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The Hill We Climb

Last week, Joe Biden was inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States.  As part of the ceremonies, a 22-year-old African-American poet, Amanda Gorman, captivated the nation with a stirring poem about unity entitled, “The Hill We Climb.” Ms. Gorman is the current National Youth Poet Laureate who was handpicked by the First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden, to deliver the address.  She recited her poem in a powerful voice with poise and gravitas far beyond her years, using expertly choreographed hand and arm gestures, transforming the simple reading of a poem into a thrilling display of literary and artistic talent. Ms. Gorman’s performance was as bright as her yellow dress and as exciting as her red headband. In a word, she was brilliant.

In my view, brilliance is never singular; rather it is the combination of many talents and visions that create an extraordinary work of art.  The Beatles were not only incredible musicians, they were genius lyricists and were aided by a visionary producer, George Martin.  Shakespeare was not only a brilliant dramatist but was also a master of wordplay and created plays that touched on universal themes.  In her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” Amanda Gorman combines slam poetry, rap, free verse, performance art and politics in a way no one has ever done before. 

In my blog today, I would like to humbly offer an analysis of why her poem was so brilliant.  There have been many insightful commentaries online in the past few days documenting her subtle references to past political leaders and poets, as well as to the Trump presidency and the Capitol riots.  I will mention some of those references in passing, but I will try to provide an analysis from a linguist’s point of view. I believe she deftly employed seven distinct rhetorical strategies in her poem: 1) rhymes, 2) alliteration 3) repetition, 4) nature metaphors, 5) journey metaphors, 6) contrast and chiasmus, and 7) themes of unification.  I provide examples from her poem, with specific words and phrases under study in italics. You can see the performance of her inaugural poem on YouTube here, and read the transcript here

1) Rhymes: Ms. Gorman uses a wide variety of rhyme schemes in her poem.  In some cases, she uses simple monosyllabic end rhymes such as in the opening lines of her poem, rhyming shade with wade, and beast with peace

File:Golden sunrise.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Example: “When day comes we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?

The loss we carry, a sea we must wade

We’ve braved the belly of the beast

We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace.”

She repeats this first rhyme later with blade and made and with grew and true.

Example: “If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made.” 

Example: “Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true

That even as we grieved, we grew.” 

            She also uses internal rhymes in some instances, sometimes with slant rhymes, as with tiredtried and tied.  (Slant rhymes occur when two words or phrases have similar sounds such as bat and back as compared to exact rhymes such as bat and cat.) 

Example: “That even as we hurt, we hoped; that even as we tired, we tried; that we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.”

Moreover, she uses more complex multisyllabic end rhymes and internal rhymes throughout the poem. In one example, she uses slant rhymes with redemption and inception

Example: “This is the era of just redemption

We feared it at its inception.”

She also rhymes succeeded and defeated

Example: “And this effort very nearly succeeded. But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated.” 

In one exceptional section, she creates a long series of rhymed phrases or parts of words as with dare itAmerican, inheritrepair it, and share it

Example: “That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb if only we dare it

Because being American is more than a pride we inherit

it’s the past we step into and how we repair it

We’ve seen a forest that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.” 

One may question the inclusion of the word American as a rhyme in this series, but if you listen to her live performance, she seems to specifically emphasize the first three syllables of the word, and destresses the first syllable. 

            At the beginning of the poem, while she is talking about the dawn, she creates a pair of multisyllabic rhymes with knew it and do it.  And then at the end of the poem, while referring back to her metaphor of the dawn, she repeats this multisyllabic pattern with greater emphasis as she rhymes free itsee it and be it

Example: “And yet, the dawn is ours before we knew it. Somehow, we do it.”

Example: “The new dawn blooms as we free it

For there is always light. 

If only we’re brave enough to see it

If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

One last slant rhyme deserves special mention.  At the beginning of the poem she forces a rhyme between the phrase just is with justice. I believe here she is referencing the quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. that has been in the news lately following the Black Lives Matter protests: “True peace in not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”

Example: “We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace.

In the norms and notions of what just is isn’t always justice.”

