Tag Archives: metaphors

Flashback: Obama’s Speech in Cairo, 2009

Following last week’s post, I continue today to add another analysis of the metaphors of Barack Obama’s speeches in response to requests from my readers. On June 4, 2009, President Obama gave a speech in Cairo, Egypt to discuss the challenges of controlling the unrest in the Middle East. The speech may seem a bit dated now, but still reveals many important views of the newly elected president with regard to the Middle East. It also contains a wide variety of metaphors. The examples included today range from metaphors from nature, farming and ranching, music and theater, buildings, personification, physical forces and journeys. The metaphors of physical forces are especially interesting in that Obama uses terms of physical stress and tension to describe the troubles in the Middle East.

All examples are taken directly from the transcript of the speech. Some quotations are repeated if they contain metaphors in several different categories. Italics are mine.

 

Nature

Many political speeches include metaphors from nature due to our close relationship with our environment. In this speech, President Obama uses the metaphors of political movements being born, political tension being rooted in historical forces, while describing separation between religious groups as being in flames, and learning as being a light carried through the centuries.

blog - nature - New_born_poodleExample: “We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words — within our borders, and around the world.”

Example: “We meet at a time of great tension between the United States and Muslims around the world — tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate.”

Example: “That is the world we seek. But we can only achieve it together.

blog - fire - fireExample: I know there are many — Muslim and non-Muslim — who question whether we can forge this new beginning. Some are eager to stoke the flames of division, and to stand in the way of progress.”

Example: “As a student of history, I also know civilization’s debt to Islam. It was Islam — at places like Al-Azhar — that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment.”

 

Farming and Ranching

Humans have long controlled their environments by raising crops and animals. President Obama describes hatred as something that can be sown like seeds on a farm, while extremist violence breeds fear and mistrust like ranchers breed animals, and tension is fed by colonialism like ranchers feed their animals.

Example: “So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, those who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity.”

Example: “The attacks of September 11, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights. All this has bred more fear and more mistrust.”

blog - nature - feeding cowsExample: “More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations.”

 

Music and Theater

Comparisons are often made between politics and theater or music. In this case, politicians and countries can play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations while there is musical harmony between traditions and progress.

blog - music - harmony BeatlesExample: “I am honored to be in the timeless city of Cairo, and to be hosted by two remarkable institutions.   And together, you represent the harmony between tradition and progress.”

Example: “To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, recognize Israel’s right to exist.”

 

Buildings

Politicians often compare government programs to buildings. Thus we can take concrete actions and build new programs and countries.

blog - building - concrete blockExample: “We are taking concrete actions to change course. I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year.” (Applause.)

Example: “Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build.”

Example: “Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible.” (Applause.)

 

Personification

Countries are often seen as people in the type of metaphors known as personification. In this case, President Obama speaks of countries expanding their reach while Americans will not turn their backs on the Palestinians.

Example: “They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach. These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.”

Example: “And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.” (Applause.)

 

Physical Forces

It is quite striking that the most common type of metaphor used by President Obama to describe the problems in the Middle East are those metaphors of physical forces. He describes countries being shaped by culture, elevated by a good world order or bonded with other countries. The solidity of physical objects are described in various ways such as bonds which are unbreakable while freedoms are indivisible and beliefs that are unyielding as if they are all made of steel. Governments can also take hold of and maintain power as if they are physical objects. However, the most common metaphor in the entire speech is by far that of tension, used to describe the unrest in the Middle East, as if the countries are objects under tremendous pressure. President Obama used the metaphor of tension a total of nine times.

Example: “We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E pluribus unum — “’Out of many, one.’”

Example: “Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail.”

blog - physical forces - unbreakable glassExample: “America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.”

Example: “Moreover, freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one’s religion.”

Example: “But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose.”

Example: “So no matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who would hold power: You must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.”

blog - physical forces - tension bridgeExample: “We meet at a time of great tension between the United States and Muslims around the world — tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate.”

 

Journey

Not surprisingly, President Obama also uses a wide variety of journey metaphors to explain how the Middle East needs to progress from chaos to peace. Some long journeys require studying a road map, and then people need to take steps to start the journey or launch their vehicles as if they are rockets. People who take the journeys need to make sure they are not going down a dead end, or trapped in a certain place; rather they must move forward. They need to go down the correct path, although it may be dangerous. They may also need to understand what brought them to a certain point of the journey before they can continue forward, or find a bridge to a new route.   They may need to look for a beacon in the distance to achieve their goal as if they are on a ship in stormy seas looking for a lighthouse.

blog - journey - road mapExample: “The obligations — the obligations that the parties have agreed to under the road map are clear. For peace to come, it is time for them — and all of us — to live up to our responsibilities.”

Example: “Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be a critical part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.”

Example: “On science and technology, we will launch a new fund to support technological development in Muslim-majority countries, and to help transfer ideas to the marketplace so they can create more jobs.”

blog - journey - dead end signExample: “This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It’s a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end.”

Example: “Rather than remain trapped in the past, I’ve made it clear to Iran’s leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward.”

Example: “This is not simply about America’s interests. It’s about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path.”

Example: “It’s easier to start wars than to end them. It’s easier to blame others than to look inward. It’s easier to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share. But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path.”

Example: “I do so recognizing that change cannot happen overnight. I know there’s been a lot of publicity about this speech, but no single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have this afternoon all the complex questions that brought us to this point. But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly to each other the things we hold in our hearts and that too often are said only behind closed doors.”

Golden Gate BridgeExample: “Around the world, we can turn dialogue into interfaith service, so bridges between peoples lead to action — whether it is combating malaria in Africa, or providing relief after a natural disaster.”

Example: “For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning; and for over a century, Cairo University has been a source of Egypt’s advancement.”

*******

This speech is interesting for several reasons. Historically, it is the only speech I know of given by a sitting U.S. president from Cairo, Egypt. Metaphorically, it contains a wide variety of rich metaphors. While the journey metaphors were not surprising, it is telling that there were many metaphors of physical forces to describe the unrest in the Middle East while the most frequent metaphor of all was that of tension. Sadly, there has not been much progress in the Middle East since this speech in 2009. Even more tension has arisen since the growth of ISIS and the more recent terrorist attacks. I will continue to monitor how metaphors are used to describe the continued acts of terrorism around the world.

