Category Archives: Uncategorized

Metaphors of Farm Animals

Greetings!  As promised, today I have a few more examples of metaphors derived from animals.  This time I look at cows, oxen, sheep, goats and pigs.  Believe it or not, they do indeed exist!  Previously I wrote a short blog on cows and beef, but today I offer a more complete list.  Note that most of these terms originated in the history of farming and ranching, some from our English-speaking ancestors in Great Britain, others from our own experience in the western United States. As mentioned last time, these metaphors illustrate the close relationship between humans and animals for work, companionship or food.  Please let me know if you have any questions about these fascinating metaphors.

Cows and Oxen

blog - animals - Cow_female_black_whitecow

Cows are animals that can be easily grouped or herded into specific places.  People can be cowed if they do not stand up for what they believe in.

Example:  President Obama does not seem to be cowed by the efforts of the powerful lobbyists to change policies to benefit their corporations.

maverick

A young cow that is found without a brand is said to be a maverick, named after a rancher named Maverick who often did not brand his cows.  In political terms, a maverick is someone who is very independent of political parties.

Example:  John McCain is known as being a maverick for opposing policies of any party that he does not agree with.

blog - animals - Texas_longhorn_cattle_bull_grazingbull, bull sessions, bully and the bully pulpit

A bull is a male cow.  The term bull or bully can have many meanings in politics.  Bulls can be very strong and aggressive.  Thus, to bully people means to act aggressively towards them and get them to do what the bully wants them to do.  The word bully is also an old expression meaning, “Great! Exciting!”  The phrase bully pulpit was first used to describe the speeches of Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States, 1901-1909.  A pulpit is the place in a church where the priest or pastor gives his sermon to the congregation.  Politicians are sometimes described as having a bully pulpit when they tend to lecture and tell the Congress or the American people what to do.  Bull feces can be called bullshit, (a swear word in English), sometimes shortened to just bull.  This term in turn can be used to describe something that has no value, so to talk bull means to speak without telling the truth.  Conversations with lots of bull can be called bull sessions.

Example:  The American people become frustrated if politicians only engage in bull sessions and do not get anything done.

Example:  A good political leader does not bully his colleagues.  Rather, he needs to work with them cooperatively.

Example:  A strong president trying to pass new laws must sometimes use the bully pulpit to get his ideas across.

The famous bull sculpture on New York's Wall Street
The famous bull sculpture on New York’s Wall Street

bull market

When the stock market is on an upward trend and investors are very confident in investing money, this is called a bull market, comparing the market to the strength and power of a bull.  (Compare to a bear market below.)

Example:  It is always good to invest money in a bull market; this is when investors make the most money.

drive

The word drive has many meanings, most commonly today used to mean operate a car or truck.  However, ranchers would often drive their animals to get them to where they wanted them to go, as in a cattle drive.  In general, to drive means to propel something forward.

Example:  The collapse of the banking system drove the economy further into a recession.

beef and beef up

The meat of a cow is called beef.  The size and weight of a cow has allowed the word beef to be used to indicate strength and importance.  The word beef can be used to mean a complaint, as in “What’s your beef?”  One can also use the expression, beef up, meaning to make something stronger.

Example:  Congress is trying to beef up the laws to protect children from abusive parents.

wrangling

Workers on a farm or ranch who catch and control the animals are said to wrangle with them.  In politics, when people argue or fight, this may be called wrangling as well.

Example:  Most Americans get tired of politicians wrangling over policies instead of getting things done and helping the people.

blog - animals - cattle branding vintagebrand

Rancher must put a mark or brand on the skin of their cows so that they are not stolen by other ranchers.  This same word is used to indicate the names of companies or political policies.

Example:  Some Democrats say Barack Obama has introduced a new brand of politics with his emphasis on helping the poor and middle class.

stampede

A stampede occurs when an entire herd of animals runs in the same direction without being controlled by anyone.  In political terms, members of Congress may be stampeded by other politicians who try to pass bills or make laws without giving everyone a chance to study the policies.

Example:  Some critics said that the Patriot Act of 2001, designed to increase anti-terrorism policies of the U.S. government, was stampeded through Congress without many members realizing what the bill actually meant.

fence mending

Ranchers must separate their animals from other ranchers’ animals with strong fences.  If a fence is broken, the animals can run away and cause trouble for the other ranchers.  Thus, one must constantly mend or fix the fences to keep the animals safe and avoid problems with neighbors.  In politics, fence mending means that two politicians who disagreed on something must talk it over and reach a new agreement.

Example:  Republicans are Democrats are always in the process of mending fences to get bills passed in Congress.

blog - animals - earmarkearmark

A rancher with hundreds of cows must mark each one to indicate the gender and age of each animal.  Usually a tag with this information is attached to the ear of each cow, thus called an earmark.  In political terms, an earmark is money secretly put in a bill by a member of Congress to pay for a project in his or her home district, without the rest of Congress knowing that it is part of the bill.

