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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.


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/


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) 


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



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) 


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)


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


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)


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)



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

blog - military - shields

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.



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)


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)



            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)


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)



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)



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)



            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.


2014 Pastoral Visit of Pope Francis to Korea

Pope Francis and Martin Luther King, Jr.

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


2014 Pastoral Visit of Pope Francis to Korea

2014 Pastoral Visit of Pope Francis to Korea

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Home and Community

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Echoes of Martin Luther King, Jr.

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

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

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

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

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


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

Next time: More metaphors of containers.

blog - business - punch the clock

Labor Day Metaphors

In honor of Labor Day this year, I thought I would share a few metaphors from business, commerce, buying, selling and working. Some of these examples I have shared in previous posts, but they are worth mentioning again here. As I have explained many times in this space, we derive conceptual metaphors from an incredible variety of human experiences. Not surprisingly, since everyone has to have a job to pay his or her bills, we can all relate to metaphors of work. Here a few key examples.



Products are anything produced by a company in a factory such as cars, brooms, computers, etc. People can also be products of the educational or political systems in which they were trained.

Example: In 2008, critics of Barack Obama complained that he was a product of corrupt Chicago politics.

blog - work - hula hoopnovelty candidate

                  A novelty is a product that is made and sold as something new and unusual that hopefully everyone will want to buy. These are usually toys such as hula-hoops or pet rocks. In real terms, the word novelty usually implies that the product is not very serious or useful. In politics, a novelty candidate is someone new to politics, has new ideas, but is not taken seriously by mainstream media or politicians.

Example:   As the first woman candidate for president in many years, Hillary Clinton tried to avoid the label of the novelty candidate.


                  Another word for making something is to manufacture it, as in a product from a factory. In metaphorical terms, someone can manufacture an idea, a problem or a reaction to something.

Example:   Sometimes politicians manufacture fear about some social problem so that the public will support them to spend money on solving the problem. 


In business, a trademark is a legal licensing of a certain name or picture that no one else can use. In politics, a trademark is something that it associated with a specific person.

Example:   John McCain showed his trademark honesty and straightforward talk in the 2008 presidential election. 

The First Bank of Hope, Arkansas

The First Bank of Hope, Arkansas


                  In business, the goal is to sell as many products as possible so that the company can make the most money. In politics, people can also sell ideas, policies or programs.

Example:   In 2009, Barack Obama had to sell the idea of using taxpayer money to rescue the banks from financial collapse. 

sell out

In business, to sell out of something means to sell the entire amount of products that the company had. This is a good thing for the company since they will make more money. However, there is another meaning of selling out that means giving up all of your ideas or values for another cause, usually money. In entertainment or politics, selling out is a bad thing to do, and the person will lose a great deal of respect.

Example:   If the governor of a state promises to lower taxes for small businesses then raises them instead, he will be accused of selling out.

tough sell

A product that is difficult to sell is called a tough sell. An expensive house or car, for example, would be tough sell for most people. In politics, a tough sell is an idea or program that not many people will like but a politician will try to sell it anyway.

Example:   During the Great Depression in the 1930s it was a tough sell for President Roosevelt to convince Congress to borrow money to create more jobs.


Peddling is another word for selling something, usually meaning that someone is going door-to-door or traveling to see the products. In politics, people can peddle ideas, programs, policies, or influence to do something for someone else.

Example:   Washington D.C. lobbyists who try to get members of Congress to spend money for their companies are often called influence peddlers.

Example:   In is first term, George W. Bush was peddling the idea of privatizing social security but the members of Congress were not buying. His ideas were not accepted.

blog - work - Snake-oilsnake oil salesmen

In the 1800s, before there were many doctors in small towns or federal regulations on medicine, anyone could sell anything and call it medicine. In China, people use to sell a type of snake oil as a pain reliever, although some people claim it did not help. Later, people called any type of fake medicine snake oil because they had no medicinal value. In popular terms, a snake oil salesman is someone who is trying to sell something that will not work or has no value.

Example:   People will not vote for a political candidate with wild new ideas if they think he is just a snake oil salesman.

with bells on

In the eastern United States in the 1800s, some peddlers traveled by horseback to sell their products. In some cases, they put bells on their horses so that the local people would know that they were coming. In modern terms, to do something with bells on means to do it with enthusiasm and complete support.

Example:   In the 2008 presidential election, people came out to vote for Barack Obama with bells on. He won with 53% of the vote while John McCain earned 46% of the vote.

The famous fishmongers at Seattle's Pike Place Market

The famous fishmongers at Seattle’s Pike Place Market


Monger is an old word for a peddler or salesman. For example, a fishmonger is a fish salesman. The word monger used as a verb means to sell something. In politics, someone who supports wars or tries to sell the idea of going to war with another country is a warmonger.