 

Next time:  Back to the campaign trail

Metaphors of the 2016 Iowa Caucuses

The 2016 Iowa caucuses were held this past week. Television news broadcasts, as well as newspaper, radio and online reports, were filled with reports of the results of the voting. I looked at a few randomly chosen articles from online websites. I was not surprised that many articles were filled with political metaphors. Two articles in particular, one from CNN and another from NPR, contained a few colorful examples of political metaphors. All of the examples below are taken directly from the texts of the articles. Italics are mine.  Each quotation is labeled as being from either the CNN or NPR article.

blog - primaries - Iowa map 

Nature

            Metaphors from nature are very common in politics. One of the most common ways to describe local political movements is to say that it is a grassroots movement, as if people are blades of grass growing in a local area. One way to describe a political group that is split into many parts is to say that it is fractured, as if it is a rock that is broken in two. We can also describe unusual political situations as if they are chemicals that might explode, saying that they are volatile combinations.

grassroots

Example: “And Marco Rubio’s stronger-than-expected showing could mark him as the establishment’s best hope against a grassroots revolt in next week’s New Hampshire primary and beyond.” CNN 

blog - nature - fractured rocksvolatile, fractured

Example: “One thing is clear after Monday night’s Iowa caucuses: there’s a long, volatile election season ahead before two deeply fractured parties can unite behind a nominee.” CNN

 

Body Position

            We also commonly use experiences with our sense of physical power in our bodies to describe personal or political viewpoints. We often describe asserting one’s rights as standing up for something, while a person representing the interests of a group of people might be described as standing for them.   One quotation from Ted Cruz uses both of these metaphors.

stand up, stand for

Example: “’It is breathtaking to see what happens when so many Americans stand up and decide they’re fed up with what happens in Washington and they want something different. They want a leader they can trust, they want a leader that stands for them against the corruption of Washington,’ Cruz told CNN’s Dana Bash in an interview aired Tuesday on ‘New Day.’” CNN 

Fighting and Hunting

Competition between candidates in an election is often referred to as a series of battles or fights. Candidates may be described as firing shots, beating or beating out opponents or fending off attacks. We also see people described as being in the hunt as if a group of people are tracking wild animals with weapons. At the same time, a campaign may be compared to the military crusades of the 11th – 13th centuries.

The Wolf and Fox Hunt, Peter Paul Rubens, 1616
The Wolf and Fox Hunt, Peter Paul Rubens, 1616

battles, in the hunt

Example: “So for all the predictions that it was a two-way battle for evangelical support, the Florida senator [Marco Rubio] — who was stressing his own faith in last week’s debate and on the trail in the final stretch — was just as much in the hunt and made it a three-way contest.” NPR

fire shots, wage a crusade

Example: “Claiming victory, Cruz fired immediate shots at both Trump and the party elites he has so infuriated by waging an anti-establishment crusade that has nevertheless endeared him to the GOP’s rank and file.” CNN

The South Korean Women's Fencing team won the Silver Medal at the 2012 London Olympic Games
The South Korean Women’s Fencing team won the Silver Medal at the 2012 London Olympic Games

fend off

Example: “Trump, meanwhile, kept trying to fend off questions about his ground operation and whether the huge crowds the reality-TV star drew would translate into enough votes for him to win.” NPR

beat out

Example: “Cruz beat out businessman Donald Trump and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who finished just behind Trump.” CNN

 

Sports and Games

Elections are also compared to games, horse races and gambling activities. The work done by staff and volunteers to encourage local people in a certain state is called a ground game, while elections themselves are called races or horse races, and certain campaign strategies are called gambling with the election that may or may pay off in the casino.

ground games

Example: “Ground games and retail politics still matter.” NPR

blog - games - slot machinesgamble

Example: “Donald Trump thought he could upend Iowa caucus traditions. The gamble didn’t pay off.” NPR

race

Example: “On the GOP side, it was a three-way race for evangelical voters.” NPR 

 

Width: Middles and Edges

Political viewpoints are often compared to left and right sides of the political spectrum. However, politicians who are moderate in their views may be described as being in the middle of the road, as if all political views are spread across a roadway going forward in an election. In another set of metaphors, we describe the difference in election results as being measured across a gap or physical distance. Thus we have the differences described as an edge of a sharp blade or a small margin, elsewhere as being slim, narrow, or razor thin.

Middle of the Roadmiddle of the road

Example: “Her real strength was with middle-of-the-road Democrats — but unfortunately for her, that share had significantly dropped. This year, just 28 percent of voters identified themselves as moderates, down 12 points from 2008. She had a 23-point edge over Sanders with that bloc, though.” NPR

narrow

Example: “Trump was just narrowly their second choice with 22 percent. But it was Rubio who performed much better than expected to get 21 percent of the evangelical vote.” NPR

slimmer

Example: “’We lost (the nonwhite vote), but that gap is growing slimmer and slimmer between the secretary and myself. I think you’ll find as we get to South Carolina and other states, that when the African-American community, the Latino community, looks at our record, looks at our agenda, we’re going to get more and more support,’ Sanders told Cuomo on ‘New Day.’” CNN

margins

Example: “Instead, her margin of victory over Sanders was vanishingly small.” NPR

edges

Example: “But what Sanders did do was bring in more liberal voters to buoy him. Twenty-eight percent of voters described themselves as very liberal — a 10-point jump from 2008. Sanders won those voters by 19 points. Clinton had a 6-point edge with the 40 percent of voters who described themselves as somewhat liberal.” NPR

blog - width - RazorBladesrazor thin

Example: “Hillary Clinton declared victory early Tuesday morning in a razor-thin contest against Bernie Sanders in Iowa. But Democratic party officials have not yet declared a winner.” CNN

*******

It never ceases to amaze me how often we use metaphors when we talk about politics. These two articles describing the results of the Iowa caucuses demonstrate how common these metaphors are. I look forward to hearing what other metaphors are used as we go through the wild and crazy primary season leading up to the 2016 presidential elections.

Next time: More metaphors from the Republican and Democratic primaries.

 

State of the Union Address 2016, Part 2

As I mentioned last time, President Obama’s most recent State of the Union Address was not a typical SOTU speech. It looked backwards more than looking forwards. He also didn’t use a great number of metaphors. However, there were several examples of metaphors of sports, nature, machines and buildings that I covered in my last post. Today I would like to describe several more complex metaphors from physical forces, personification and journeys. As always, the examples are direct quotations from the transcript of the speech. Italics are mine.

Physical Forces

Ever since we were toddlers, we have learned to control our environment with our hands and our tools. We shape and tie and cut things thousands of times in our lives. We can bind something with string or be bound by a common creed. We can plant seeds in a trench, or have entrenched interests. We can also shape and reshape our lives, push and pull our way through lives, or lift, boost and elevate our lives. We also see more violent metaphors such as beat, break through, take out, and stamp out problems. Finally, there are numerous examples of cutting abstract processes as if they are vegetables on a cutting board. President Obama uses all of these metaphors of physical processes to describe his programs and goals for the future.

Example: “Voices that help us see ourselves not first and foremost as black or white or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native born; not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans first, bound by a common creed. Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word — voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love.”

Example: “None of this will happen overnight, and yes, there are plenty of entrenched interests who want to protect the status quo.”

blog - SOTU16 - shape potteryExample: “We’re every immigrant and entrepreneur from Boston to Austin to Silicon Valley racing to shape a better world.”