Example:  In 2005, Alaskan senator Ted Stevens famously tried to use an earmark to build a bridge costing $400 million that would be used by only 50 people.

dig in heels

When a rancher is trying to control and stop a large animal from running away, he needs to dig in his heels, or get a firm footing on the ground, or else the animal will get away.   In political terms, someone who does not change his or her position on a policy is said to dig in his heels.

Example:  In the 1990s, President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary dug in their heels to try to get a new health care system for America, but Congress did not approve their plans.

harness

A harness is a set of strong leather straps used by the rider or driver to control strong work animals such as horses or oxen.  In popular terms, people speak of being able to harness sources of energy such as the wind or solar power or even harness the will or energy of the American people.

Example:  A good president can harness the energy of all the members of Congress to pass laws to help the American people.

blog - animals - yokeyoke

A yoke is similar to a harness in that it is used to control a strong animal although it is usually larger and made of wood.  In political terms, sometimes people without power are said to be under the yoke of a bad government or unfair policies.

Example:  For hundreds of years, African-Americans suffered under the yoke of slavery.

feed

Animals, like people, need to be fed every day.  Hungry animals eat a lot of food when they can get it.  In politics, journalists like to get many news stories every day to publish in their newspapers and magazines, or television and radio programs.  This process is sometimes called feeding the beast.

Example:  The White House Press Secretary is always feeding news stories to the press.

Sheep, Goats, and Pigs

A shepherd with his flock in Romania
A shepherd with his flock in Romania

fold

A fold is a name for a group of animals on a farm, especially for sheep.  Farmers like to keep the sheep together in the fold.  If an animal runs away or is lost, the farmers try to get it back in the fold.  In politics, someone who strays from the values or policies of a political party or religious group is asked to come back to the fold.

Example:  Members of Congress who lean too far to the left or right may be asked to come back to the fold of their parties and not be too extreme.

tending the flock

A group of sheep is called a flock, similar to a fold or flock of birds (see above).  To tend the flock means to take care of all the sheep in that group.  In politics, tending the flock means to take care of the needs of a politician’s constituents or followers.

Example:  Presidential candidates must always tend their flocks if they want to get everyone’s vote in the election.

bellwether

A wether is an old name for a ram or male sheep.  A bell was hung on the neck of the dominant wether in a flock so that the other sheep would follow him, making it easier for the shepherds to herd the flock.  In modern times, a bellwether is something that is an indicator of other things to come.

Example:  The many home foreclosures in the summer of 2008 was a bellwether for the troubling economic problems that soon developed throughout the country.

stray far

Animals on a farm or ranch such as cows, sheep or goats, cannot go far from the ranch or else they will be lost or killed.  To stray means that the animals go away from the farm; ranchers hope that they do not stray far. In political terms, to stray far means that the person is getting away from the policies or values of his or her party.

Example:  In the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney tried not to stray far from the values of his conservative Republican party but lost the election to Barack Obama.

blog - animals - goatscapegoat

In ancient Jewish culture, a goat was symbolically given all of the sins of the community and sent into the wilderness, thus relieving everyone of their sins.  The animal was referred to as a scapegoat. Today, a scapegoat is someone who is blamed for the mistakes of other people.

Example:  During the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Michael Brown, the director of the federal emergency services, was made the scapegoat of all that went wrong in trying to help the people in the floods.

hog tie

When a farmer needs to catch a hog, or large pig, the workers tie rope around his legs very tightly so that the hog cannot move.  This is referred to a hog tie.  In popular terms, to hog-tie people is to prevent them from doing something they want to do.

Example:  Members of Congress sometimes hog-tie the president when he tries to pass a bill they don’t like by constantly voting it down.

*******

Once again, we can see many examples of how we create metaphors based on every day experiences.  Our close relationships with animals have given us some of our most colorful metaphors.

Next weekend marks the national holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr.  I am working on an analysis of another one of his brilliant speeches.  Stay tuned!

Next time:  Metaphors of Martin Luther King, Jr. 

2nd Anniversary/Metaphors of Taste

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

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

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

blog - taste - Christmas_Cookies_Platefultaste of something

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

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

good taste, bad taste

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

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

blog - taste - sugarsweet

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

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

sweet-talk

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

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

blog - taste - Lemonsour

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

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

Chinese bitter melon
Chinese bitter melon

bitter

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

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

Guittard bittersweet chocolate
Guittard bittersweet chocolate

bittersweet

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

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

bitter dispute, bitter defeat, bitter rivals

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

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

blog - taste - 2015_new_year

Next time:  Check back in 2015!

Thanks for reading my blog!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Election Metaphors: Horse Racing

A political campaign is often compared to a horse race.  The horses, betting procedures and methods for determining the winner in a horse race are commonly used to describe elections.

Before the Race

race

A horse race involves people betting a lot of money on horses that they think can win.  In a political campaign, people put a lot of money behind candidates whom they hope can win an election.  Thus an election is often compared to a horse race.

