “all men are created equal” is in:
  • a) the Declaration of Independence
  • b) the U.S. Constitution
  • c) the Bill of Rights
  • d) all of the above
  1. When did George Washington, our first president, begin his first term?
  • a) 1776
  • b) 1781
  • c) 1787
  • d) 1789
  1. The Bill of Rights was written:
  • a) to fix the mistakes of the Constitution
  • b) to codify additional rights for U.S. citizens
  • c) to expand the legacy of the founding fathers
  • d) all of the above

Bonus Question

  1. America is the greatest country ever! True or False?

 

  1. B. I remember thinking when I was younger that we must have declared independence after we had won the Revolutionary War against the British. On the contrary, we declared our independence only about a year after the battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775. It was a pretty brave thing to do given the fact that the signers of the Declaration most certainly would have been hanged by the British if the colonists had lost the war. The fighting lasted until the Battle of Yorktown in 1781 but the war was not officially over until the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783.

blog - 4th of July - Constitution doc

  1. C. The Constitution was not written until 1787. Prior to that, the country was governed through a loose assemblage of laws in each of the colonies directed by the Continental Congress.
  1. A. The phrase “all men are created equal” is part of the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution although it is in the latter document that most laws and rights are spelled out.

 

 

  1. D. George Washington did not start his presidency until 1789. It took two more years after the Constitution was written before elections were held for the first president.
  1. B. The Constitution was amended within two years of its creation with the writing of the Bill of Rights in 1789, and has been amended a total of 27 times since then. It gave additional rights to U.S. citizens not specified in the Constitution.
  1. To be discussed later…

Why do I bother mentioning these obscure facts? Studying how language is used in politics, it is not hard to notice the contradictions among words and actions in our history and current events. For one thing, I believe we take the notion of independence for granted. Isn’t it sad that we have to talk about independence at all? A country fighting for independence means that another country has taken over its governments, its laws and its people. Why is this taken as commonplace?

blog - 4th of July - Victim_of_Congo_atrocitiesWhile the Colonial Americans were frustrated with the British government for its tax laws and other unfair governmental treatment, they really had it easy. In many regions of Africa, workers were basically enslaved for most of their lives to do the work exploiting their country’s natural resources for the benefit of the colonial governments back in Europe. Workers in the Belgian Congo had their hands chopped off if they did not pick enough cotton to the liking of King Leopold back in Belgium. People in India starved to death as the British forced them to grow crops that were sent back to England. Under apartheid, South African workers worked and died in horrendous conditions of diamond mines, the profits of which went to a few rich white government officials.

As I have mentioned before, I served in the U.S. Peace Corps in Benin, West Africa back in the 1980s. At that time, most African countries had achieved independence only two decades before, and they were struggling under cruel dictatorships that had replaced the cruel colonial governments. They are still recovering from the legacy of greed and exploitation from the colonial era.

blog - 4th of July - slavery whippingThe irony is, of course, that while the colonial Americans were fighting for their independence, the writers of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were slave owners. The most brilliant political minds of the 18th century created our government, and yet no one noticed that the slaves were “created equal” but not treated equally? It seems incomprehensible to us today. About 100 years later, the Southern states started a civil war to preserve their rights to own slaves. It took a civil war for an open-minded President Lincoln to write the Emancipation Proclamation. But that was not the end of the discrimination against African-Americans. It took a massive civil rights movement in the 1960s to right many of those wrongs in this country. And it was only a few weeks ago that the Confederate battle flag was taken down at public buildings, and that happened only after a horrific tragedy at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Geronimo, the Apache chief, 1887
Geronimo, the Apache chief, 1887

Other “less equal” Americans did not fare much better.   Native Americans were treated with respect by the first few presidents, especially Thomas Jefferson. Only a few decades later, discrimination against native peoples began in earnest. In the 1830s, President Andrew Jackson forced the Native Americans of the Southeast states to march the “Trail of Tears” hundreds of miles to reservations in Oklahoma while he and his friends stole their land, their houses, and the gold found in the area. When I was a kid in the 1960s I loved watching the popular Western movies and TV shows in which those “Indian savages” were killed off with abandon in every battle scene, and I rooted for the cowboys. Most Americans thought nothing of it. Native Americans have only recently been treated with any manner of respect by the American government.  It seems that the independence we celebrate today was not for all Americans equally.

The other point is that the American government was not created overnight. Despite the contradictions described above, the model of government created in the Constitution is considered one of the best in the world. The Bill of Rights and the other 17 amendments, furthermore, provide civil rights in a manner many countries fall far short of.   America is still a young country, a mere 239 years old today, while England, for example, just had its 800th birthday judging by the date of the Magna Carta of June 12, 1215 while China can date its history back about 4000 years. Maybe it will take us a while to get things right. In the meantime, however, the foundations of our celebrated democracy are slipping away. More and more of the government seems to be controlled by corporations, given the number of lobbyists in Congress and the Citizens United Supreme Court decision which allows unlimited donations to people running for office, to the point that our government looks more like an oligarchy than a democracy.