Example: “We live in a time of extraordinary change — change that’s reshaping the way we live, the way we work, our planet and our place in the world. It’s change that promises amazing medical breakthroughs, but also economic disruptions that strain working families.”

Example: “Right now, we are on track to end the scourge of HIV/AIDS, and we have the capacity to accomplish the same thing with malaria — something I’ll be pushing this Congress to fund this year.”

Example: “It’s made it harder for a hardworking family to pull itself out of poverty, harder for young people to start on their careers, and tougher for workers to retire when they want to.”

blog - forces - pullExample: “…but on issues of global concern, we will mobilize the world to work with us, and make sure other countries pull their own weight.”

Example: “The bipartisan reform of No Child Left Behind was an important start, and together, we’ve increased early childhood education, lifted high school graduation rates to new highs, and boosted graduates in fields like engineering.”

Example: “There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber who would like to see more cooperation, a more elevated debate in Washington, but feel trapped by the demands of getting elected.”

Example: “Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there.”

Example: “Ask the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, who was taken out last year, or the perpetrator of the Benghazi attacks, who sits in a prison cell.”

blog - SOTU16 - stamp outExample: “That’s how we stopped the spread of Ebola in West Africa. Our military, our doctors, and our development workers set up the platform that allowed other countries to join us in stamping out that epidemic.”

Example: “More than 14 million new jobs; the strongest two years of job growth since the ’90s; an unemployment rate cut in half.”

Example: “Now, we’ve actually got to cut the cost of college.”

Example: “I think there are outdated regulations that need to be changed, and there’s red tape that needs to be cut.”

blog - SOTU16 - cutting vegetablesExample: “Meanwhile, we’ve cut our imports of foreign oil by nearly sixty percent, and cut carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth.”

 

Body Position and Personification

We deal with the world by seeing it with our eyes and facing it with our bodies. Thus, we have many metaphors based on our own body positions. We also commonly use personification in politics, acting as if the entire United States is one person. We face our adversaries, turn inward and turn against each other. We also have standing in the world, and reach our limits, and be clear-eyed and big-hearted. Countries and government programs can also have strengths and weaknesses.

President Barack Obama attends a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Jan. 28, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

Example: “But such progress is not inevitable. It is the result of choices we make together. And we face such choices right now. Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, and turning against each other as a people? Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, what we stand for, and the incredible things we can do together?”

blog - SOTU16 - reachExample: “Surveys show our standing around the world is higher than when I was elected to this office, and when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead — they call us.”

Example: “When you come after Americans, we go after you. It may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limit.”

Example: “That’s the America I know. That’s the country we love. Clear-eyed. Big-hearted.”

blog - SOTU16 - strong America womenExample: “That’s why Social Security and Medicare are more important than ever; we shouldn’t weaken them, we should strengthen them.”

Example: “As someone who begins every day with an intelligence briefing, I know this is a dangerous time. But that’s not because of diminished American strength or some looming superpower.”

Example: “Because of you. I believe in you. That’s why I stand here confident that the State of our Union is strong.”

 

Journeys

Finally, as I mentioned last time, there are not as many journey metaphors as one might expect in a State of the Union address. However, there are a few examples worth mentioning. President Obama describes people not moving forward in their lives as being trapped or stuck in the red of debt. He also describes people who want to slam the brakes on change or something that grinds to a halt as if it were a vehicle in motion. Starting a new journey requires opening the door and leaving one’s house. And then one must get on track to continue the journey and keep pace with one’s competitors. Finally, if one is on the right path of their journey, they can get through tough times and reach their destinations and goals.

blog - immigration - Lobster_trapExample: “There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber who would like to see more cooperation, a more elevated debate in Washington, but feel trapped by the demands of getting elected.”

Example: “And we have to make college affordable for every American. Because no hardworking student should be stuck in the red.”

Example: “Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future; who claimed we could slam the brakes on change, promising to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control.”

blog - SOTU16 - brakesExample: “Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise; or when even basic facts are contested, and we listen only to those who agree with us.”

Example: “That’s why we restored diplomatic relations, opened the door to travel and commerce, and positioned ourselves to improve the lives of the Cuban people.”

Example: “Right now, we are on track to end the scourge of HIV/AIDS, and we have the capacity to accomplish the same thing with malaria — something I’ll be pushing this Congress to fund this year.”

Example: “And the international system we built after World War II is now struggling to keep pace with this new reality.”

blog - SOTU16 - pathExample: “No nation dares to attack us or our allies because they know that’s the path to ruin.”

Example: “We can’t afford to go down that path.”

Example: “America has been through big changes before — wars and depression, the influx of immigrants, workers fighting for a fair deal, and movements to expand civil rights.”

*******

Cleary, this final State of the Union Address is not a typical forward-looking speech. Instead, we find numerous examples of metaphors describing his frustrations with lack of progress in certain areas of the government while celebrating his successes in his two terms in office. I have certainly enjoyed analyzing President Obama’s speeches the past few years. Please let me know if you have any comments or questions.

Next time: Metaphors of the Iowa Caucuses

State of the Union Address 2016, Part 1

President Obama’s State of the Union Speech last week was interesting for several reasons. Most SOTU speeches are filled with metaphors looking forward to better days ahead. Thus there are many journey metaphors such as taking steps, on the right path, going around roadblocks, etc. However, since this was Obama’s final SOTU speech at the end of his two terms, he was talking more about looking back instead of looking forward. Although he does use a few journey metaphors, they are not a primary rhetorical strategy in his speech. He mostly describes the progress he has made in his two terms with metaphors of sports, nature, machines, buildings, physical forces, personification, and journeys. Today I will analyze his use of metaphors in the first four categories listed here. As always, the examples are direct quotations from the transcript of the speech. Italics are mine.

Sports

It is very common to talk about group efforts in terms of sports teams. President Obama uses two sports metaphors to indicate how people are working together to solve problems as in team up, or using a wrestling metaphor to describe making a brave effort to defeat an enemy as in gone to the mat.

Example: “Tonight, I’m announcing a new national effort to get it done. And because he’s gone to the mat for all of us, on so many issues over the past forty years, I’m putting Joe in charge of Mission Control. For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the family we can still save, let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.”

blog - SOTU16 - teamExample: “We’re taking steps to give homeowners the freedom to generate and store their own energy — something environmentalists and Tea Partiers have teamed up to support.”

Nature

It is also very common to describe complex problems in terms of natural phenomenon. The origins of a problem are often described as roots of a tree, while the same word root can be used to mean a process similar to a person or animal digging up food from the ground. Intractable problems can also be described as a marsh or quagmire whose muddy ground makes it almost impossible to cross over. Finally a process that is not succeeding may be described as withering, as if it is a dying flower. President Obama uses nature metaphors to describe problems of terrorism and extreme right-wing politics.