2) Alliteration: One way that poets call attention to a section of a poem is to begin each of a series of words with the same vowel or consonant sound.  In one section, Ms. Gorman uses seven words in a row all beginning with a hard “c” sound.  Her list of traits of the country she is hoping for is an overarching theme of the poem, at the same time referencing Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous quote, also alliterative, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

File:Color fabrics.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Example: “We are striving to forge our union with purpose, to compose a country committed to all cultures,colorscharacters and conditions of man.”

3) Repetition: Ms. Gorman also uses repetition to emphasize certain points in her poem. The use of repetition is common in sermons and political speeches, most notably by Martin Luther King, Jr. in his “I Have a Dream” speech and in Maya Angelou’s poem, “Still I Rise.”  Towards the end of her poem, Ms. Gorman repeats the phrase “we will rise” four times.  Interestingly, she also introduces this section of the poem with a variant, “we will raise” and follows the section with another variant, “we will rebuild.”  It’s brilliant poetic structure.  In this same section of the poem, she increases the intensity of the repetition by including a series of compound adjectives – bronze-poundedgold-limnedwind-sweptlake-rimmed, and sun-baked

Example: “With every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one. 

We will rise from the gold-limned hills of the West. 

We will rise from the wind-swept Northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution. 

We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the Midwestern states. 

We will rise from the sun-baked South. 

We will rebuild, reconcile and recover in every known nook of our nation, in every corner called our country our people diverse and beautiful will emerge battered and beautiful.”

4) Nature Metaphors: There is a long tradition in poetry going back hundreds of years in which poets describe situations in terms of ordinary people in touch with nature.  As I have argued many times in this blog, we often think in terms of our common experiences with the world at large.  Thus, we immediately understand images of hills, mountains, rivers, the sun and moon, etc.  I believe that Ms. Gorman entitled her poem, “The Hill We Climb” to tap into this common experience.  She uses other nature metaphors throughout the poem, reminiscent of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s political speeches.  She begins the poem describing the problem as a dark night turning into a bright day, in the phrase “when day comes” and she follows that with several mentions of shade changing to light.  In one instance, she describes the challenge of Americans overcoming their divided country as crossing an ocean or sea, and she follows this with an allusion to the Biblical story of Jonah swallowed by a whale, referred to as surviving being in the belly of the beast.

Example: “When day comes we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?

Example: “The loss we carry, a sea we must wade. 

We’ve braved the belly of the beast.” 

Later in that same section of the poem, she refers to the dawn of a new day, after having metaphorically weathered a storm. 

Example: “And yet, the dawn is ours before we knew it. Somehow, we do it. Somehow, we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.”

File:Peru - Cusco Trekking 021 - climbing the hills (7114029049).jpg - Wikimedia  Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Later in the poem she repeats the metaphor of climbing a hill, and compares the challenges of our country as being lost in a forest, while anticipating moving from the forest to an open area sometimes called a glade

Example: “That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb if only we dare it. 

Because being American is more than a pride we inherit; 

it’s the past we step into and how we repair it. 

We’ve seen a forest that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.” 

More importantly, she ends the poem with the repetitions of “we will rise” described earlier. 

5) Journey Metaphors: In addition to metaphors of nature, Ms. Gorman uses several journey metaphors. These types of metaphors describe the movement of group of people from a crisis to the resolution of the problem in a notable period of growth.  Not surprisingly in a speech about unifying the country, she weaves journey metaphors into her poem in several ways. 

Movement from night to day and dark to light.

Example: “When day comes we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?”

Example: “When day comes, we step out of the shade aflame and unafraid. 

The new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light.” 

Movement from low to high.

Example: “And so, we lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before us.”

Example: “With every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.”

Example: “We will rise from the gold-limned hills of the West. 

Category:Sandia Mountains - Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

We will rise from the wind-swept Northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution. 

We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the Midwestern states. 

We will rise from the sun-baked South.”

Movement from backwards to forwards.

Example: “We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be: a country that is bruised, but whole; benevolent, but bold; fierce and free. 

We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation, because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation.” 

Movement from broken to whole or injured to healthy. 

Example: “Somehow, we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.”

Example: “With every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.”