And yet, I was reminded of the greatness of the United States just the other night. I awoke about 2 a.m. and realized that our power was off. The house was dark, all the clocks were off, the air conditioning was quiet, and the ceiling fan had stopped spinning. I was not surprised the power had gone off. We have had two straight weeks of temperatures over 100 degrees. Everyone in town has been running their air conditioning non-stop. My wife and I opened the windows to let some cool air in. A wonderful night breeze swept through the house as moonlight flooded the room. I also noticed an odd spotlight across the street. Even at that early hour, the local power company had teams on the street fixing the power. A rumbling diesel truck was parked nearby as a worker was looking over the power lines on our street. Within a half hour, the power was back on.

blog - 4th of July - Faucet2I never take our utilities for granted. While in the Peace Corps, I lived for two years without electricity or running water. During my first dry season, the local well went dry and I barely had enough water to use for bathing, washing dishes or even to drink. Turning on a tap and have potable water pour out is a luxury millions of people around the world do not enjoy. Having electricity available 24/7 is another luxury. In some countries, brownouts or blackouts are common. Power outages may last hours, days or weeks. And spotlights and rumbling trucks on our streets in the middle of the night simply mean that someone is fixing our utilities. In other countries, it may mean a death squad is coming to get your family.

Despite our failures in the past, the United States has excellent technological resources, infrastructure (although definitely aging), and communications, among other 21st century benefits. We also have great freedoms – we can live and work wherever we like, worship as we choose, speak and write whatever we like, etc., all freedoms citizens in many other countries do not enjoy.

So is the United States the greatest country ever? If you listen to conservative talk radio and television news shows, you might be persuaded that it is. Certainly, we have our good points. In addition to our mistreatment of minorities described above, we also have the greatest income inequality, the highest poverty rates, the highest incarceration rates, the highest healthcare costs, and some of the lowest rates for reading, math and science scores compared to the rest of the industrialized world, just to name a few shortcomings. Clearly we still have some work to do before we can be considered the greatest country ever.

The Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C.
The Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C.

So as we celebrate our independence today, keep in mind our checkered past and the hope that all Americans can truly be independent some day. And let’s not forget our service men and women over the last 239 years who have fought and died to preserve our way of life here in these United States.

Back to the reasons for writing this blog, what do metaphors have to do with the 4th of July? Here are a few examples of metaphors based on revolutions and preparing for war.

revolt

Wars can be started for many different reasons. One way is when people revolt against their government. In common terms, people can revolt against any group of people or organization. In politics, a party can revolt against its own members or another party in office.

Example: In 2008, some conservatives revolted against the Republican Party and started their own Tea Party.

The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis (Yorktown, 1781), by John Trumbull, 1820
The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis (Yorktown, 1781), by John Trumbull, 1820

insurgent

As with a revolt, people may fight against their own government. These people may be called insurgents. In politics, people who want to have different policies or programs than their own parties or government may also be called insurgents.

 

Example: In 2010, some insurgent Democrats voted with Republicans on key bills in Congress.

uneasy truce

To prevent a war from beginning, countries sometimes create an alliance or truce so that they do not fight each other. If tensions arise between the two countries, there may be an uneasy truce. In politics, two parties may also have an uneasy alliance while working on a difficult national issue.

Example: After the 2008 economic crisis, Barack Obama made an uneasy truce with the Wall Street bankers who caused the crisis but needed help to keep the economy from getting any worse.

Camp Union in Pennsylvania during the Civil War
Camp Union in Pennsylvania during the Civil War

camp

Military forces often set up an encampment or camp to prepare for battle. In politics, a group of campaign workers or strategists may be called a camp.

 

 

Example: In the 2012 Republican primary campaigns, the Mitt Romney camp traded criticisms with the Newt Gingrich camp.

pay tribute

Historically, when an army took control of a city or town, the local people often had to pay a tax or tribute to the new government. Later the phrase came to mean a paying a compliment to a person or group for what they have achieved.

Example: When Barack Obama was elected the first African-American president of the United States, he paid tribute to civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. for opening doors for him.

bulwark

A bulwark is a wall made of thick wood as part of a fortification of a city. In modern times, the word bulwark is used metaphorically to mean something that provides defense against a verbal or ideological attack.

Example: Some conservative politicians use their Christian faith as a bulwark against laws that condone abortions.

war chest

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

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

arsenal

An arsenal is the total quantity of weapons a military possesses. In politics, candidates can have an arsenal of complaints or attacks against their opponents.