Example:  Candidates wishing to run for the president of the United States must enter the race at least a year or two before the election in order to have time to raise money and get the public to know them.

blog - horse - Racing_at_Arlington_Park

place bets

People at a horse race place bets on the horses that they think will win.  In common terms, we also metaphorically place bets on political candidates.

Example:  In the 2012 presidential election, many conservatives placed their bets on Mitt Romney.  However, he was not able to win the election.

on the ticket

A person who bets at a horse race receives a small piece of paper called a ticket which lists the names of the horses he or she has just bet on.  Thus the horse one bets for is on the ticket.  In politics, we also say that a person who runs for office is on the ticket.  Additionally, one can bet on several horses at the same time, including the horse one thinks will win, place (come in second) or show (come in third) in the race.  Thus, we also say that a president and vice president will be on the same ticket.

Example:  Everyone was surprised when John McCain chose Sarah Palin to be on the ticket with him as the vice-presidential candidate in 2008.

ticket splitters

The metaphorical idea of ticket can be stretched even further when a person votes for candidates from two different political parties.  This is sometimes called splitting the ticket.  The person does this is referred to as a ticket splitter.

Example:  Most political candidates do not like people to be ticket splitters on election day because they hurt the unity of the party.

During the Race

blog - horse - out of the gateout of the gate

Horses begin a race locked behind a wide gate.  When the race begins, the horses are released and run as fast as they can out of the gate.  Metaphorically, anyone beginning a new process may be described as being out of the gate.  In politics, candidates and political figures must make quick decisions and be consistent with their messages.  Thus they must be quick out of the gate.

Example:  Although Barack Obama promised big changes if he were elected president, he was very slow out of the gate and it took years to make any of the changes that he promised during the campaign.

run for office

Horses run to win the race.  Similarly, candidates for political office are said to run in an election to win a position in a government.  We may also call this running for office.

Example:  Any candidate running for office these days needs millions of dollars to have a successful campaign.

running mate

Extending the idea of running for office, the phrase running mate refers to the person who runs for election with someone else.  For example, commonly a vice-presidential candidate is called the running mate of the presidential candidate.

Example:  Conservative women voters were excited when John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate for vice president in the 2008 election.

run the risk

Although the origin of this phrase is unclear, when we do something that may have a negative outcome, we may say that we are running a risk.  In horse racing, when the horse runs, it runs with no guarantee that it will win the race.  Thus, there is a risk that the horse will not win.  In politics, a very common phrase to describe something that may have a bad outcome for the person or group is running a risk.

Example:  When political candidates appear on popular TV shows, they run the risk of not being considered a serious professional.

blog - horse - front runnerfront runner

When a horse is winning a race, we say that it is out in front of the other horses.  We can also say that the horse is the front runner.  In a political election, the candidate who is leading in the polls is also referred to as the front runner.

Example:  Usually the candidate is who is the strong front runner a month before an election wins the race.

fast track

In a horse race, the horses run on a dirt track inside a horse racing arena.  If the track gets wet from recent rains, it will be very hard for the horses to run on it.  If the dirt is dry, it will be a fast track for the horses to run on.  In common terms, any person or activity that seems to be moving very quickly is said to be on a fast track. 

Example:  When Paul Ryan was chosen as Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential candidate in 2012, he started on the fast track to political fame and power in the United States.

blog - horse - inside trackinside track

On an oval track, the shortest distance for the horses to run is close to the inside rail of the track.  In common terms, there are two meanings to the phrase inside track.  First, as in horse racing, to be on the inside track means to be on course to win in whatever competition one is engaged in.  Secondly, the word inside also has the connotation of having restricted or secret access to something.  Thus, to have the inside track on something means that someone has information that is not available to other people.

Example:  In 2008 when the housing market crashed and banks started to fail, the economy was on the inside track to be in the worst recession since the Great Depression.

Example:  Television reporters in Washington D.C. are always competing to get the inside track on the latest news from the White House.

outside chance

Just as the horses on the inside of the track have the greatest chance of winning, the horses running on the outside have the greatest chance of losing since they have farther to run to win the race.  Thus to have an outside chance at completing something means that it is not very likely to happen.

Example:  When Barack Obama first announced that he was running for president in 2006, most people thought he only had an outside chance of winning since he was the first African-American in years to try to become president.

 

Calvin Borel:  Three-time Kentucky Derby winning jockey
Calvin Borel: Three-time Kentucky Derby winner

jockey for position

When the horses are running the race, the jockeys (persons who ride the horses) must try to get in the best position possible so that they can win the race.  Of course, every jockey wants to be on the inside track so they must fight to get where they want to be.  This is called jockeying for position.  In politics, we may also say that candidates must jockey for position to gain the best advantage and win the election.  Beyond an election, politicians may also jockey for position to try to pass a bill, gain more influence on the president, or earn a higher position within the government.