Example: “We will rebuild, reconcile and recover in every known nook of our nation, in every corner called our country our people diverse and beautiful will emerge battered and beautiful.”

Movement from the past to the future.

Example: “In this truth, in this faith we trust, for while we have our eyes on the futurehistory has its eyes on us.”

Example: “We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour, but within it, we found the power to author a new chapter, to offer hope and laughter to ourselves.”

Example: “So, let us leave behind a country better than one we were left.” 

6) Contrast and Chiasmus: Another way of showing movement or progress in a poem is by setting up contrasts between two events or situations.  A chiasmus (pronounced kye-AS-mus) is a specific type of contrast in which two concepts are presented in reverse order in one sentence.  Perhaps the most famous example is from John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address when he said, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” In her poem, Ms. Gorman sets up several of these types of chiasmus. In one instance, she uses a clever contrast between two meanings of the words arms, one as weapons and one as human limbs. 

Contrast

Example: “That even as we grieved, we grew

That even as we hurt, we hoped; that even as we tired, we tried; that we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.”

Example: “We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be: a country that is bruised, but whole; benevolent, but bold; fierce and free.”

Chiasmus

Example: “We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another.” 

Example: “In this truth, in this faith we trust, for while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.” 

Example: “So, while once we asked: ‘How could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?’ Now we assert, ‘How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?’”

7) Themes of Unification:  As a grammar nerd, I could tell from the first three words of the poem that she was going to be talking about unification. Linguists and writers know that it is not always what one says that is important, it’s what one doesn’t say. She opens the poem with the phrase, “when day comes…”.  Note that she doesn’t say “the day” with the definite article or “a day” with an indefinite article. Indefinite and definite articles used with nouns indicate a specific concept being introduced or referenced, respectively. We can say, “a day I’ll never forget” or “the day I was late for work.”  By not including any article, Ms. Gorman indicates the concept as day as a natural phenomenon as in the idea of night follows day or summer follows spring.  In this way, she sets up the entire poem about universal themes, rather than specific issues.  She uses this idea of a new day coming at the beginning and the end of the poem to frame or bookend the entire speech. 

Example: “When day comes we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?” 

Example: “When day comes, we step out of the shade aflame and unafraid.”

Beyond this rhetorical strategy, there is another omission worth mentioning.  She never uses the first-person singular pronoun, I.  Rather she always uses the first-person plural pronoun, we.  Admittedly, most poets do not write about themselves so there is no reason to use first person pronouns, but even when Ms. Gorman is referring to herself, she uses the third person. I believe she does this deliberately to remove herself as the agent in the change she describes; rather she asks that we all work together to achieve those goals, not any one person individually. 

Example: “We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.”

She adds another layer of emphasis to this sense of unity in her final line by saying that we not only have to see the light, but that we must be it, perhaps as a nod to the famous line attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

Example: “If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

As a final rhetorical technique, she recognizes that it is not just the politicians in Washington DC who can make the changes.  It must come from people all across the country.  Thus, she specifically mentions different parts of the country, every nook and corner, along with the powerful compound adjectives discussed earlier. 

Example: “We will rise from the gold-limned hills of the West

We will rise from the wind-swept Northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution. 

We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the Midwestern states. 

File:Chicago Skyline and Lake Michigan.JPG - Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

We will rise from the sun-baked South

We will rebuild, reconcile and recover in every known nook of our nation, in every corner called our countryour people diverse and beautiful will emerge battered and beautiful.”

Summary:  Needless to say, this young poetess has crafted an incredibly powerful and uplifting poem.  By using a variety of rhetorical strategies, she outlines how we can heal our divided country and move forward. Interestingly, she never mentions any politicians or political parties by name, nor any specific national issues.  She makes allusions to the riots at the Capitol on January 6th, but does not give any specifics. I assume she is talking about reuniting Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives and rich and poor Americans.  She does make several allusions to slavery so perhaps we can also assume she is hoping for racial equality, and perhaps justice for all disadvantaged groups, as she says, “all culturescolorscharacters and conditions of man.”  One can only hope her dreams of a better future for these United States can become a reality. 

Immigration Law Timeline

Hello!