Example: In the 2012 Republican primary, critics of New Gingrich launched an arsenal of attacks against his past record as former Speaker of the House.

blog - 4th of July - Kentucky's long riflearmed with ideas

When a soldier carries a weapon, we can say that he or she is armed. Metaphorically, a person can also be armed with ideas to be used in an argument.

Example: In a presidential debate, candidates must be armed with many ideas they can use to explain their policies and answer the moderators’ questions.

ammunition

Ammunition is the quantity of bullets used in a gun. Ammunition can also metaphorically indicate ideas or facts to fight against someone in an argument.

Example: A candidate in an election must not make a factual mistake in a speech. This mistake can be used as ammunition against him or her by opponents in future debates.

Next time: More Political Speeches

 

And the Oscar Goes to…

Metaphors of Theater and Drama

There have been many comparisons made between politics and live theater, television or movies.   Candidates for pubic office must be attractive public figures, good entertainers and crowd pleasers. In 1960, Richard Nixon famously refused to wear makeup for a nationally televised debate, and he was perceived as losing the debate to John F. Kennedy wearing makeup and looking tanned and healthy. Modern politicians must be even more aware of their presence on television in interviews and debates.

blog - theater - Kennedy_Nixon_debate

With the Oscars on TV this weekend, I thought I would share a few metaphors based on acting in films and theaters.

audition

When a movie or play producer is planning a new show, he or she must ask actors and actresses to try out for the parts in the show. These tryouts are called auditions. Figuratively, a person who wants to run for office may need to audition for the role.

Example: Mitt Romney spent many years auditioning for president of the United States before he was finally nominated by the Republican Party in 2012.

blog - theater - Ronald_Reagan_in_Dark_Victory_trailer
Ronald Reagan was an actor before becoming our 40th president

play a role, a part to play

If an actor wins the approval of the producer, he or she will be hired to play a role in the show. This may also be called having a part to play in the production. Metaphorically, anyone involved in a large process for a company or government may be said of playing a role in that process.

Example: John F. Kennedy played a large role in shaping progressive policies in the United States before he was assassinated in 1963.

starring role

The lead actor or actress in a show is considered to have the starring role. Figuratively, the most important person in an organization may be considered as having the starring role in the process.

Example: Martin Luther King, Jr. had a starring role in the creation of civil rights for all minorities in the 1960s.

bit part

A small role in a movie or play may be called a bit part. In politics, someone who has a minor job to do in a larger process may be considered as having a bit part.

Example: During the Obama presidency, Michelle Obama played a bit part in highlighting the problems of obesity in the United States.

America’s role

In addition to people metaphorically playing roles in society, countries can also play roles on the international stage. We can say that America has a role in many international negotiations and policy making.

Example: Some Americans concerned about the national budget believe that America’s role as the policeman of the world should be reduced and the money saved to solve problems at home.

U.S. Capitol at DuskWashington’s role

Similarly, Washington D.C. can have a role in the affairs of American citizens and even state policies.

Example: During hard economic times, state governors often hope that Washington’s role in providing funding to social programs will increase.

a key role

An important role in a play or movie may be called a key role. In politics, important leaders or significant events may be described as having a key role in determining policies and programs.

Example: The 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York played a key role in increasing funding for the war on terror.

take a cue

When an actor forgets a line during a play, there is a person there who can give him or her a hint as to what the line should be. This called giving or taking a cue. Metaphorically, taking a cue from someone means that one person is following in the same line of thinking or behavior as another person.

Example: Republicans in the 1990s seemed to take a cue from Ronald Reagan and held firm ground on their policies.

John Barrymore as Hamlet, 1922
John Barrymore as Hamlet, 1922

soliloquy

The word soliloquy refers to a Greek word meaning “talking to oneself.” In a theatrical production, a soliloquy is given by an actor reciting lines alone on the stage such as Hamlet’s famous “to be or not to be” speech. In politics, a speech reflecting on personal history or national problems may be called a soliloquy as well.

Example: In 2011, President Obama visited many cities and gave soliloquys on the importance of revising the national health care system.

 

mask

In the earliest theatrical productions of ancient Greece, actors wore masks to represent different characters or emotions. These masks also hid the faces of the actors. Metaphorically, anything that is hidden from view may be described as being masked.

Example: Critics of government spending claim that certain accounting practices mask the true amount of the national deficit.

Mask of the Greek god Zeus
Mask of the Greek god Zeus

unmask

Unmask means to review a mask that a person is wearing. A performer who is unmasked has his true identity revealed. In modern terms, any information that is revealed to the public may be described as being unmasked.

Example: Good investigative reporters often unmask the inner workings of the American government.

bow out

At the end of a performance, the audience usually applauds and the actors or singers will take bows before leaving the stage. This is also called bowing out of the performance. Metaphorically, any time a person or group of people discontinue an activity, this may be called bowing out as well.