Example:  When a new president enters the White House, members of Congress of the majority party jockey for position to become the Speaker of the House or the Senate Majority Leader.

pull even with

In some cases, one horse may be leading a race, but another horse may catch up and run at the same speed as the front runner.  This is called pulling even with the other horse.  In an election, when one candidate is leading in the polls but another candidate catches up, this may also be called pulling even with the other candidate.

Example:  In 2008, it seemed that John McCain was pulling even with Barack Obama, but Obama was able to win the election in the end.

keep pace with

When two horses are running at the same speed, we may say that they are keeping pace with each other.  In common terms, we may describe many processes at keeping pace with something else if they are occurring at the same rate of speed.

Example:  When an economy is not good and people start losing jobs, it is very sad when the government’s job creation programs cannot keep pace with the rate of job losses.

blog - horse - neck and neckneck and neck

In some horse races, two horses may be running at the same speed in which case the horses’ necks are close to each other and it is difficult to tell who will win the race.  We say that the horses are running neck and neck.   In politics, when the candidates are very close to winning the election, we say that the candidates are running neck and neck.

Example:  In 2004, John Kerry and George W. Bush were running neck and neck for many months but Bush won the election by a small margin.

home stretch

Towards the end of a horse race, the horses must usually run one last section of track in the middle of the arena.  This is called the home stretch because it is the last section or stretch of the track before the horses get home to the finish line.  In common terms, the home stretch is the last tiring section of a competition.

Example:  Several days before a presidential election, the candidates crisscross the country giving speeches at campaign rallies trying to win as many votes as possible in the home stretch.

At the Finish Line

hands down

One unusual phrase borrowed from horse racing is the term hands down.  When a jockey is far ahead of the other horses and is certain to win the race, he or she will relax the grip in the reins controlling the horse and put his or her hands down towards the sides of the horse.  In horse racing, this is referred to as winning the race hands down.  In common terms, when someone wins a sports game or political election by a large margin, this is also called winning hands down.  In a related second meaning, we can also say that something absolutely certain is hands down, usually referring to someone’s opinion of a controversial matter.

Example:  In the 1980 presidential election, Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter hands down.

Example:  The worst economic times in the United States must be the Great Depression in the 1930s, hands down.

dark horse

A dark horse in a horse race is one that is not expected to do well, but finishes surprisingly well or even wins the race.  The word dark sometimes carries the connotation of something secret or mysterious. In politics, a dark horse is a candidate in an election who surprises everyone with the strong finish.

Example:  In the 2010 primary races for Republicans, many dark horse Tea Party candidates beat out traditional Republican incumbents.

dead ringer

Another unusual horse racing term is a dead ringer.  This term refers to a fast horse that is illegally substituted for a slow horse in a race.  The word ringer is derived from the term ring meaning to substitute for something as in the phrase ring in the New Year.  The word dead is used in the sense of being exact or complete as in the phrase dead wrong. In common terms, a person or thing that looks exactly like someone or something else is called a dead ringer.

Example:  In 2008, a photographer from Indonesia named Ilham Anas gained fame because he is a dead ringer for Barack Obama.

too close to call

In horse racing, the winner is called on the loudspeaker of the racetrack once the winning horse is determined.  If the horses are neck and neck, the announcer may say that the race is too close to call until the officials can review the photographs taken at the finish line.  On an election night, if the candidates are all receiving approximately the same amount of votes, we say that the election is too close to call.

Example:  In 2000, the presidential election between Al Gore and George W. Bush was too close to call on election night.  Several weeks later, after many vote recounts, George Bush was declared the winner. 

down to the wire

Another expression similar to too close to call is down to the wire.  Before the days of high-speed cameras, horse racing tracks had a wire suspended above the finish line so that the officials could determine the winner by seeing the first horse that passed under the wire.  In politics, any close election may be called a race down to the wire.

Example:  One might say that the election between George W. Bush and Al Gore went down to the wire.

blog - horse - photo finishphoto finish

In modern times, high-speed photography is used at the end of every horse race.  In cases where the winner is too close to call, the officials look at the photographs to determine exactly which horse won the race.  This is called a photo finish.  Similarly, an election with two candidates earning almost equal totals of votes might be called a photo finish.

Example:  George W. Bush and John Kerry had a photo finish election in 2004.  George Bush won the election by a small margin.

poor showing

As mentioned, the third place position in a horse race is called the show.  This finish implies that even though the horse did not win, it at least showed up near the winner.  In common terms, a showing also implies a good effort although not a win.  In politics, candidates who do not win but make a good effort may be referred to as those with poor showings.

Example:  In the 2010 midterm elections, the Democrats had poor showings in several states and lost many seats in Congress.

bet on the wrong horse

If one bets money on a horse, one hopes that this horse will win the race.  If that horse loses, we say that we simply bet on the wrong horse.  In politics, if we support a candidate who loses an election, we may also say that we bet on the wrong horse.