Example: “The Middle East is going through a transformation that will play out for a generation, rooted in conflicts that date back millennia.”

blog - SOTU16 - rootsExample: “We just need to call them what they are — killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed.”

Example: “We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis. That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately weakens us. It’s the lesson of Vietnam, of Iraq — and we should have learned it by now.”

Example: “Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get attention.”

Buildings

Talking about abstract processes often involved comparing them to buildings. We can talk about building lives or nations, building up terrorist organizations, or rebuilding society. We can also talk about supporting or propping up organizations as if they are buildings that are about to fall down.

Example: “Americans understand that at some point in their careers, they may have to retool and retrain. But they shouldn’t lose what they’ve already worked so hard to build.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Example: “And that’s why the third big question we have to answer is how to keep America safe and strong without either isolating ourselves or trying to nation-build everywhere there’s a problem.”

Example: “That’s the story ISIL wants to tell; that’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit. We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, nor do we need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is representative of one of the world’s largest religions.”

Example: “We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis.”

Example: “American leadership in the 21st century is not a choice between ignoring the rest of the world — except when we kill terrorists; or occupying and rebuilding whatever society is unraveling.”

Example: “Even as their economy contracts, Russia is pouring resources to prop up Ukraine and Syria — states they see slipping away from their orbit.” 

Machines and Tools

We are all familiar with various types of machines – everything from household appliances to lawnmowers, cars and trucks. We commonly compare abstract processes to everyday machines. We talk about societies breaking down, or the need to shut down a prison. Sometimes we need to get a machine going again, so we can talk about reinventing a part of society, or reigniting our spirit. To get a machine working again we needs tools to fix it, so we may talk about tools to enforce an agreement, laid off workers retooling for a new job, or the government working to fix problems.

Example: “That’s our approach to conflicts like Syria, where we’re partnering with local forces and leading international efforts to help that broken society pursue a lasting peace.” 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Example: “Most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some narrow interest.”

Example: “That is why I will keep working to shut down the prison at Guantanamo: it’s expensive, it’s unnecessary, and it only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies.”

Example: “It’s how we reformed our health care system, and reinvented our energy sector;”

Example: “This brings me to the second big question we have to answer as a country: how do we reignite that spirit of innovation to meet our biggest challenges?”

Example: “Americans understand that at some point in their careers, they may have to retool and retrain. But they shouldn’t lose what they’ve already worked so hard to build.”

Example: “Approve this agreement. Give us the tools to enforce it.”

Example: “It will only happen if we fix our politics.”

blog - SOTU16 - Hand_tools

Next Time: SOTU 2016, Part 2

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

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

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

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

 

Slavery:

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

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

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

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

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

Freedom:

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

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

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

blog - MLK - foundation earthquake

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Civil Rights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Happy Holidays! Metaphors of Eating!

Happy Holidays!

First of all I would like to thank all of my loyal readers and visitors to this blog. This week marks my 3rd anniversary. I am happy to report that I have now had over 200,000 views to date, and I am averaging about 500 views per day during the academic year, some weeks 700 – 800 views per day. I have more than doubled my viewership each of the three years and hope the blog keeps growing. My viewers are high school and college students from all over the world. I am very proud to be helping so many students understand metaphors. Please let me know if you have any questions about the blog or special requests on certain metaphors that you are studying.

Today, as we go into the holidays and begin overeating during Christmas and New Year’s Eve parties, I thought I would share a few metaphors of eating. I have discussed food in several prior posts including spotlights on meat and potatoes,  desserts and drinks, and types of cooking. Today I would like to share metaphors of the simple process of eating.

Eating 

hungry for something

When we have not eaten in several hours we will become hungry for food. In popular terms, one can also be hungry for other things he or she wants in life.

Example: Many Americans are hungry for a new kind of government in which members of Congress work hard to help working class people.

blog - food - Family_eating_mealconsume/consumer

Consume is another word for eat. While we commonly consume food, metaphorically people and machines consume other things such as natural resources and products. A consumer is anyone who buys products in American stores and marketplaces.

Example: American presidents must consider the fact that Americans consume incredible amounts of oil in their cars and buildings.

Example: American consumers greatly influence the state of the economy with their every day purchases.

chew the fat

A piece of meat with fat requires a longer time to chew. The phrase to chew the fat means to talk about something for a long time, usually with the sense that nothing important is said.

Example: During elections, sometimes candidates will go on popular TV talk shows to chew the fat with celebrities and get more exposure to voters.

eating savings

As with the idea of consuming, eating can be used metaphorically to use up a certain resource. For example, high costs of food and gasoline can eat into people’s savings accounts.

Example: Americans spend less money on vacations when everyday expenses eat into their savings and they cannot afford to travel.

eating higher costs

Businesses may also need to pay for rising expenses out of their own budget. This is sometimes referred to as eating higher costs.

Example: Shipping companies may decide to raise their prices instead of eating the higher costs of gasoline for their cars and trucks.

feast on

If people have a great deal of food at a meal, they may feast on all the food. Metaphorically, journalists can feast on scandals and other big news items generated by politicians.

Example: When John McCain surprised everyone by nominating Sarah Palin as his running mate for the 2008 presidential election, the TV news shows feasted on the big news and spent days talking about Governor Palin’s background.

blog - food - Digestive-systemdigest

When we eat food, our bodies digest it with our internal organs. Metaphorically, we can also digest or understand information that we learn from books and TV.

Example: Many Americans do not vote in major elections because they cannot digest all the complex information about the candidates and the issues.

spoon feed

Babies cannot eat food on their own so their parents must feed them. This is sometimes called spoon-feeding babies. In common terms, people can also be spoon-fed information if they do not understand something.

Example: Well-educated voters do not like to be spoon-fed information on important issues; they want to learn the whole story.blog - food - spoon feed

piecemeal

The term piecemeal is an Old English expression meaning the fixed time to eat a meal. However, the term now indicates doing something in small measured steps instead of in one large effort.

Example: President George Bush added troops in Iraq piecemeal instead of sending them there all at once.

piece of the pie

When a large group of people eat a pie for dessert, they must cut the pie into pieces to make sure everyone gets their share. Metaphorically, the pieces of the pie can represent the opportunities available to someone in a social or financial situation.

Example: Every American works hard to get their piece of the pie: a nice car, a nice house and a good family.

blog - food - slice of piesmall slice

Similarly, one part of something can be called a small slice as if it is a pie or a pizza.

Example: Local grocery stores may only be a small slice of the food market, but their lower prices can be very helpful to people on a budget.

 

blog - food - Assorted_forksfork over

Forks are common utensils for eating and serving food. A host at a party may serve a piece of meat by spearing it with a fork and passing it to a person. One might say the person is forking over the food to the person. In metaphorical terms, one can fork over something that he or she is obligated to give to another person, such as a payment for goods or services. In politics, politicians or taxpayers may have to fork over money to pay a certain obligation.