Example:   During World War II, Adolf Hitler was the ultimate warmonger since he tried to take over the world with wars of aggression.


                  A person who tries to scare the American public without evidence of real danger is sometimes called a fearmonger.

Example:   After the 9/11 attacks, everyone became afraid of terrorists. There was no need for fearmongering politicians. It was a real attack. 

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 that “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.


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.

blog - business - punch the clockpunching the clock

In many factories, workers must mark the time that they arrive for work by sticking a card into a machine that punches or stamps the time directly on the card. This process is usually called punching the clock. In metaphorical terms, punching the clock means one is ready to begin or end something.

Example:   Critics of the War in Iraq claimed that the Bush administration already had the clock punched for invading Iraq when the terrorists attacked New York in 2001.


During government or business transactions, the final decision is often printed on the documents with a rubber stamp filled with ink. The stamp may be used to officially record the date, or status of a transaction. In popular terms, to stamp something means to label it with the views of a particular person, group or political party.

Example:   Ronald Reagan put his stamp on economic policies by cutting taxes on businesses.

rubber stamp

In popular terms, to rubber stamp something means to officially approve something without thinking of or fighting for alternatives.

Example:   A good president does not rubber stamp every spending bill that comes in the oval office. He or she must consider the results of each bill carefully and consider every alternative. 

by all accounts

Every business must keep track of the money they spend and the money they earn. These records of money transaction are called accounts. One can tell how a business is doing by looking at all of their accounts. We also use the phrase by all accounts to indicate that the situation has been well researched.

Example:   By all accounts, Herbert Hoover was a very nice man, but he was not a good president.

signature move

                  After all transactions are complete in business or government, the people involved must sign their names on the document to make it official. Each person’s signature is unique and very important to their identity. In politics, business and entertainment, famous people are said to have signature moves, i.e., something that they often do that is unique to them.

Example:   During his presidency, Ronald Reagan’s signature move was to cut taxes on corporations so that they could get more profits and hire more workers.

blog - business - revolving doorrevolving door

Many large business and government office buildings in big cities have revolving doors at the front entrance. A revolving door is never completely open or closed but constantly alternates between the two so that people can go in and out at the same time. In politics, a revolving door policy occurs when staff members are hired from a certain pool of people, especially when leaders of companies are hired to work for the government, or when former government officials work as lobbyists for the departments they used to regulate.

Example:   During his tenure as president, George W. Bush was criticized for having a revolving door in his administration especially when industry leaders were hired as government regulators.

water cooler topic

Most offices have a water cooler from which the employees can get a drink of cold water. Normally, the water cooler is a popular place for people to meet and have conversations about what is going on in their office or in the world. A water cooler topic is something exciting that happened recently and everyone is talking about.

Example:   In 2015, when Hillary Clinton had a second chance of becoming the first female president, her candidacy was the water cooler topic for many months.


By the way, without getting too political myself, allow me to add the following comment: if you have part or all of this Labor Day weekend off from work, you can probably thank a union. Despite the rantings and ravings of some presidential candidates against unions, historically unions have made our workplaces much more safe, secure, and well paid. I am a proud member of the teachers’ union at our college. Here is a list I have seen recently to remind us of our debt of gratitude to our union brothers and sisters across the United States.

36 Reasons Why You Should Thank a Union

  1. Weekends
  2. All Breaks at Work, including your Lunch Breaks
  3. Paid Vacation
  4. FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act)
  5. Sick Leave
  6. Social Security
  7. Minimum Wage
  8. Civil Rights Act/Title VII (Prohibits Employer Discrimination)
  9. 8-Hour Work Day
  10. Overtime Pay
  11. Child Labor Laws
  12. Occupational Safety & Health Act (OSHA)
  13. 40 Hour Work Week
  14. Worker’s Compensation (Worker’s Comp)
  15. Unemployment Insurance
  16. Pensions
  17. Workplace Safety Standards and Regulations
  18. Employer Health Care Insurance
  19. Collective Bargaining Rights for Employees
  20. Wrongful Termination Laws
  21. Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967
  22. Whistleblower Protection Laws
  23. Employee Polygraph Protect Act (Prohibits Employer from using a lie detector test on an employee)
  24. Veteran’s Employment and Training Services (VETS)
  25. Compensation increases and Evaluations (Raises)
  26. Sexual Harassment Laws
  27. Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)
  28. Holiday Pay
  29. Employer Dental, Life, and Vision Insurance
  30. Privacy Rights
  31. Pregnancy and Parental Leave
  32. Military Leave
  33. The Right to Strike
  34. Public Education for Children
  35. Equal Pay Acts of 1963 & 2011 (Requires employers pay men and women equally for the same amount of work)
  36. Laws Ending Sweatshops in the United States

Source: https://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/05/16/1092027/-Thanks-a-Union-36-Ways-Unions-Have-Improved-Your-Life?detail=emailclassic

Have a great weekend!

blog - trump - bball hoop outdoors

Donald Trump: Streetball Rhetoric

Dear readers,

My apologies for the long delay since my last post. I have been swamped with work and family obligations the past few weeks. One of the work projects I have been involved in was being on the selection committee to hire not one, but two, deans at my college. I spent many, many hours in the evenings and weekends reading the files of the job candidates – the time I normally spend working on this blog. I mention this only because I was quite amused to observe that the metaphors we use to describe a hiring process are the same that we use to describe an election process.

blog - nature - Corn_field

A field of candidates?