Example: Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich hoped to become the Republican nominee for the president in 2012, but he had to bow out of the primary after low polling results.

*******

Once again, we can see how we create metaphors from every aspect of American life.  Metaphors of acting correspond to the roles that politicians play in American government. How much are our politicians acting when they give a speech?

Next time: More Theater Metaphors

MLK: “Give us the Ballot” Speech

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!

On May 17, 1957, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to a crowd of about 20,000 people at the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. The topic of the speech was voting rights. Although all American citizens were granted the right to vote in the 14th Amendment from 1868 (five years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation), the Jim Crow laws of the American South (with literacy tests and poll taxes) often obstructed African-Americans from actually being able to vote well into the 1960s. The work of Martin Luther King, Jr., the NAACP and other civil rights leaders forced the legislation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that prohibited state and local governments from interfering with the voting rights of minorities anywhere in the United States. This movement also resulted in the marches and riots of Selma, Alabama in 1965, now prominently portrayed in a recent movie simply entitled Selma.

blog - MLK ballot - MLK_and_Lyndon_Johnson_2
Martin Luther King, Jr. with President Lyndon Johnson in 1966

 

The “Give Us the Ballot” speech from 1957 was part of Martin Luther King Jr.’s efforts to obtain increased voting rights for all minorities. The speech was given three years to the day after the historic Supreme Court decision, Brown vs. the Board of Education, (May 17, 1954), prohibiting racial segregation in public schools, overturning the infamous “separate but equal” Plessy vs. Ferguson decision from 1896. Some quotations listed below refer to the judicial decision three years earlier. Interestingly, the speech was two years after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus, and six years before King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

The 22 minute speech can be read here at the website created by Stanford University to archive Dr. King’s speeches. If you have time, I encourage you to listen to the amazingly clear audio recording of the speech. It sounds like it was recorded just yesterday. You can hear the power in emotion in King’s voice as he delivers another brilliant speech. You can also hear the crowd responding with “Yes!” or “Amen!” at certain points in the speech. Unfortunately, the last two minutes of the speech are cut off in the recording at this website. You can hear the powerful conclusion to the speech here on YouTube (audio only).

As for the political metaphors in this speech, they are not as rich or colorful as in “I Have a Dream” or “Letter from Birmingham Jail” but are still used with brilliant precision and for powerful effect. One particularly clever metaphor is derived from medicine and concludes a section complaining about the weakness of the American government. I quote it here in its entirety to give you a flavor of the speech.

“This dearth of positive leadership from the federal government is not confined to one particular political party. Both political parties have betrayed the cause of justice. (Oh yes) The Democrats have betrayed it by capitulating to the prejudices and undemocratic practices of the southern Dixiecrats. The Republicans have betrayed it by capitulating to the blatant hypocrisy of right wing, reactionary northerners. These men so often have a high blood pressure of words and an anemia of deeds.” [laughter]

Here is a brief summary of a few notable metaphors from the speech. As always, the quotations are taken directly from the speech. I have italicized the metaphors being studied. Let me know if you have any questions about any of these metaphors.

synecdoche: ballot, benches

The speech cannot be analyzed without a brief mention of two types of figurative language, synecdoche (sih-NECK-duh-key) and metonymy (meh-TAH-nuh-me). Technically these are not metaphors, but I will provide illustrations of them since several of them are featured prominently while one is used in the title of the speech. When Dr. King says, “Give us the ballot” he is not only referring to a physical ballot (the piece of paper), he is also referring to the abstract process of voting. When a part of something is used to describe a whole, this is an example of synecdoche, as in “all hands on deck” in which the hands refer to the sailors doing the work.

blog - MLK ballot - voting_booth

Example: “Give us the ballot, and we will no longer have to worry the federal government about our basic rights.”

In another example, Dr. King refers to “the benches of the South.” Again he is not simply referring to wooden furniture but to the work of the Supreme Court justices who traditionally sat on wooden benches to hear court cases.

Example: “Give us the ballot (Yeah), and we will place judges on the benches of the South who will do justly and love mercy (Yeah), and we will place at the head of the southern states governors who will, who have felt not only the tang of the human, but the glow of the Divine.”

metonymy/toponymy: Washington

            Metonymy occurs when the name of a person or place is used to indicate the work that the people do, or the work that is done at that location as in the famous phrase from the Cold War, “The White House is talking to the Kremlin.” This is similar to personification but is a more specific type of figurative language. In this case, Dr. King speaks of looking to Washington, meaning the work of the American government done in Washington D.C. (Technically, when a name of a specific place is used, this is called a toponym.)

blog - MILK ballot - Wash DCExample: “If the executive and legislative branches of the government were as concerned about the protection of our citizenship rights as the federal courts have been, then the transition from a segregated to an integrated society would be infinitely smoother. But we so often look to Washington in vain for this concern.”

personification: silent, bones, sing

In the more familiar usage of personification, we find that objects are described with human qualities. In these cases, a branch of government is described as being silent, nations have bones, and stars are singing. Note that the last two examples are taken from the Bible, as Dr. King uses a powerful rhetorical strategy appealing to the faith of his audience members. The last example is the final line of the speech.