Example: During the 2008 bailout of the failing banks on Wall Street, American taxpayers had to fork over billions of dollars to keep the banks from closing.

fed up with something

When one has had a big meal, we can say that one is well fed. In slang terms, one can be fed up with some problem, meaning the person is no longer tolerant of something.

Example: Many taxpayers say they are fed up with having to pay higher taxes to pay for government’s mistakes.

IMG_1320pick up the tab

When one goes to a restaurant or bar, the amount one has to pay for the food and drink at the end of the evening is called the tab. In popular terms, picking up the tab means to pay the entire bill for a group of people. In politics, people and groups can pick up the tab to pay for government programs or events.

Example: During an election campaign, the political party may pick up the tab for a candidate’s travel expenses.

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It is always amazing to me that we create political metaphors simply based on everyday activities. It is perhaps no surprise that we have metaphors based on eating – one of the favorite activities of Americans. I hope you have enjoyed these posts this past year and have learned something along the way. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! See you in 2016!

 

 

 

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.

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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!

 

1st Democratic Debate, Part 2

Today I continue Part 2 of the analysis of metaphors from the first Democratic debate. Last time I described some of the more unusual conceptual metaphors, this time I will explain a few of the more common metaphors from nature, body position, physical forces and journeys.

As I did last time, the examples are taken directly from the transcript of the debate. The quotations are cited according to the candidates: Hillary Clinton (HC), Bernie Sanders (BS), Martin O’Malley (MO), Jim Webb (JW), or Lincoln Chafee (LC). Some quotations are also from the CNN commentators Anderson Cooper (AC) or Juan Carlos Lopez (JCL). Italics are mine.

Nature

Lincoln Chafee provided the most obvious example of the evening, describing himself as a block of granite, comparing his allegiance to his political party to one of the hardest known rocks on earth. Other metaphors include examples from farming, e.g., sowing the seeds of unrest, or being rooted in values.   The idea of strawman gun purchasers, those who buy firearms for someone who is not legally allowed to do so, is derived from the idea of a scarecrow that is not a real person. The power of nature is also described metaphorically in the phrases of cascading threats and windfall profits, while the inability to make progress in a government programs is compared to a marsh or quagmire, in which one can be bogged down. The inability to control government programs is compared to the power of animals as something that is running amok or a horse that must be reined in.

blog - nature - graniteblock of granite

Example: “Anderson, you’re looking at a block of granite when it comes to the issues. Whether it’s…” (LC)

COOPER: “It seems like pretty soft granite. I mean, you’ve been a Republican, you’ve been an independent.” (AC)

sowing the seeds of unrest

Example: “The current top prosecutor in Baltimore, also a Democrat, blames your zero tolerance policies for sowing the seeds of unrest.” (HC speaking to MO)

rooted in values

Example: “So I have a long history of getting things done, rooted in the same values…” (HC)

A set of scarecrows in a field in Japan
A set of scarecrows in a field in Japan

straw man purchasers

Example: “And I think we’ve got to move aggressively at the federal level in dealing with the straw man purchasers.” (BS)

cascading threats

Example: “I believe that nuclear Iran remains the biggest threat, along with the threat of ISIL; climate change, of course, makes cascading threats even more (inaudible).” (MO)

windfall profits

Example: “And let me just go back a minute and say that on this TARP program, I introduced a piece of legislation calling for a windfall profits tax on the executives of any of these companies that got more than $5 billion, that it was time for them, once they got their compensation and their bonus, to split the rest of the money they made with the nurses and the truck drivers and the soldiers who bailed them out.” (JW)

Soldiers from 25th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, recover a tractor trailer from a mire pit during the Vehicle Recovery Course Sept. 28, 2011, at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. The training is designed to challenge unit mechanics and prepare them for rainy season conditions in Afghanistan. (Courtesy of 125th Stryker Brigade Combat Team) - http://www.flickr.com/photos/soldiersmediacenter/6254338960/
Soldiers from 25th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, recover a tractor trailer from a mire pit during the Vehicle Recovery Course Sept. 28, 2011, at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. The training is designed to challenge unit mechanics and prepare them for rainy season conditions in Afghanistan. (Courtesy of 125th Stryker Brigade Combat Team) – http://www.flickr.com/photos/soldiersmediacenter/6254338960/

quagmire

Example: “Well, let’s understand that when we talk about Syria, you’re talking about a quagmire in a quagmire.” (BS)

bogged down

Example: “But I think when Russians get killed in Syria and when he [Putin] gets bogged down, I think the Russian people are going to give him a message that maybe they should come home, maybe they should start working with the United States to rectify the situation now.” (BS)

 

 

 

rein in/run amok

Example: “We are the United States of America. And it’s our job to rein in the excesses of capitalism so that it doesn’t run amok and doesn’t cause the kind of inequities we’re seeing in our economic system.” (HC)

 

Body Position

            Metaphors based on the human body are very common in politics, especially those comparing actions to positions of the body.   These examples include standing up to bullying or the NRA, still standing instead of falling down in a fight, or standing still instead of running or making progress in an endeavor. We can also say that we won’t back down to a fight. In a different sense of body movement, one can be metaphorically paralyzed if there is no action taking place or have a backbone to do something brave be an essential part of a larger system. On a smaller scale, we can describe important information falling into the wrong hands, or all the wealth held by a handful of billionaires. 

blog - body - standingstand up to his bullying

Example: “There’s no doubt that when Putin came back in and said he was going to be President, that did change the relationship. We have to stand up to his bullying, and specifically in Syria, it is important — and I applaud the administration because they are engaged in talks right now with the Russians to make it clear that they’ve got to be part of the solution to try to end that bloody conflict.” (HC) 

stood up against the NRA

Example: “I think that we have to look at the fact that we lose 90 people a day from gun violence. This has gone on too long and it’s time the entire country stood up against the NRA.” (HC) 

back down

Example: “And we did it by leading with principle, not by pandering to the NRA and backing down to the NRA.” (MO) 

I am still standing

Example: “I am still standing. I am happy to be part of this debate.” (HC) 

standing but not running

Example: “That Great Recession, 9 million people lost their jobs, 5 million lost their homes, $13 trillion in wealth disappeared. And although we’ve made progress, we’re standing but not running the way America needs to.” (HC) 

paralyzed

Example: “We should not be paralyzed — we should not be paralyzed by the Republicans and their constant refrain, “big government this, big government that,” that except for what they want to impose on the American people.” (HC)

blog - body - backbone

 

backbone

Example: “So what we need to do is support small and medium-sized businesses, the backbone of our economy, but we have to make sure that every family in this country gets a fair shake…” (BS) 

handful of billionaires

Example: “What this campaign is about is whether we can mobilize our people to take back our government from a handful of billionaires and create the vibrant democracy we know we can and should have.” (BS)

wrong hands

Example: “I think it has to be continued threat from the spread of nuclear weapons, nuclear material that can fall into the wrong hands. I know the terrorists are constantly seeking it, and that’s why we have to stay vigilant, but also united around the world to prevent that.” (HC)

 

Physical Forces

We can also describe people’s behavior in terms of strong physical forces. Thus we have examples of outside forces tearing or ripping the country apart, while millions of jobs are wiped out and we have crushing debt and a broken criminal justice system. We can also have people turning out for voting, violence exploding and a middle class that is shrinking or collapsing. We can have extreme physical forces such as someone being hit by a train, or railroaded, or someone doing a delicate action such as threading a tough needle.  