The fine folks at RapidVisa have contacted me to ask if I could share some of their original research.  Since I have written several blog posts about immigration, they suggested I share their compilation of U.S. Immigration Laws in a nice, easy-to-read chart format.  I will include a link to the chart here.

MAP Statue_of_Liberty

Please note that I have no affiliation with this organization and I have not been paid to offer their research here.  RapidVisa helps people obtain visas for their loved ones visiting or moving to the U.S. from other countries.  You can check out their services here. I offer their research only as additional information for my blog readers.

I have checked other sources on the Internet and no one else has compiled these laws in such a compact format. They list all of the immigration laws between 1790 and 2006 including interesting maps, photos and political cartoons.  They explain that they do not include more recent executive orders such as DACA or other immigration policies because they are not laws that were enacted by the U.S. Congress.  Nonetheless, their chart is still a very useful summary of U.S. immigration laws.  Enjoy!

 

Trump’s Cabinet – Shakeup and Turnover

This week we learned in the news that Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly, may be leaving by the end of the year.  His departure would be one in a long series of Trump advisors resigning or being forced out of office in the past two years, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, EPA director Scott Pruitt, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and many more.  I have noticed that there is a wide variety of metaphors used to describe the process of removing advisors from a presidential cabinet.

An antique cabinet at the Palace of Versailles in Paris

Before we get to the metaphors, first a word about the word cabinet itself.  At first glance it may appear to be a metaphor as well.  However, it is an example of polysemy (puh-LISS-uh-me), i.e., a word having different meanings that change over time.  The original meaning of cabinet was what we normally think of as a kitchen cabinet, a small box for containing valuables. Later the meaning changed to a small private room.  Then the people who met in that room became known as a cabinet council.  Later the phrase was shortened to simply cabinet. Thus we now refer to the president’s trusted group of advisors as the cabinet.

Sound strange? A more familiar example of this is the room board. We know the word as referring to a plank of wood.  We all know the expression as living in a house and paying room and board.  The board refers to the table on which the renters ate their meals.  This is an example of synecdoche (sih-NECK-duh-key) in which a part of something refers to the whole.  Moreover, the word board was stretched even further to refer to a group of experts in a company, university or non-profit organization, as in a board of trustees.   The table where the experts met came to refer to the group of people who met there.

Back to the metaphors, we find that the process of people being hired and then fired in Donald Trump’s cabinet are described in terms a colorful variety of metaphors.  Of course, changes in a president’s cabinet are not unusual. All presidents have had advisors come and go.  However, President Trump has had an unusually large number of cabinet members resign or be fired.  The metaphors listed below are all “ripped from the headlines.”  The source of each quotation is provided, linked to the word “example” at the beginning of each quotation.  Italics are mine.

First of all, there are several metaphors used to describe the confusion that occurs when cabinet members are fired.  One way to describe the confusion is the say that is in flux, a word originally from Latin indicating the flow of water, as in an influx of tourists in a seaside community during the summer.  More commonly, the word flux refers to the rapid changes in a process.  The abstract concept of movement in a process is often compared to the physical movement of objects. The confusing process may also be described as if it is a deck of cards being shuffled, or mixed back and forth. Similarly, we may describe the process as being a shakeup, as if we are shaking small objects in a container, or a drink in a cocktail shaker. This hiring and firing process is also commonly described as a turnover, as if people are turning objects upside down and then right side up again, or baking an apple turnover.  Finally, we may also find examples of this process referred to as a revolving door, as if people are going in and out of a doorway into a large building.

Example:  “President Donald Trump’s Cabinet is in flux again.”

Example:  “On March 13, Trump fired his first secretary of state Rex Tillerson, shuffling the Cabinet again.”

Example:  “The president has been discussing multiple Cabinet shakeup options with his advisers.”

 

 

Example:  “In the president’s first two years in office, his Cabinet has seen far greater turnover than those of presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama over the same time period, according to a Cabinet tracker by the Brookings Institution.”