Example: “In the midst of the tragic breakdown of law and order, the executive branch of the government is all too silent and apathetic. In the midst of the desperate need for civil rights legislation, the legislative branch of the government is all too stagnant and hypocritical.”

Example: “‘He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.’ [Matthew 26:52] (Yeah, Lord) And history is replete with the bleached bones of nations (Yeah) that failed to follow this command. (All right) We must follow nonviolence and love.” (Yes, Lord)

Example: “When that happens, ‘the morning stars will sing together (Yes sir), and the sons of God will shout for joy.’’’ [Job 38:7] (Yes sir, All right) [applause] (Yes, That’s wonderful, All right)

taste: bitter, rancor, tang

We also find metaphors of taste in this speech. One of the most common examples is a reference to feeling bitter. Some readers may think of this as a dead metaphor, but using the word bitter to describe the feeling of being cheated or treated unfairly was originally derived from the particular bitter taste of some foods. The word rancor is also derived from a Latin word meaning something with a foul taste or smell. In one other instance, Dr. King speaks of the tang of being human. The word tang can literally describe the sharp, stinging taste of particular foods or metaphorically the sharp emotions of a difficult life. Interestingly, he contrasts two senses in one sentences, taste and sight, comparing the tang of being human with the glow of being divine.

A bitter ale
A bitter ale

Example: “Give us the ballot (Yes), and we will quietly and nonviolently, without rancor or bitterness, implement the Supreme Court’s decision of May seventeenth, 1954.” (That’s right)

Example: “We must never struggle with falsehood, hate, or malice. We must never become bitter.”

Example: “Give us the ballot (Yeah), and we will place judges on the benches of the South who will do justly and love mercy (Yeah), and we will place at the head of the southern states governors who will, who have felt not only the tang of the human, but the glow of the Divine.”

 

 

medicine: high blood pressure, anemia, injections, veins

blog - MLK ballot - Sphygmomanometer           In the clever example listed above, Dr. King contrasts high blood pressure to anemia (low iron content in the blood) using common medical terms to illustrate a problem. In another example, he describes the work of civil rights leaders changing society as people injecting new meaning into the veins of civilization.

Example: “These men so often have a high blood pressure of words and an anemia of deeds.”

 

blog - MLK ballot - Injection_Syringe_01Example: “If you will do that with dignity (Say it), when the history books are written in the future, the historians will have to look back and say, ‘There lived a great people. (Yes sir, Yes) A people with “fleecy locks and black complexion,’” but a people who injected new meaning into the veins of civilization (Yes); a people which stood up with dignity and honor and saved Western civilization in her darkest hour.”

standing, rising

Political speeches often contain metaphors of body position, i.e., those that relate how we use our bodies to strong or weak language. For example, a person lying down has little or no power to fend off an attack or go on the offensive. A person must rise up from a lying or sitting position to take action. Metaphorically, standing up or rising up indicate a person or group taking a strong stance for or against something. In the speech, Dr. King that notes that some states protested the Brown vs. the Board of Education ruling, describing them as rising up in defiance. In other points of the speech he encourages the audience members to stand up for justice and he cites a quote about truth rising again by the 19th century Romantic poet William Cullen Bryant from his 1839 poem “Battlefield.”

Example: “Many states have risen up in open defiance.”

Example: “There is something in this universe which justifies William Cullen Bryant in saying: ‘Truth crushed to earth will rise again.’”

Example: “Stand up for justice.”

nature: hilltops and mountains

Dr. King’s speeches often used imagery from nature, some descriptions or phrases borrowed from the Bible. In his other speeches, he used the analogy of the challenge of achieving civil rights for everyone as climbing over hilltops and mountains. Note that here too there is an example of personification when he speaks of the Red Sea standing up.

The San Gabriel Mountains of California
The San Gabriel Mountains of California

Example: “Sometimes it gets hard, but it is always difficult to get out of Egypt, for the Red Sea always stands before you with discouraging dimensions. (Yes) And even after you’ve crossed the Red Sea, you have to move through a wilderness with prodigious hilltops of evil (Yes) and gigantic mountains of opposition.”

day and night

Dr. King also often used pairs of contrasting elements in nature for rhetorical effect. In metaphorical imagery, goodness, hope, and truth are associated with the daytime, while evil, despair and lies are associated with the night.   Similarly, the time of midnight may be associated with the worst of the bad qualities of the nighttime. Dr. King often described the process of achieving civil rights as going from the night to the day.