IMG_0062tear our country apart

Example: “For there is a — deep injustice, an economic injustice that threatens to tear our country apart, and it will not solve itself. Injustice does not solve itself.” (MO)

rip it apart

Example: “We have to prevent the Republicans from ripping it [the Dodd-Frank bill] apart.” (HC)

wiped out millions of jobs

Example: “Secretary Clinton mentioned my support eight years ago. And Secretary, I was proud to support you eight years ago, but something happened in between, and that is, Anderson, a Wall Street crash that wiped out millions of jobs and millions of savings for families.” (MO)

crushing debt

Example: “Our economy isn’t money, it’s people. It’s all of our people, and so we must invest in our country, and the potential of our kids to make college a debt free option for all of our families, instead of settling our kids with a lifetime of crushing debt.”(MO)

broken criminal justice system

Example: “We need to combat institutional racism from top to bottom, and we need major, major reforms in a broken criminal justice system…” (BS) 

turnouts

Example: “We are bringing out huge turnouts, and creating excitement all over this country.” (BS)

exploded in violence

Example: “Governor O’Malley, the concern of voters about you is that you tout our record as Baltimore’s mayor. As we all know, we all saw it. That city exploded in riots and violence in April.” (AC)

middle class is shrinking

Example: “What I’m talking about is this, our middle class is shrinking. Our poor families are becoming poorer, and 70 percent of us are earning the same, or less than we were 12 years ago.” (MO)

The I-35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis in August 2007
The I-35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis in August 2007

middle class is collapsing

Example: “The middle class — Anderson, and let me say something about the media, as well. I go around the country, talk to a whole lot of people. Middle class in this country is collapsing.” (BS)

railroaded

Example: “But the reason why people remain angry about it is because people feel like a lot of our legislators got railroaded in a war fever and by polls.” (MO)

thread a tough needle

Example: “I think the president is trying very hard to thread a tough needle here, and that is to support those people who are against Assad, against ISIS, without getting us on the ground there…” (BS)

blog - phys forces - needle

Journey

Finally, we had several examples of journey metaphors in the debate that are common in political speeches. Metaphorical journeys are often compared to walking or taking steps. People making progress in an endeavor are compared to soldiers marching together so that a person not being a part of the group is considered out of step.   Others taking the lead in a situation are described as taking a step forward. The first step may require walking out of one’s house, so starting a new journey may be described as standing on the threshold. While beginning a journey may be described as taking the right route as in being a path to citizenship.

Movement forward is always desired while going backwards or having reversals is deemed counterproductive. Going backwards may also be compared to a car turning the state around. Controlling a situation is compared to driving a car while taking a back seat indicates not being in control or in the lead of a movement. We can also put forward specific plans, move forward, or move our country forward while making progress is compared to leading in a car race, being behind instead of ahead or getting ahead and staying ahead. 

out of step

Example: “Given that nearly half the Democratic Party is non-white, aren’t you out of step with where the Democratic Party is now?” (AC to JW) 

want to step forward

Example: “That distress of communities, where communities don’t want to step forward and say who killed a 3-year-old, it’s a direct result of these failed policies.” (AC) 

blog - journey - thresholdstand on the threshold

Example: “I truly believe that we are standing on the threshold of a new era of American progress.” (MO)

path toward citizenship

Example: “My view right now — and always has been — is that when you have 11 million undocumented people in this country, we need comprehensive immigration reform, we need a path toward citizenship, we need to take people out of the shadows.” (BS)

reversals

Example: “…right before this debate, Secretary Clinton’s campaign put out a lot of reversals on positions on Keystone and many other things. But one of them that we still have a great difference on, Madam Secretary, is that you are not for Glass-Steagall.” (AC) 

turn the state around

Example: “I know how to turn around a state because I did as governor of Rhode Island.” (LC)

blog - journey - back seatback seat

Example: “And I don’t take a back seat to anyone when it comes to progressive experience and progressive commitment.” (HC) 

put forward specific plans

Example: “I’ve traveled across our country over the last months listening and learning, and I’ve put forward specific plans about how we’re going to create more good-paying jobs: by investing in infrastructure and clean energy, by making it possible once again to invest in science and research, and taking the opportunity posed by climate change to grow our economy.” (HC)

go forward

Example: “And if you think — if you think that we can simply go forward and pass something tomorrow without bringing people together, you are sorely mistaken.” (BS)

move our country forward

Example: “What you heard instead on this stage tonight was an honest search for the answers that will move our country forward, to move us to a 100 percent clean electric energy grid by 2050, to take the actions that we have always taken as Americans so that we can actually attack injustice in our country, employ more of our people, rebuild our cities and towns, educate our children at higher and better levels, and include more of our people in the economic, social, and political life of our country.” (MO)

blog - journey - aheadbehind instead of ahead

Example: “But I know, if we don’t come in with a very tough and comprehensive approach, like the plan I’m recommending, we’re going to be behind instead of ahead…” (HC)

get ahead and stay ahead

Example: “My mission as president will be to raise incomes for hard-working middle-class families and to make sure that we get back to the basic bargain I was raised with: If you work hard and you do your part, you should be able to get ahead and stay ahead.” (HC)

 

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In sum, this Democratic debate provided some very rich examples of common political metaphors.  These examples illustrate once more how ubiquitous conceptual metaphors are in American politics.

Next time:  TBA

1st Democratic Debate: Part 1

The first Democratic debate was held two weeks ago. It already feels like ancient history since two of the candidates, Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee, have since dropped out of the race. Nonetheless, after wading through 55 pages of the transcript and sifting through dozens of metaphors, I can offer a few analyses here today. However, there are so many metaphors, I will have to split the descriptions into two different blog posts. Today I will describe some of the more unusual metaphors, and next time, I will analyze some interesting examples of more common metaphors. The conceptual metaphors today are based on experiences with education, furniture, light and darkness, magic, card games, the military, width and personification.

As always, the examples are taken directly from the transcript of the debate. The quotations are cited according to the candidates: Hillary Clinton (HC), Bernie Sanders (BS), Martin O’Malley (MO), Jim Webb (JW), or Lincoln Chafee (LC). Some quotations are also from the CNN commentators Anderson Cooper (AC) or Juan Carlos Lopez (JCL). Italics are mine.