Example:  No one likes to bet on the wrong horse in an election.  It pays to do research on the views and popularity of each candidate.

Oxbow wins the 2013 Preakness Stakes
Oxbow wins the 2013 Preakness Stakes

pick the winning horse

In horse racing, a person can win a great deal of money if one picks and bets on the winning horse.   In politics, picking a winning candidate in an election is also called picking the winning horse.

Example:  In 2012, Americans who voted for Barack Obama picked the winning horse.

If you tune in to the election coverage on Tuesday night, I am sure you will hear many of these metaphors.  Let me know if you hear any new ones about horse racing!

Next time:  More Election Metaphors

Book Review: Metaphors in International Relations Theory

Today I would like to share the first of several book reviews.  In the process of researching metaphors for my book in the past few years, I have read many brilliant scholarly works.  One of the books I have enjoyed the most is one entitled Metaphors in International Relations Theory by Michael P. Marks (Palgrave MacMillan, 2011).   Professor Marks teaches political science at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, and has published several books on international relations.  I must admit that I do not have much training or experience in political science, much less international relations theory.  However, I would like to offer a few comments with regard to Professor Marks’ analysis of the metaphors used in international relations.

Marks book

The book consists of nine chapters.  The first four chapters provide an excellent background to the complexity of international relations. The next two chapters consist of analyses of two common topic areas: power and international security.  The following chapter details how game theory is used to create metaphors to describe international politics. The final two chapters summarize how metaphors are actually changing how experts understand international relations.

In the introductory chapter Marks claims, “…a major contention of this study is that the generally accepted paradigms that are used to analyze international relations are built on metaphorical imagery that provides the very theoretical propositions these paradigms use to hypothesize and make predictions about international affairs” (p. 4).  He goes on to provide an excellent summary of research on metaphors.  Building on the seminal work of Lakoff and Johnson (e.g. Metaphors We Live By, 1980, and other great works), Marks demonstrates a thorough knowledge of the conceptual metaphor model and applies this knowledge to a very detailed analysis of political metaphors throughout the book.

The bulk of the book is dedicated to showing how conceptual metaphors are commonly used in international relations.  Marks gives many examples such as using personification to describe a state as in “yesterday France vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution” (p. 50) or talking about the “balance of power” between two nations as if they are on a scale (p. 82).  The most fascinating chapter is one dedicated to metaphors of international security, specifically war and terrorism.  Marks provides detailed analyses of common metaphors such as the “Cold War” “hawks and doves” and “sheriffs and cowboys” among many others. He also explains how we routinely have “wars” on every social problem such as the “war on drugs” or the “war on terrorism.”  Marks also includes a chapter on game theory metaphors, explaining how experts in international relations analyze political decisions in terms of games such as the “prisoner’s dilemma” or “chicken.”

In the penultimate chapter, Marks gives a brief summary of how metaphors were used throughout history to describe politics and international relations.  He notes that in the Middle Ages, nations were described as places on a map “occupying a space relative to the divine forces of the universe” (p. 162).  Starting in the 17th century, political theories were modeled after machines (following the invention of mechanical devices of the time) and people were described as being influenced by the social and political transformations of the era as if they were part of a clockwork mechanism.  In the 18th century, machine metaphors were replaced by biological metaphors, representing the dynamic political changes that were happening at the time such as the French Revolution.  These biological metaphors led in the 19th century to such common phrases as the “society of nations” or the “community of states” (p. 166).  More recent metaphors include describing international relations as the “world” or the “web” with “dark corners” and “dark shadows.”

Marks concludes the book by summarizing the importance of metaphors in international relations.  He argues that although many theorists are not even aware of their metaphor usage, their metaphors influence the way other experts and the general public think about the issues at hand.  Marks claims, “the state of theorizing any given moment in the field of international relations is a direct reflection of the metaphorical language that is shared among scholars at that time” (p. 189).

It is difficult for me to pass judgment on the entirety of the book.  Not having a background in politics or international relations, I cannot comment on the accuracy of his descriptions of political theories.  However, having studied metaphors for about 30 years, I was quite impressed with Marks’ knowledge of metaphors.  I am always impressed when scholars from other fields show mastery of such a difficult subject.  Marks certainly does this throughout the book.

My quibbles with the book are few.  I was a little confused in his chapter on game theory.  He did not spend a great deal of time explaining the prisoner’s dilemma game and how it is applied to international relations.  In fact, my only frustration with the book was that Marks provided great examples of metaphors in international relations, but he did not always provide examples of how these metaphors were used in real-life political decisions or events.  For example, how has the “war on terrorism” influenced U.S. foreign policy since the Bush administration?  Or how could the “balance of power” metaphor be used to explain the endless battles between Israel and Palestine? Perhaps that is expecting too much from one book.  Marks bemoans the fact that no one has written a thorough history of political metaphors.  I would love to see Professor Marks write such a book, giving examples of how metaphors have influenced policies and world events throughout history.  I definitely look forward to his next book.