Example: “For all men of goodwill, this May seventeenth decision came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of human captivity.”

Daybreak on Bodmin Moor in England
Daybreak on Bodmin Moor in England

Example: “There is the danger that those of us who have been forced so long to stand amid the tragic midnight of oppression—those of us who have been trampled over, those of us who have been kicked about—there is the danger that we will become bitter.”

light and dark

As with the comparison of day and night, we can also speak of light and dark with similar metaphorical associations. Light is always associated with hope and goodness. Here again he is referring to the landmark case of Brown vs. the Board of Education.

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

Example: “It came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of disinherited people throughout the world who had dared only to dream of freedom.”

hot and cold

Another set of contrasting metaphorical terms consists of hot and cold, with the medium state of lukewarm used as well. The metaphorical concept of hot implies passion, energy and enthusiasm, while cold implies lethargy and inaction. Here Dr. King is lamenting the fact that liberalism of the late 1950s is not very supportive of the right to vote.

blog - MLK ballot - hot and cold faucetExample: “It is a liberalism which is neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm. (All right) We call for a liberalism from the North which will be thoroughly committed to the ideal of racial justice and will not be deterred by the propaganda and subtle words of those who say: Slow up for a while; you’re pushing too fast.’”

open and closed/containers

Yet another contrast is derived from the metaphorical concept of containers. We speak of many abstract states and processes as if they are inside or outside of a container, such as in “falling in love” or being “out of fashion.” We can also talk about states being open or closed. A person’s mind is metaphorically conceived as a box, so that one be open-minded or close-minded, if one is open to new ideas or not. We can also speak of events or processes that are emerging, as if they are animals or insects coming out of an enclosed space or container. Here he talks about an emerging new order and emerging freedom.

blog - MLK ballot - container boxExample: “It is unfortunate that at this time the leadership of the white South stems from the close-minded reactionaries. These persons gain prominence and power by the dissemination of false ideas and by deliberately appealing to the deepest hate responses within the human mind. It is my firm belief that this close-minded, reactionary, recalcitrant group constitutes a numerical minority. There are in the white South more open-minded moderates than appears on the surface.”

Example: “But if we will become bitter and indulge in hate campaigns, the old, the new order which is emerging will be nothing but a duplication of the old order.” (Yeah, That’s all right)

A monarch butterfly emerging from its chrysalis
A monarch butterfly emerging from its chrysalis

Example: “We must not seek to use our emerging freedom and our growing power to do the same thing to the white minority that has been done to us for so many centuries.”

journey

Many political speeches contain journey metaphors. Rhetorically, a good speaker will invite comparisons of the process under discussion to a physical journey. Thus we can talk about the “road to the White House” or “roadblocks in the way of progress.” Here Dr. King speaks mostly of the speed of the journey of civil rights. Many black leaders at the time were often told to slow down and not force the governments to change their laws so quickly. Dr. King often showed an impatience with this attitude that shows up in this speech as well in a section of the speech I quoted earlier.   Dr. King also uses a metaphor of the warning signal. Literally this type of signal might be used on a roadway or shipping lane to warn travellers of some type of danger ahead. Metaphorically, a warning signal is any event that would warn a person or group of something bad that might happen in the future.   There is also an interesting type of metaphor based on our experiences of meeting people in a walkway or road. We must be careful not to collide with each other. Metaphorically, we can meet ideas or values along the way. Dr. King speaks of “meeting hate with love.” Finally, Dr. King exhorts his audience towards the end of the speech to continue the journey, e.g., keep moving and keep going.

Example: “It is a liberalism which is neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm. (All right) We call for a liberalism from the North which will be thoroughly committed to the ideal of racial justice and will not be deterred by the propaganda and subtle words of those who say: ‘Slow up for a while; you’re pushing too fast.’”

Example: “We must meet hate with love. (Yeah) We must meet physical force with soul force.”

blog - MLK ballot - warning signalExample: “There is another warning signal.”

Example: “Keep moving. (Go on ahead) Let nothing slow you up. (Go on ahead) Move on with dignity and honor and respectability.”

A track runner at the University of Wisconsin
A track runner at the University of Wisconsin

Example: “Keep going today. (Yes sir) Keep moving amid every obstacle. (Yes sir) Keep moving amid every mountain of opposition.” (Yes sir, Yeah)

******* 

Dr. King’s speech “Give us the Ballot” is a wonderful example of his amazing oratorical skills and brilliant use of metaphors. He would continue to polish his skills leading up to his tour de force “I Have a Dream” speech six years later. I hope you have found these metaphors interesting. For further reading, I always strongly recommend the works of Jonathan Charteris-Black who has written masterful analyses of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speeches. See my review of his book on Politicians and Rhetoric here. You may also check out my previous analyses of “I Have a Dream” and “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” I hope we all work a little bit every day to help Dr. King realize his dream of civil rights for all Americans and for people all over the world.