 

Education

Almost everyone in the United States is lucky enough to attend school. We all study English, math, social studies and many other subjects with countless lessons carefully crafted by hardworking teachers. Not surprisingly, we have a few conceptual metaphors based on our experiences in educational settings. In the debate, we saw a few examples from lessons, grading, homework, math formulas and multiple-choice answers such as all of the above.

grades from the NRA

Example: “… as somebody who has a D-minus voting record [from the NRA]…” (BS)

Example: “And I have an F from the NRA, Senator.” (MO)

Urval av de böcker som har vunnit Nordiska rådets litteraturpris under de 50 år som priset funnits

powerful lesson/lessons from Benghazi

Example: “I’m the former chairman of the Senate Veterans Committee, and in that capacity I learned a very powerful lesson about the cost of war, and I will do everything that I can to make sure that the United States does not get involved in another quagmire like we did in Iraq…” (BS)

I did my homework

Example: “…if you’re looking ahead, and you’re looking at someone who made that poor decision in 2002 to go into Iraq when there was no real evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq — I know because I did my homework, and, so, that’s an indication of how someone will perform in the future. And that’s what’s important.” (LC)

blog - education - Quadratic_Formulaformula

Example: “And the third [strategic failing of the U.S. government] was the recent deal allowing Iran to move forward and eventually acquire a nuclear weapon, which sent bad signals, bad body language into the region about whether we are acquiescing in Iran becoming a stronger piece of the formula in that part of the world.” (JW)

all-of-the-above strategies/energy

Example: “We did not land a man on the moon with an all-of-the-above strategy. It was an intentional engineering challenge, and we solved it as a nation. And our nation must solve this one.” (MO)

Example: “And when I was in the Senate, I was an all-of-the-above energy voter. We introduced legislation to bring in alternate energy as well as nuclear power.” (JW)

 

Light and Darkness

            A common set of contrasting metaphors is the difference between light and darkness. We are all familiar with the tremendous contrast between daylight and nighttime. Normally, daylight is equated with goodness, while darkness is associated with evil. Similarly, anything described as being in the shadows is considered to be criminal or corrupt. We even have the word shady indicating something that is not legal. Several candidates mentioned metaphors of shadows. 

political shadows

Example: “I brought criminal justice reform out of the political shadows and into the national discussion.” (HC)

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shadow banking

Example: “But we also have to worry about some of the other players — AIG, a big insurance company; Lehman Brothers, an investment bank. There’s this whole area called ‘shadow banking.’ That’s where the experts tell me the next potential problem could come from.” (HC)

take people out of the shadows

Example: “My view right now — and always has been — is that when you have 11 million undocumented people in this country, we need comprehensive immigration reform, we need a path toward citizenship, we need to take people out of the shadows.” (BS)

stark contrast

Example: “I think what you did see is that, in this debate, we tried to deal with some of the very tough issues facing our country. That’s in stark contrast to the Republicans who are currently running for president.” (HC)

 

Magic

            The debates revealed a couple examples of metaphors derived from our perceptions of reality. A magician is a person who tricks the audience into believing something that is not true. In politics, a presidential candidate must be perceived as a person who lives in reality and gets things done for the American people.   In another more common example, we can talk of objects disappearing from view, such as when the sun sets and goes out of our perception. In one case, a candidate talks about the middle class disappearing as if it is literally disappearing from our human perceptions.

blog - supernatural - magicianmagician

Example: “Thanks to President Obama, our country has come a long way since the Wall Street crash of 2008. Our country’s doing better, we are creating jobs again. But we elected a president, not a magician, and there is urgent work that needs to be done right now.” (MO)

disappearing

Example: “Are we better off today than we were then? Absolutely. But the truth is that for the 40 years, the great middle class of this country has been disappearing.” (BS)

 

Card games

Politics is often compared to card games or casino games in which money can be betted and lost. Money bet in these games are called stakes. Metaphorically, we can speak of important matters being at stake in an election. In some cases, a dishonest dealer can prearrange the cards in a way that will help a certain person win the game. This is known as stacking the deck. In politics, critics of government bureaucracy may claim that the rules are prearranged to favor certain powerful people or interest groups. One candidate n the debate that she wanted to un-stack the deck and make the government more fair for ordinary people. Finally, a normal deck of playing cards has 52 cards in four suits: clubs, spades, hearts and diamonds. In some games, a player must put down a card on his or her turn that matches the suit of the previous card. This is called following suit. Metaphorically, one can follow suit by doing the same thing that a previous person has done. In politics, a president may follow suit with a certain program or policy that was already in place when he or she became president.

at stake

Example: “The planet — the future of the planet is at stake.” (BS)

blog - cards - Royal_Flushun-stack the deck

Example: “You know, when I left law school, my first job was with the Children’s Defense Fund, and for all the years since, I have been focused on how we’re going to un-stack the deck, and how we’re going to make it possible for more people to have the experience I had.” (HC)

follow suit

Example: “Jim [Webb] and I, under Jim’s leadership, as he indicated, passed the most significant veterans education bill in recent history. We followed suit with a few years later passing, under my leadership, the most significant veterans’ health care legislation in the modern history of this country.” (BS)

 

Military 

The land where battles are fought between two armies is called the common ground. In an argument, the points on which both sides can agree may also be called the common ground.

An army that tries to hold a position will need to stand their ground. Also, for hundreds of years, the main weapon in a war was the sword, and the swordfighter protecting himself by holding a shield to ward off blows from opponents. In common terms, the term shield is used metaphorically to indicate something used to protect someone from a literal or abstract attack.

common ground/stand my ground

Example: “I’m a progressive. But I’m a progressive who likes to get things done. And I know how to find common ground, and I know how to stand my ground, and I have proved that in every position that I’ve had, even dealing with Republicans who never had a good word to say about me, honestly.” (HC)

blog - military - shieldsshield the gun companies

Example: “For a decade, you [Bernie Sanders]said that holding gun manufacturers legally responsible for mass shootings is a bad idea. Now, you say you’re reconsidering that. Which is it: shield the gun companies from lawsuits or not?” (AC)

 

Width

Another way in which we create conceptual metaphors is to describe something abstract as if it were a concrete, real object. In some cases, we describe an abstract difference between two entities as being a gap or divide, as if it were a physical space between objects. Thus we have examples such as closing the gap between the rich and poor, or healing the divides in the United States.

close the gap/the gap between rich and poor

Example: “You’ve (BS) argued that the gap between rich and poor is wider than at any time since the 1920s.” (AC)

heal the divides

Example: “And I will do everything I can to heal the divides — the divides economically, because there’s too much inequality; the racial divides; the continuing discrimination against the LGBT community — so that we work together and, yes, finally, fathers will be able to say to their daughters, you, too, can grow up to be president.” (HC)

 