Example:  “The Trump Administration’s Revolving Door

We also find many examples of metaphors being used for the actual process of leaving.  In some instances, we see neutral metaphors such as stepping down or exiting, as if a person is simply stepping down off a platform or exiting from a room.  However, we also find other more active metaphors being used, suggesting the use of physical force to move the person.  For example, perhaps the most common metaphor to describe a person leaving a position is that he or she is out. The word out is a common container metaphor, as if a person had been inside a box, and then he or she was forced to move out of the container.  More forceful metaphors include examples such as being pushed out or ousted, the latter being derived from an old French word meaning to forcibly remove someone from a location. Less politely, we find that a cabinet member can be dumped, as if he or she is an unwanted item going into the trash. In another sense of removal, we also find the word purge, which is also derived from a French word meaning to “clean” or “purify.”  Finally, we find an interesting box metaphor of someone being on the ropes before being fired, as if the person is a boxer about to lose an important fight in the ring.  In the example of mixed metaphors listed below, a person is being pushed out after being on the ropes while the administration is going through a shuffle of cabinet members.

 

Example:  “CNN reported Friday morning that Kelly could be stepping down in a matter of days, but Trump did not pause long enough to take questions from reporters, though he teased he would make another big personnel announcement Saturday at the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia.”

Example:  “Behind the scenes: Trump announces John Kelly’s exit

Example:  “Jeff Sessions out as attorney general”

Example:  “John Kelly, hired to restore order for President Donald Trump, is out as chief of staff.”

Example:  “After two years of already high turnover, the president is expected to push out or accept the resignations of several more department chiefs by January.”

Example:  “The larger GOP margin in the Senate is especially important because Trump might now have the votes to confirm a new attorney general. Before the election, Republicans had warned Trump not to replace Sessions when they did not have the votes—a deficit that was due to the political blowback that would come if the president tried to oust Sessions in a transparent bid to curtail the Mueller investigation.”

Example:  “After Sessions, who will Trump dump next?”

 

Example:  “Attorney General Jeff Sessions may have been the first Trump Cabinet-level member purged in the wake of the midterm elections — but he is unlikely to be the last.”

Example:  “Several Trump Cabinet officials and senior aides are on the ropes and could be pushed out by the end of the year in a dramatic shuffle that could reshape the character of his administration — but create new political headaches for the president.”

 

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As readers of this blog already know, almost any political process can be described in terms of metaphors. The examples listed here offer more evidence that we think in metaphors and that we commonly describe abstract process in terms of metaphors based on ordinary physical actions such as shaking, turning or moving something in and out of containers.  I am always amazed how many examples of these types of metaphors I can find.  Let me know if you have any comments or questions.  Thanks for reading!

Health Care Metaphors

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

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

Body Shape: skinny

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

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

Food: vinegar and honey

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

 

 

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

Journey: rocky start, bridge

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

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

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

 

 

 

Building: collapse, fall apart

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

Example: House Republicans despair after health care collapse

Example: How the Republican health care bill fell apart

Machines and Engines: fix, overhaul, backfire

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

Example: How Republicans Can Fix American Health Care

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

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

Chemistry and Physics: litmus test, pressure

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

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

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

Boxing: round one, slam

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

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

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

 

Military: kill, dead, blast, implode, torpedo

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

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

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

Example: Trump blasts Senate rules in Saturday morning tweets

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

 

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

Science Fiction: the twilight zone

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

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

*******

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

 

 

Showing One’s True Colors

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

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

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

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

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

Red and Blue

red states and blue states

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

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


purple

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

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

red

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

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

red ink

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

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

red tape

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

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

redline

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

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

rosy

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

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

blue

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

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

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

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

out of the blue

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

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

blue blooded

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

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

 

Green and Yellow

green

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

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

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

green-collar

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

greenhorn

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

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

greenback

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

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

yellow

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

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

yellow journalism

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

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

 

Silver and Gold

silver lining

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

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

silver tongued

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

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

golden

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

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

golden boy

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

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

golden parachute

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

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

gold star

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

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

gold star families

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

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

Other Color Metaphors 

colorblind

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

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

off-color

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

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

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

 

 

 

Trump’s Inaugural Address

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

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

RHETORIC

Hyperbole

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

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

An abandoned factory outside Duluth, Minnesota

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

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

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

Dystopia

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

The carnage after the Battle of Gettysburg

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

Repetition

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

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

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

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

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

We will make America wealthy again.