This coming week, President Obama is scheduled to deliver another State of the Union address. I will be working on that next! Stay tuned…

Next Week: The State of the Union Address

Metaphors of Vision

Sight is perhaps the most primary of the five human senses.  Thus we have many metaphors of the human experience of seeing the world around us.

blog - vision - eyesa vision

Having sight is also referred to as having vision.  Metaphorically, a vision can also indicate an imagined plan for the future for whatever project one is involved in.

Example:  Every U.S. president has a unique vision for the future of the country.

visionary

A person who is known for being able to plan for the future may be called a visionary.

Example:  Martin Luther King, Jr. was a visionary who worked for civil rights for all Americans in the 1960s.

lose sight of

While traveling, people will be able to see a landmark along the side of the road, if driving, or along the coast, if going by boat.  As the people pass that object, we can say that they lose sight of it. Metaphorically, we can also lose sight of a goal or objective of a certain project.

Example:  Many voters become disappointed with members of Congress when they lose sight of their purpose to serve the American people and instead only cater to lobbyists.

take a look at

Everyday we look at objects, images and written texts with our eyes.  This may be described as taking a look at something.  In a figurative sense, taking a look at something can mean examining and analyzing any type of information.

Example:  After the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City, the U.S. government had to take a hard look at its national defense systems.

blog - vision - viewview

Being able to see something implies that one has a view of it.  Figuratively, however, a person having a view can mean that he or she has an opinion on a certain matter.

Example:  Republicans and Democrats normally have opposing views on taxation of the wealthy in America.

glimpse

A glimpse is a very quick look at something.  We may also use the word figuratively in the sense of understanding a small amount of information about something or someone.

Example:  Hearing a presidential candidate’s campaign speech can provide a glimpse into his or her plans for the presidency if elected.

blog - vision - transparenttransparent

If we can see directly through a physical object, we say that it is transparent.  The word transparent can also be used to mean something that is perfectly understandable without any deliberate trickery or confusion.

Example:  Most Americans prefer to have transparent government, meaning that we have the right to know everything our politicians do both here and in other countries.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAopaque

The opposite of being transparent is being opaque, meaning one cannot see through the object clearly. In a sarcastic sense, people may say that things that should be transparent are actually opaque.

Example:  Critics of Barack Obama claim his transparent government was too opaque for the American people.

clear, crystal clear

To be able to see something without visual obstruction is to see it clearly.   Information, opinions, or policies can also be seen clearly if presented simply.  We may also describe this ability as being crystal clear as if the object is as transparent as a natural mineral crystal.

Example:  Presidential candidates try to make their positions crystal clear on top issues such as abortion, taxes and immigration.

focus on, sharper focus

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

Example:  Presidential elections tend to focus our attention on important issues that aren’t always discussed in politics.

blog - vision - Magnifying_glassmagnify

With the aid of optical instruments, we can make objects appear bigger than they actually are.  This is called magnifying the object.  Figuratively, we can also magnify a problem by making it worse.

Example:  Small problems in an election year can be magnified by intense media scrutiny.

the big picture

When looking at something, our eyes can focus on the details of one part of the image, or on the entire image.  Looking at the entire image can be called looking at the big picture.  Metaphorically, we can also say understanding general truths about a matter may be described as seeing the big picture.

Example:  To understand the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we must see the big picture of the work of international terrorist organizations.

Loch Alsh - Reflectionreflection

The word reflect is used to describe the phenomenon of an image returning backwards towards the viewer.  People can see their reflection in a mirror or a dark pool of water.  Metaphorically, a reflection can mean either thinking one’s thoughts over and over again as in a day of prayer and reflection after a tragedy, or alternately, an event or situation that expresses something else.

Example:  The policies of a Democratic-controlled Congress are usually a reflection of their social liberal approach to government.

glaring

If something is brightly illuminated by the sun or artificial light, we may say that it is glaring to the eyes.  Figuratively, we can also say if something is very clear or conspicuous in a certain situation, we may say that it is glaring.

Example:  Since the 1980s there has been a glaring gap between the rich and poor in the United States.

blog - vision - blurredblur, blurred

When something is not clear in a person’s vision, we may say that it is blurred. Metaphorically, if a situation is not clear, we can also say that it is blurred.

Example:  Some government policies supported by the so-called religious right may blur the line between church and state.

murky

When an object cannot be seen clearly because it is so dark, we can say that it is murky.  We usually apply this adjective to liquids or atmospheric condition, as in murky waters or murky skies.  Metaphorically, we can also say that a dark or unclear situation is murky.

Example:  American voters do not normally approve of the murky relations of Washington lobbyists and members of Congress.

myopia, myopic

A vision disorder that occurs when a person cannot clearly see objects a great distance is called myopia.  A person with this disorder is myopic. In figurative terms, someone who is accused of not understanding a complex situation may be called myopic.