In the meantime, linguists and political scientists would both benefit a great deal from reading Michael Marks’ Metaphors in International Relations Theory.  If you are interested, check your local bookstores for a copy or order it online.

 Next time:  Metaphors of Tools

Stretched Too Thin: Metaphors of Width

Recently President Obama gave the commencement speech for the graduates of West Point Military Academy.  It was an incredibly detailed speech about his views on U.S. foreign policy.  There are too many details to describe here but one item that caught my ear was a comment about not stretching our military “too thin.”  This is one type of conceptual metaphor I have not yet covered here in this blog.  Thus, here follows a brief description of metaphors derived from our experiences with width, i.e., thick and thin or broad and narrow…

Wide

broad-based movement

Some physical objects such as stone monuments have wide or broad bases.  Figuratively, any action or process that is supported by many people in many parts of the country may be called broad-based.  In politics, a liberal or conservative movement with popular support may be described as a broad-based movement.

Example:  The Tea Party grew into a broad-based movement in 2009 and 2010 due to a backlash against Barack Obama’s liberal policies.

broadly speaking

In a similar sense, to do something broadly indicates that it is done in a general, widely approved way.  Speaking in a general way may be called broadly speaking.

Example:  Broadly speaking, conservatives and liberals differ on many important issues such as women’s health, national security, taxes and government spending.

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Trinity Bridge, St. Petersburg, Russia

span

A large distance in space is called a span.  The physical concept of a span can be used metaphorically to describe abstract notions of time and cultural events.

Example:  The isolationist policies of the United States avoiding joining world wars spanned many decades in the 20th century.

across the board

Originally a phrase from a betting procedure in horse racing, to say something is true across the board means that it is true for many people, categories, or geographical areas.

Example:  In 2012, Mitt Romney accused Barack Obama of failing as a president across the board.

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A Japanese war fan

A hand-operated fan used to cool a person in hot weather is usually narrow at the base and wide at the top.  It literally fans out from bottom to top.  Metaphorically, any dispersal of people or goods to a wide geographical area may be described as fanning out.

Example:  During a presidential campaign, activists for each candidate fan out in their home states to try to gain more votes.

large swath

The term swath originally meant a section of crops on a farm that was cleared by a cutting tool called a scythe, for example, a swath of wheat.  Metaphorically, a swath indicates a large group of people across a large geographical area.

Example:  Campaign strategists must consider the large swath of independent voters across the United States who can tip the scales toward one candidate or another in an election.

at large

The notion of a large geographic space is used in a strange metaphor to be at large.  In one sense it may refer to a person who is not centrally located in his or her job as in a newspaper critic at large. It may also refer to a general sense of space and category as in society at large.

Example:  A good president must consider society at large instead of just narrow interest groups in deciding how to govern the country.

Narrow

narrow the lead

The opposite of wide is narrow.  The concept of a narrow physical space is used metaphorically in many English phrases.  In one instance, a small difference in poll numbers during an election is called a narrow lead.  Making the lead smaller may be called narrowing the lead.

Example:  A presidential candidate behind in the polls will try to narrow the lead of his or her opponent by increasing fundraising, campaign stops and television interviews.

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The gap between the train and the platform at Victoria Station, London

narrow the gap

A gap is a physical space between two objects.  In politics there may also be a gap between mean and women, rich and poor, winner and loser, etc.  To make this gap smaller is sometimes called narrowing the gap.

Example:  Most middle-class American voters hope that the U.S. government can narrow the gap between the rich and the poor.

narrow decision, narrow ruling

The concept of a narrow space is also used to describe the small difference in votes from the judges on the Supreme Court.  For example, a 5-4 vote will be called a narrow ruling or a narrow decision.

Example:  The Supreme Court upheld Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act by a narrow 5-4 ruling.

eke out a narrow victory

When a candidate wins an election by a very small margin, we may say that he or she has won a narrow victory.  There is also a word eke that means a small increase in the quantity of something.  In a common phrase we can say that the candidate might eke out a narrow victory.

Example:  In 2012, Barack Obama eked out a narrow victory over Mitt Romney.

Thick

thick with lobbyists

A solid object may also be described as being thick or thin.  Being thick means that the object is wide on at least two dimensions.  The term can also describe a physical space with objects close together.  In a metaphorical phrase, a specific place can be thick with people that work in that general area.

Example:  Americans who want to take money out of politics are dismayed when they see that Washington D.C. is often thick with lobbyists.

fat profits

Another way of describing a wide object is saying that it is fat.  While this is considered a derogatory term to describe people, it may be used to describe a large quantity of anything.  A large amount of profits for a company may be called fat profits.

Example:  Many Americans are frustrated that gas prices continue to rise despite fat profits of the oil companies.