We will make America proud again.

We will make America safe again.

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

METAPHORS

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

Personification

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

stealing, destroying

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

face, confront

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

We will face challenges. We will confront hardships.”

heart, home

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

friendship

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

strong

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

Taking

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

bring back

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

Death

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

tombstones

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

Building

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

rebuilding

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

Vision

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

looking

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

vision

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

Sailing

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

our shores

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

Sunset Evening Cancun

horizon

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

 

 

course

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

Journey

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

left behind

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

unstoppable

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

*******

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

 

Flashback: Obama’s 1st Inaugural Address

I have had several requests from linguists and graduate students around the world in the past few months to have more analyses of President Obama’s speeches. Previously, I analyzed his 2nd Inaugural Address from January 2013 among other speeches. Today I would like to an analysis of his 1st Inaugural Address from January 2009.   Although it may seem like ancient history, this important speech reveals the energy and optimism of his record-setting campaign and election. President Obama uses a wide variety of metaphors in his speech including those from nature, farming, personification, theater, machines and tools, buildings, food, fragile objects, physical forces and journeys.

As always, the examples below are taken directly from the transcript of the speech. I have italicized the metaphors in question. Some examples are repeated if they contain multiple metaphors.

 

Nature

We commonly use metaphors of nature to describe political events or historical conditions. In one extended passage, President Obama speaks of rising tides, still waters, gathering clouds and raging storms. In other cases, he also speaks of our national confidence being reduced like the sap of a tree, while political changes are compared to earthquakes or shifting ground and American ideals are seen as lighting the world like the sun.

Example: “Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath.  The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace.  Yet, every so often, the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms.”

blog - nature - still water

blog - nature - rainstorm

 

 

 

 

 

Example: “Less measurable, but no less profound, is a sapping of confidence across our land; a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, that the next generation must lower its sights.”

Example: “What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply.”

Example: “Our Founding Fathers — (applause) — our Founding Fathers, faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man — a charter expanded by the blood of generations.  Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience sake.”  (Applause.)

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Farming

Our close relationship to nature includes our thousands of years of farming practices. In one case, terrorists are compared to farmers who sow conflict instead of seeds.

Example: “To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.”

 

Personification

Politicians commonly refer to countries or political movements as people.   Thus, Obama refers to America as a friend of other nations, while earlier generations faced down fascism. Additionally, he speaks of dogmas as having the power to strangle our politics. Most famously, he described terrorists as a group of people to whom he would like to extend and hand if they would unclench their fists.

blog - personification - handshakeExample: “And so, to all the other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born, know that America is a friend of each nation, and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity.”

Example: “Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with the sturdy alliances and enduring convictions.”

Example: “On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.”

blog - personification - Clenched_human_fistExample: “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Theater

In addition to metaphors of personification, we also commonly compare countries to actors playing on stage or in a movie. Thus, President Obama claims that American must play a role in establishing peace around the world and that we must consider our role in keeping our military personnel safe in overseas engagements.

Example: “…and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.”

Example: “As we consider the role that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who at this very hour patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains.”

 

Buildings

It is also common that politicians speak of governmental progress as building a new structure. Thus, we find an example of President Obama describing his goals in 2009 to lay a new foundation for economic growth. He also describes terrorists as those who would not only build societies but also destroy them.

Example: “For everywhere we look, there is work to be done.  The state of our economy calls for action, bold and swift.  And we will act, not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth.”

Example: “To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.”

 

Machines and Tools

We have used animals and machines for hundreds of years to make our lives easier. We put harnesses on domesticated animals to make them do work on our farms. We can also use tools to fix a machine or try not to lose control of its power. Thus Obama speaks of harnessing the sun, wind and earth for fuel. He also speaks of using instruments to meet new challenges, and watching the stock market so that it does not spin out of control.

blog - machines - harness horses
Example: “We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.”

Example: “Our challenges may be new.  The instruments with which we meet them may be new.”

blog - machines - spinning topExample: “But this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control.”