Personification

            A very common form of metaphor is personification which occurs when an abstract object is described as a person. In the debates we heard that ads can write themselves and capitalism must be saved from itself.   We also heard that a political party can act as a person and leave someone, instead of the person leaving the party. Finally, we have an unusual example of a personification and religious metaphor, with the phrase of a politician not keeping a promise to a certain group of people, referred to as leaving them at the altar, as if they promised to marry someone and failed to show up to the wedding.

the ad writes itself

Example: “You (BS) — the — the Republican attack ad against you in a general election — it writes itself. You supported the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. You honeymooned in the Soviet Union. And just this weekend, you said you’re not a capitalist. Doesn’t — doesn’t that ad write itself?” (AC)

save capitalism from itself

Example: “And I don’t think we should confuse what we have to do every so often in America, which is save capitalism from itself.” (HC)

the party left me

Example: “The [Republican] party left me. There’s no doubt about that. There was no room for a liberal moderate Republican in that party.” (LC)

blog - religion - altarleft them at the altar

Example: “Senator Sanders, in 2013, you voted for immigration reform. But in 2007, when Democrats controlled Congress and the Bush White House was onboard, you voted against it. Why should Latino voters trust you now when you left them at the altar at the moment when reform was very close?” (JCL)

Example: “I didn’t leave anybody at the altar.” (BS)

*******

This odd collection of conceptual metaphors illustrates the great breadth of sources of metaphors. Everything from card games to shadows to multiple-choice questions on tests. Who would believe it if it weren’t true?

Next time: More metaphors from the Democratic debate.

 

Metaphors Inside Containers

A few weeks ago I described a few metaphors derived from the outside of containers such as Scott Walker dropping out of the 2016 election. Today I offer the opposite set of metaphors – those derived from descriptions of inside containers. Please let me know if you have any comments or questions.

Inside the container

Inside St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague, Czech Republic
Inside St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague, Czech Republic

in

                  One of the most common metaphors is when we talk about abstract ideas being in containers. We have many expressions such as being in politics, in the news, in the middle of the problem, etc.

Example: Sarah Palin was thrown into the middle of American politics when John McCain picked her as his vice-president candidate. 

take it all in

                  When a person tries to learn something complicated, it is difficult to understand everything. In these cases, we say it is hard to take it all in, as if we are putting the information into a container.

Example: During presidential debates, some of the policy discussions get so complicated, it is hard for average Americans to take it all in. 

blog - containers - Ship_in_bottleinside

                  In politics, reporters try to understand the details of politicians’ offices, policies, programs, staff problems, etc. This is called getting the inside information.

Example: During a presidential election, reporters ask many questions of candidates so they can get inside the campaign and find out what is really going on.

insider

                  An insider is someone who lives or works inside a certain area or institution. A person can be a White House insider, or a Washington insider, for example. Politicians who live in Washington D.C. are sometime called beltway insider because of the ring of highways around that city.

Example: In the 2008 election, John McCain was considered to be a beltway insider since he had been a U.S. Senator for so many years.

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enter

                  Rooms and houses are common containers. We can enter or exit these spaces. The same is true for tunnels or highways.  Metaphorically, we can also enter or exit abstract ideas as if they were containers, such as entering the political process, or entering an election race.

Example: Controversial elections always inspire young people to enter politics to see if they can make a difference.

blog - containers - Milk-bottlebottle up

Bottles are also common containers. Liquids in bottles are sealed or bottled up. Metaphorically, information, opinions, or emotions can also be bottled up in people who are not able to express themselves.

Example: After the 2008 election, Sarah Palin complained that John McCain’s staff kept her bottled up during the campaign and would not let her express her opinions at political rallies and interviews. 

blog - container - lock uplock up

                  Some containers, such as rooms with doors, cabinets, or safes can be locked with a key to prevent anyone from entering. In metaphorical terms, anything that is certain may be called locked up. In politics, a candidate may have a certain election locked up if he or she is sure to win.

Example: Late on the night of the 2012 presidential election when the votes were counted, it was clear that Barack Obama had the election all locked up.

fill

                  Containers can be filled with all sorts of liquid or solid materials. Abstract ideas such as time or job positions can also be filled. 

Example: When George W. Bush was elected in the year 2000, he filled his cabinet with Republicans who had worked with his father George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford or Richard Nixon.

 

Quantities inside Containers

                  Containers can be full or empty. Most commonly, metaphorical containers are described negatively as being empty, meaning there is a disappointment in the quality or quantity of something.

empty promise

                  When one makes a promise, one intends to complete some action. However, if the promise is not kept, we can say that it was an empty promise.

Example: Voters do not like candidates who make empty promises. If one says he or she will lower taxes, the taxes must indeed be lowered while that person is in office.

blog - containers - bowlempty vessel

                  A vessel is an old word meaning a large cup, bowl, vase or pot usually designed for holding liquids. A vessel full of water or milk is very valuable. An empty vessel has no value. In politics, similar to an empty suit, a person who does not seem to have good qualifications or who does not keep his or her promises may be called an empty vessel.

Example: Critics of George W. Bush claimed that he was an empty vessel in terms of domestic policy.

empty handed

                  Similar to the concept of being an empty vessel, a politician who does not bring any new ideas or policies to meetings may be criticized as arriving empty handed. Also, a politician who goes to a meeting but who does not bring back any progress or new policies from a meeting or international summit may be criticized as coming back empty handed.

Example: An American president cannot go to a European economics or climate summit and come back empty handed. He or she must make some sign of progress to bring back to the United States.

blog - containers - hollow tubehollow promise

                  A closed container that is not full is considered to be empty or hollow. A hollow promise is one that cannot be fulfilled.

Example: Candidates who make hollow promises are often defeated in the next election since the public does not trust them anymore.

void

                  Another word for empty is void. However, this term is also applied to policies or procedures that are illegal or done incorrectly, such as a void check. In political terms, a void is created when there is no leadership in a particular area.

Example: In the 2008 presidential election, supporters of Barack Obama thought he filled a void for a president who fought for the rights of the American middle and lower classes.

limits

                  Each container has its limits in terms of size and space. This concept of limits has also been used metaphorically to apply to non-spatial concepts such as time, effectiveness of programs and procedures, physical capabilities of people and machines, etc.

Example: In American politics, presidents have term limits of two four-year terms, senators have unlimited six-year terms, and members of the House of Representatives have unlimited two-year terms. 

blog - containers - worldthe world

                  The concept of the entire earth or world is used metaphorically to mean everything possible in a certain domain.

Example: Supporters of Barack Obama in 2008 thought he was a new hope for the world, bringing peace and prosperity to everyone.

Example: Be wary of politicians who promise you the world during their election campaigns; they often cannot keep such large promises.

Next time: I am wading through 55 pages of the transcript from this week’s Democratic debate – I hope to have some interesting metaphor analysis of that next week…