Example:  During the War in Iraq, some conservatives claimed that liberals had a myopic view of the dangers of Islamic terrorism.

blog - vision - blind as a batblind

When people have a vision disorder in which they cannot see at all, we say that they are blind. In common terms, a person who is accused of not understanding the dangers or complexities of a situation may also be described as being blind.

Example:  A good president cannot be blind to the suffering of the middle and lower classes in America.

blind optimism

Blind optimism occurs when a person is completely confident in the success of something when he or she may not understand the difficult reality of the situation.

Example:  Critics of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld claimed that they had a blind optimism in the success of the War in Iraq.

 

Next time:  Metaphors of Halloween!

Book Review: Politicians and Rhetoric by Jonathan Charteris-Black

To continue my short series of book reviews, I would like to share a few comments on an amazing book entitled Politicians and Rhetoric:  The Persuasive Power of Metaphor, 2nd Edition by Jonathan Charteris-Black (Palgrave MacMillan, 2011).    Charteris-Black is a professor of linguistics at the University of the West of England in Bristol, England.

blog - review - charteris blackThe book consists of twelve chapters.  The first two chapters provide an excellent summary of the importance of understanding metaphors in the art of rhetoric, persuasion, and speech making used by all successful politicians.  The next nine chapters consist of incredibly insightful analyses of how certain political leaders have used metaphors in their speeches.  These politicians include four giants of British politics: Winston Churchill, Enoch Powell, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair along with five American leaders: Martin Luther King, Jr., Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.  The final chapter provides an analysis of the nexus of myth, metaphor and political leadership.

In each chapter, Charteris-Black analyzes the speeches of the politician with a specific theme that characterizes their particular rhetoric.  For example, he discusses Winston Churchill in terms of the heroic myth, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the messianic myth, Ronald Reagan and the romantic myth, Margaret Thatcher and the myth of Boudicca, George Bush and the rhetoric of moral accounting and Barack Obama and the myth of the American Dream.  Each person’s speeches are analyzed in the historical context and particular political environment.  He explains how we can understand the rhetoric of Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher in terms of myths of heroes or past warriors.  Churchill had to rally British citizens to make sacrifices for the war effort and had to persuade the Americans to become their allies.  He was successful at doing this by using metaphors of journeys and heroes. Thatcher tapped into the myth of Boudicca, the 1st century Celtic queen who led an uprising against the Roman army.  Thatcher used metaphors of conflict as in the concept that political opponents are enemies to get the British to rally around her as Boudicca did centuries earlier. Charteris-Black also provides insightful analyses of the speeches of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, all in the context of difficult political climates.

By far the most fascinating chapter for me was the section on Martin Luther King, Jr. Having analyzed his speeches myself, I was in awe of the depth of analysis that Charteris-Black presented in this book.  He analyzed his speeches in terms of the Messianic myth, journey metaphors, landscape metaphors and in the context of the segregation and non-violence of the 1960s.  This chapter alone is worth the price of the book. (BTW, my most popular blog posts are concerned with Martin Luther King, Jr. speeches.  All of the students reading this blog with assignments on MLK speeches would be well advised to buy this book!)

My only criticisms of the book consist of a few editorial oversights.  Although the author provides excellent appendices on his corpuses, a list of conceptual metaphors analyzed in the book, and a general index, cited authors are not included in any of the indices, a strange fact given the excellence of the scholarship throughout the book.  Also, there is an inconsistent use of italics in examples of metaphors.  In most cases, the conceptual metaphors being analyzed are italicized in quotations from the corpus while in other cases there are no italics. More substantively, in the chapter on Margaret Thatcher, Charteris-Black compares her to Boudica but never gives a background on the Celtic warrior, nor does he make explicit how Thatcher compared to Boudica.  Perhaps British readers are more familiar with both Thatcher and Boudica but Americans may have to do a bit of research to understand the relationship between the two as I had to do.

Finally, I also found it odd that Charteris-Black uses a theory of metaphor analysis called blending theory without citing any references for its origin.  I assume he is referring to the theories proposed by Fauconnier and Turner (2002) or the nice summary of the theory in Koveces (2004) but he does not mention either.  Despite this omission, he makes great use of blending theory and, while although a bit cumbersome to explain, promises to be a very useful way to explain metaphors.  No one quite understands how citizens understand political metaphors, using blended theory may be a way to fine tune our analyses of metaphor usage.

Overall, Politicians and Rhetoric is a great addition to our study of metaphors in politics.  Charteris-Black shows a masterful understanding of classical and modern rhetoric, metaphor analysis and current political machinations of skilled orators. It is essential reading for any student of English, linguistics, or political science.

Next time:  Obama and the ISIS Crisis