 

Food 

We all have experiences eating food. We may describe the taste of food as something that is salty or sweet, sour or bitter, fresh or stale. Unpleasant events may be compared to a bitter taste, while old political strategies may be compared to stale bread. With a nod to the rhetoric of Martin Luther King, Jr., President Obama claims that we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation while stale political arguments are no longer applicable to modern societies.

blog - food - Stale_breadExample: “We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation…”

Example: “What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply.”

 

Fragile Objects

We compare the strength of people, political movements or personal motivation to fragile objects like glass vases. President Obama uses a popular metaphor to describe the American spirit as something that is not fragile and thus cannot be broken.

Example: “And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken — you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.”

 

Physical Forces

We can also control objects and our environment by shaping them as if they are mounds of clay. Thus, Obama says that we are shaped by the languages and cultures of other countries, while we must be responsible to shape our own national destiny.

Example: “We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation…”

Example: “This is the source of our confidence — the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.”

 

Journey

Finally, and not surprisingly, President Obama uses many journey metaphors to describe his goals for his presidency which was just beginning in 2009. We use metaphors of walking, driving or sailing ships to describe progress in our lives. President Obama uses quite a variety of these types of metaphors. He does not want to roll back the progress that had been made on reducing global warming, but to carry forward the gifts of our forefathers to create a better world. He claimed that the United States has long been on a difficult path, but without short-cuts, while finding the surest route for a new way forward. He wants to country to think about how far we have traveled together and to keep our eyes on the horizon and carry forth our gifts to a new generation.

Example: “With old friends and former foes, we’ll work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet.”

Example: “The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea passed on from generation to generation:  the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.”

blog - journey - ShortcutExample: “Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less.  It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those that prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame.  Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor — who have carried us up the long rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.”

Example: “The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity, on the ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.”

Example: “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”

Example: “So let us mark this day with remembrance of who we are and how far we have traveled.”

blog - war - horizonExample: “Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.”

*******

It is interesting to see the optimism in Barack Obama’s rhetoric and choice of metaphors at the start of his presidency. I wonder if he believes he has achieved all he had hoped for on his journey…

 

Signature Issues – Synecdoche Part 2

Hello! Sorry for the delay with today’s post. This has been crunch time for my teaching schedule at the end of the quarter. I have been swamped with testing, grades and endless paperwork. I am trying to catch up with my blog posts.

Today I would like to provide the second part of my analysis of synecdoche. The last time I discussed examples from the human body, land, furniture and buildings. This time I explain examples from writing, money, tool, weapons and machines.

Writing

the fine print

In many legal documents, the details of the agreement are very long and complex so they are often printed in small letters. This is usually referred to as the fine print. Thus the small print represents the details of a process or agreement. There is also usually a negative sense to the phrase since people are sometimes fooled by not reading the fine print in a document before they sign it.

Example: Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act was a document of 2700 pages. Members of Congress had to read a lot of fine print before they could vote on it to be passed into law.

blog - business - JohnHancocksignature issues

A signature is a handwritten name. It represents the person’s identity and approval of the document that is signed.   For politicians, the issues that they are most passionate about are sometimes called their signature issues. Their signature represents their interest in those issues.

 

Example: For many Republicans, the signature issues are taxes and government spending.

blog - synecdoche - penthe pen is mightier than the sword

One of the oldest examples of synecdoche in English dates to a British play written in 1839. In this case the pen refers to the power of written documents to cause or end wars, while the sword refers to the power of military weapons to fight a war. Thus, saying that the pen is mightier than the sword indicates that diplomacy is more powerful than military solutions in times of war.

Example: For most American presidents, trouble in the Middle East is a difficult situation to handle. Some prefer military options while others say that the pen is mightier than the sword.

 

Money

hit the pocketbook

A pocketbook is a type of wallet for holding money. When politicians talk about a bad economy affecting the finances of average Americans, they may say that it will hit the pocketbook, meaning their wallet will have less money than usual. In this case, the container represents the important contents inside the container.

Example: The economic crisis of 2008 hit the pocketbook of millions of Americans.