 

Thin

wear thin

The opposite of thick is thin.  The concept of a very thin object can be used metaphorically to describe anything that is very small in quantity or in intellectual substance. In one instance, the popularity or a patience of a person can wear thin as if it is an old shirt.

Example:  Barack Obama’s popularity began to wear thin for liberal supporters when he was not able to achieve many progressive goals.

thin gruel

Gruel is a type of simple porridge some people eat for breakfast.  A bowl of porridge with a great deal of oats or other grains is considered a thick and hearty gruel. A bowl with few grains and more water would be considered a thin gruel, meaning it was lacking substance and nutrition. Metaphorically, a policy or program that is weak and ineffective may be called a thin gruel.

Example:  American voters need a president to deliver effective social programs not just thin gruel.

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Pancake batter stretched too thin

spread too thin, stretch too thin

The origins of the phrases spread too thin or stretch too thin are not clear.  However, it seems that we have a common experience of spreading a semi-solid substance such as butter, peanut butter or jelly on a piece of bread or cracker.  If we spread the substance too thin, it won’t have much flavor.  Also, if we spread a substance such as pancake batter too thin on a griddle, it might burn.  Similarly, if we make pie crust or pizza crust too thin, it might burn in the oven.  Also, when making pottery, if one makes the wall of a pot too thin, it might break upon firing or its first usage.  The idea of stretching something too thin is similar.  When stretching a piece of plastic wrap or rubber balloon too thin, it might break.  Metaphorically, when we have too few people to do many jobs, we may say that we are spreading or stretching them too thin with the result that one cannot achieve a good result of the process.  In businesses, employees may be spread too thin, while in the armed forces, soldiers may be stretched too thin for a military operation.

Example:  In a recent speech to West Point graduates, President Obama claimed that our military personnel overseas could be attacked anywhere by rebel forces.  “So we have to develop a strategy that matches this diffuse threat, one that expands our reach without sending forces that stretch our military too thin or stir up local resentments.”

Next time:  Metaphors of height 

ILA Conference report

Hello!  Just a quick note to let you know that our trip to New York was a great success! The International Linguistics Association conference was smaller than I expected – about 100 attendees – but had linguistics professors from all over the world: Lithuania, Serbia, Austria, England, etc.  I was the only community college instructor.

The organizers and attendees were very nice and supportive of all the presenters.  It was held at Kingsborough Community College situated right on the ocean/Jamaica Bay in southeastern Brooklyn.  The college administrators were very supportive of the conference and provided a delicious lunch on Saturday prepared by their own culinary arts students.

Everyone seemed to like my presentation. They were impressed with my research, liked the way I categorized all the metaphors and were very supportive of me in trying to get the book published. I went beyond merely listing the categories of metaphors and talked about how important metaphors can be to the American political process.  The conference was very inspirational! It made me think of the importance of this kind of research for native speakers of English but also naturalized citizens still learning English who want to be more involved in local or national politics. I will add a new post soon about some of these issues.

As always, thanks for reading!

ILA Conference!

Hello!  Just a quick note to let everyone know that I will be taking a brief hiatus from the blog.  I am off to present the research from my book at the International Linguistics Association conference in New York this coming weekend.  I will be making a 20 minute presentation of my research on Saturday afternoon.  I will let everyone know how it goes.

Sorry I have not been posting too many blogs lately.  I have been busy getting my presentation ready for the conference.  I hope to have more time for blogging when I get back.

Thanks for reading!  — Andy

Beefing Up Security: Metaphors from Down on the Farm

A recent headline from the CNN online news website read: “U.S. to beef up missile defense against North Korea, Iran” (By Chris Lawrence, CNN, http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/15/us/north-korea-missile-defense/index.html).  Newly confirmed Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel expressed concerns over U.S. security after a series of alarming missile launches by the North Koreans and the increasing possibility of Iran developing nuclear weapons.  The metaphorical expression to beef up is derived from the word beef referring to the meat of a cow.  The word beef is also a slang term for strength or brawn, derived from the strength and size of a cow or bull. To beef up, therefore, literally means to increase the size or strength of an animal or person.  Metaphorically it refers to the increase in size or strength of any organization or process.

We have many metaphorical expressions derived from our experience with farm animals, some dating back hundreds of years.  Here are a few more choice examples.

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cow

Cows are animals that can be easily grouped or herded into specific places.  People can be cowed if they do not stand up for what they believe in.

Example: President Obama does not seem to be cowed by the efforts of the powerful lobbyists to change policies to benefit their corporations.

maverick

A young cow that is found without a brand is said to be a maverick, named after a rancher named Maverick who often did not brand his cows.  In political terms, a maverick is someone who is very independent of political parties.

