Tag Archives: business

Democracy for Sale: Metaphors of Buying

To continue my posts on the metaphors of business, today I offer a few examples of metaphors of buying and negotiating.  Note that everyday business transactions are used to create common metaphors to talk about elections, government policies or political deals that happen all the time. How many of these have you heard recently?


cost /cost votes

We say that everything costs money to buy.  In metaphorical terms, things can have more than a monetary cost, e.g., we can say, “the car accident cost him his life.”  In political terms, an action by a politician or political party can have a cost in terms of votes in an election.

Example:  Some say that John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as vice president nominee was the best idea he ever had; others say that it cost him the election.

blog - business - cashafford

To be able to afford something means that one has enough money to buy something.  As with the word cost, the word afford can have other meanings besides money.  Usually used in a negative sense, the phrase cannot afford something means that the person or group will be worse off with a negative result if some action is not taken.

Example:  Teachers say that we cannot afford to cut funding for education even if it costs a lot of money.

Example:  A president cannot afford to look weak when dealing with terrorists.  He or she must be firm and use military action if necessary.

buy some time

One can also buy things besides products.  One can buy abstract ideas such as time.

Example:  Sometimes a president, when faced with a crisis, will buy some time by having committee meetings before he or she must make a decision.

pay/it pays to

Similar to the usage of buy and afford, the word pay can be used for money or other things.  Metaphorically, if we pay for something, we must suffer some personal cost.

Example:  President Hoover paid for his inability to end the Great Depression.  He was replaced in the next election by Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Example:  It always pays for a president to listen to the needs of the American people when making decisions or else he or she will be voted out of office.

pay off later

Something that a person does today may have a benefit later.  In such cases, we can say that it will pay off later.

Example:  In 2006 and 2007, Barack Obama spent time and money developing support from voters on the Internet.  This strategy paid off later in 2008 when he used these networks to raise money and gain votes for the election.

pay-back time

If one does something to hurt someone else, we sometimes say that the second person needs to pay back the first person in the form of some kind of vengeance or retribution.  When the second person decides to do something, this is called the pay-back time.  In politics, it’s payback time when a person or group has the power to make a change to something that affected him or her in a negative way at another time.

Example:  If a governor raises too many taxes for the citizens, it will be payback time at the next election.  The governor might be voted out of office.

blog - business - pay dirthit pay dirt

                  When people mine the ground for metals, the miners can be paid for the metals they find.  Any dirt that produces gold or silver or any valuable metal is called pay dirt.  In metaphorical terms, one who hits pay dirt has done something great or succeeded at a difficult task.

Example:  John McCain thought he hit pay dirt when he asked Sarah Palin to be his running mate for the 2008 election, but he did not win the election.

blog - business - coinsshortchange

When we buy things at a store and pay with bills or coins above the price, the cashier will give back change, or the rest of the money we are owed.  If the cashier accidentally keeps some of the money, this is called being shortchanged.  In popular terms, to be shortchanged means to have a result of some process that is less than what one was expecting.

Example:  The brave police and firefighters who were injured helping the victims of the 9/11 attacks seem to have been shortchanged when some of them could not get the government to pay their medical bills.


bargaining table

When business people meet each other to buy or sell their products, they must negotiate or bargain for the costs of their services.  Usually these meetings occur in offices with the people sitting around a table discussing the business until an agreement is reached.  This table is often referred to as the bargaining table.  In politics, world leaders and politicians are often at the bargaining table trying to agree on policies and programs they are trying to start.

Example:  Republican and Democratic members of Congress are always at the bargaining table when it comes to deciding how high taxes should be for people and corporations.

President Reagan and Margaret Thatcher discuss politics with their cabinets at the White House in 1981
President Reagan and Margaret Thatcher discuss politics with their cabinets at the White House in 1981

the business of  politics

Politics is often compared to a business.  When politicians negotiate with each other to try to pass bills, cut budgets, or begin new programs, they are engaging in the business of politics.

Example:  When politicians first go to Washington D.C., they must get used to the business of politics there.  Most likely, it is more complex and difficult than politics in their hometowns.

broker peace

Broker is an old word for businessman or trader.  In modern terms, a broker is one who buys and sells real estate or investments.  However, in politics, deals and peace agreements can also be brokered.

Example:  President Jimmy Carter brokered a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt in 1978.

marketplace of ideas

A market is a place where products and services are bought and sold.  A marketplace can also be used metaphorically to mean any place or Internet website where ideas are exchanged using the freedom of expression allowed in the first amendment to the Constitution.

Example:  College classrooms around the world are great marketplaces of ideas.

Next time:  Metaphors of Office Work