Model of an ancient Roman coin purse
Model of an ancient Roman coin purse

purse strings

Purses for holding money used to be simple leather bags tied with a string. In an old phrase from the Middle Ages, holding the purse strings meant to control the money in the household. As an example of synecdoche, the purse strings represent the money contained in the purse.

Example:  Congress likes to hold the purse strings for funding entitlement programs such as Social Security.

 

Tools and Weapons

blog - synecdoche - forkfield to fork

We use forks to eat our food. In these days of trying to reduce transportation and energy costs of moving food from farms to our groceries stores, politicians have created the phrase of reducing the costs of field to fork. The field represents the farms; the fork represents our eating of the food in our homes.

Example:  Whenever gas prices go up, some politicians support the development of local farmers’ markets to reduce the costs of field to fork.

blog - saber 2rattle sabers

A saber is a type of sword. When some members of Congress begin speaking of going to war against other countries, we may say that they are beginning to rattle their sabers. The sabers represent war or the willingness to go to war.

Example:  After the War in Iraq ended in 2010, some conservative politicians began to rattle their sabers against Iran.

 

Machines

blog - synecdoche - voting_booth voters pull the lever

In some cases, when people go to vote in their communities, they must pull a lever on a small machine that records their votes. In a common phrase, we refer to the process of voting as pulling the lever. The lever represents the entire voting process.

Example: In a presidential campaign, each political party tries to persuade voters to pull the lever for their candidates.

blog - synecdoche - radio dialacross the dial

Before the digital age, radios had a dial that showed the frequencies of each radio station. To go across the dial meant to listen to a wide range of music and news stations. In a modern figurative phrase, to go across the dial means to survey many types of political views on a certain topic. The dial thus represents differing political opinions.

Example:  In the 2008 presidential election, people from all across the dial voted for Barack Obama.

blog - synecdoche - wirewired campaign

Wires have long been used in the construction of radio, television and computer equipment. To say that an office is wired, for example, means that it has the latest technology, especially the best Internet connections and website access. If a campaign is wired, this means that the campaign staff are connecting to voters through websites and social media outlets.

Example: In 2008, some pundits believed that Barack Obama’s wired 2008 campaign helped him win the election.

*******

I think most American English speakers would not even realize that these examples I have described in the last two posts are types of figurative language since they are so commonly used. Once again, I believe these uses of synecdoche illustrate how easily our minds can understand non-literal language and how common synecdoche is in the English language. I often wonder how speakers of English as a second language know what the heck we are talking about most of the time. As always, questions and comments are welcome!

Next time: A Holiday Smorgasbord of Metaphors!

 

Citing My Blog

Hello! I just had a request to explain how to write a citation of my blog posts in research papers. You may use the appropriate style for an electronic source.

Here are two samples for in-text citations and the works cited list using my most popular post about Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech from 2013 in MLA and APA styles. Be sure to check with your professors for other details or style requirements for your particular field.

Please let me know if you have any questions. Thanks for reading!

MLA 

In-Text Citations

Metaphors based on terms from nature are found in some of Martin Luther King’s speeches (Gallagher, “Metaphors in Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech”). 

Works Cited

Gallagher, Andrew. “Metaphors in Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech.” politicalmetaphors. WordPress. 27 Aug. 2013. Web. 11 Nov. 2015.

APA

In-Text Citations

Metaphors based on terms from nature are found in some of Martin Luther King’s speeches (Gallagher, 2013).

Works Cited

A Gallagher. (2013, August 27). Metaphors in Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech. [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.politicalmetaphors.com.

 

 

 

Mike Huckabee’s Metaphors

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

Physical Forces

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

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

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

lopsided

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

chop off

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

blog - personification - handshakea fair shake

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

Machines

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

run the country

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

political machine

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

blog - machines - hot buttonshut down markets

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

tinkering

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

Personification

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

pockets picked

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

blog - business - cashgrab money

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

created a monster

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

flunked, expelled

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

 

Analogies

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

blog - forces - rattlesnakedeadly snakes

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

 

roach motel

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

blue collar / blue blood

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

Journeys

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

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

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

blog - white houseHope to Higher Ground

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

*****

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

Next time: Metaphors of Memorial Day