Example: John McCain is known as being a maverick for opposing policies of any party that he does not agree with.

bull, bull sessions, bully and the bully pulpit

A bull is a male cow.  The term bull or bully can have many meanings in politics.  Bulls can be very strong and aggressive.  Thus, to bully people means to act aggressively towards them and get them to do what the bully wants them to do.  The word bully is also an old expression meaning, “great! exciting!”  The phrase bully pulpit was first used to describe the speeches of Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States, 1901-1909.  A pulpit is the place in a church where the priest or pastor gives his sermon to the congregation.  Politicians are sometimes described as having a bully pulpit when they tend to lecture and tell the Congress or the American people what to do.  Bull feces can be called bullshit, (a swear word in English), sometimes shortened to just bull.  This term in turn can be used to describe something that has no value, so to talk bull means to speak without telling the truth.  Conversations with lots of bull can be called bull sessions.

Example: The American people become frustrated if politicians only engage in bull sessions and do not get anything done.

Example: A good political leader does not bully his colleagues.  Rather, he needs to work with them cooperatively.

Example: A strong president trying to pass new laws must sometimes use the bully pulpit to get his ideas across.

wrangling

Workers on a farm or ranch who catch and control the animals are said to wrangle with them.  In politics, arguments and fights between politicians are sometimes called wrangling as well.

Example: Most Americans get tired of politicians wrangling over policies instead of getting things done and helping the people.

brand

Rancher must put a mark or brand on the skin of their cows so that they are not stolen by other ranchers.  This same word is used to indicate the names of companies or political policies.

Example: Some Democrats say Barack Obama has introduced a new brand of politics with his emphasis on helping the poor and middle class.

earmark

A rancher with hundreds of cows must mark each one to indicate the gender and age of each animal.  Usually a tag with this information is attached to the ear of each cow, thus called an earmark.  In political terms, an earmark is money secretly put in a bill by a member of Congress to pay for a project in his or her home district, without the rest of Congress knowing that it is part of the bill.

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Example: In 2005, Alaskan senator Ted Stevens famously tried to use an earmark to build a bridge costing $400  million that would be used by only 50 people.

 

 

harness

A harness is a set of strong leather straps used by the rider or driver to control strong work animals such as horses or oxen.  In popular terms, people speak of being able to harness sources of energy such as the wind or solar power or even harness the will or energy of the American people.

Example: A good president can harness the energy of all the members of Congress to pass laws to help the American people.

yoke

A yoke is similar to a harness in that it is used to control strong animals although it is usually larger and made of wood.  In political terms, sometimes people without power are said to be under the yoke of a bad government or unfair policies.

Example: For hundreds of years, African-Americans suffered under the yoke of slavery.

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Next time:  A Republican Autopsy and other Medical Metaphors

Balancing and Cutting Budgets

Metaphors based on physical forces are some of the most common metaphors used in English.  In politics, two common concepts are balancing or cutting the budget.

Balance

Two objects of equal weight are said to be in balance if weighed on a scale. Metaphorically, costs and situations that are of equal quantity or quality are also said to be in balance.

balanced budget

Example: The U.S. government is always striving to lower the national debt and balance the budget.

trade balances

Countries both import and export goods.  If a country imports more good than it exports it will end up losing money.  Thus countries try to make sure the number of imports is the same as the number of exports.  This is called a trade balance.

Example: It is difficult for the United States to maintain a trade balance with China since we import so many goods from there.

hang in the balance

In an odd phrase, we speak of the fate of some decision or process as hanging in the balance as if the two sides of a scale are tipping back and forth.

Example: In 2012, the legality of Barack Obama’s health care policy hung in the balance until it was approved by the Supreme Court.

tipping point

In another sense of balance, we speak of an object balancing on the edge of something.  The point at which the object falls in one direction or the other is called the tipping point.  Metaphorically, the tipping point is the time or event when a decision is made one way or another.

Example: Many Americans do not vote in presidential elections.  While they may be interested in government, often the tipping point of staying home is when they realize that the president or members of Congress are not doing their jobs.

Cut

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

Example: The economic crisis of 2007 led to many budget cuts in state and local governments around the country.

slash

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

Example: Conservative politicians are always arguing that we should slash government spending to reduce the national debt.

gouge

Yet another word similar to cut is to gouge, but this term implies a digging motion in addition to the cutting action, as in gouging out a knot out of a piece of wood.  Metaphorically, any deep cut may be referred to as gouging.

Example: When gas prices rise, many American citizens claim that the oil companies are gouging consumers to make more profits for themselves.

 Next time:  President Obama’s 2nd Inaugural Address

Hello! Thanks for stopping by!

This is a brand new blog designed to help people understand how metaphors are used in American newspapers, magazines, radio shows and TV news broadcasts.  A few years ago, I started collecting these metaphors as a project for my ESL (English as a Second Language) students.  Four years later I have written a book with more than 2000 metaphors in 54 different categories!

I am hoping to be able to publish the book as soon as possible.  In the meantime, I have started this blog to share examples and explanations of a few metaphors each week as they appear in the media.  If you love politics and linguistics, this blog is for you!

Click on the tabs to learn more about my research and the purposes of this blog.  Comments and questions are welcome!