We used metaphors of nature to talk about the group of candidates who applied for the positions: we had a large field of candidates that we narrowed down to a small pool of hopeful administrators. We also used personification to talk about the qualities of the candidates: we talked invited many strong candidates to the interview process, while we had to eliminate several other weak candidates.


blog - personification - strength 2

A strong candidate?

Then we used boxing metaphors to describe how we arranged the interviews: we had many candidates in the first round of interviews, and then only a few candidates were invited to the second round. Finally, we used metaphors of spatial prepositions to talk about the expected results of the hiring process (still not finalized as I write this): we were excited about the outcome of the hiring process, but it was up to the college president to make the final decision. And now we are getting down to the wire, because the new deans are supposed to be in place at the beginning of our fall quarter only a few weeks away… I am always amazed how commonly we use metaphors to describe everyday actions.

Anyway, back to the blog…

Readers of this blog will know that I have been analyzing the metaphors used in recent announcements of candidates in the 2016 presidential election. Some candidates have used many colorful metaphors such as Rand Paul and Hilary Clinton. Most other candidates have used fairly direct rhetorical styles with few metaphors.

Donald Trump has earned a great deal of notoriety in the past few weeks by being blunt and critical of President Obama, other presidential candidates, other countries and certain ethnic groups. Most liberals and even other Republican candidates have condemned his comments while some conservatives have applauded his candid remarks. In fact, he has surged to the top of the Republican polls. Pundits on TV news shows have claimed that Donald Trump appeals to conservative voters who are frustrated at government gridlock, trade imbalances and foreign policy actions by President Obama.

It has been a mystery to me how a candidate who has alienated so many Americans can be leading in the polls. He dominated the recent Republican debate, and has just appeared on the cover of the most recent Time magazine. I wondered if there was anything in the rhetoric of Donald Trump’s speeches that would attract conservative voters. I was surprised to find a rhetorical style with unusual metaphor usages that would definitely attract some voters.

blog - trump - bball hoop outdoorsI found that Trump speaks like someone trash talking other players in a streetball game. He is very critical of other players, uses a lot of hyperbole and compares political situations to various sports. The term streetball normally refers to basketball games played by local people in an urban neighborhood. However, when I was growing up in a far south suburb of Chicago, we did not have any city parks nearby. We had to play all kinds of sports in the street – baseball in the hot and humid days of summer, football in the cool, crisp days of fall, even hockey in the winter if the streets where icy enough. Lacking a hoop, we never played basketball in the street but we called both our baseball and football games streetball. We had our share of trash talking back in the day, mostly teasing our siblings and friends about their lack of abilities in whatever sport we happened to be playing. Calling someone stupid or lazy was not acceptable behavior on our block. In urban streetball games and professional basketball games, however, the teasing and name calling can amount to downright rude or vicious attacks on other players.

Even in common parlance talking about sports, we use metaphors of violent physical attacks to describe victories and losses. We say that one team beat or killed another team. Donald Trump uses similar expressions to talk about political rivals. He often uses hyperbole or exaggeration as he does his trash talking. Here are a few examples from his speech announcing his candidacy for president back in June. The metaphors in question are in italics.

Hyperbole/Trash Talking

Example: “Our country is in serious trouble. We don’t have victories anymore. We used to have victories, but we don’t have them. When was the last time anybody saw us beating, let’s say, China in a trade deal? They kill us. I beat China all the time. All the time.”

Example: “When did we beat Japan at anything? They send their cars over by the millions, and what do we do? When was the last time you saw a Chevrolet in Tokyo? It doesn’t exist, folks. They beat us all the time.”

Ohio State University beat the University of Michigan 34 to 0 in 1934.

Ohio State University beat the University of Michigan 34 to 0 in 1934.

Example: “When do we beat Mexico at the border? They’re laughing at us, at our stupidity. And now they are beating us economically. They are not our friend, believe me. But they’re killing us economically.”

Example: “I like them. And I hear their speeches. And they don’t talk jobs and they don’t talk China. When was the last time you heard China is killing us? They’re devaluing their currency to a level that you wouldn’t believe. It makes it impossible for our companies to compete, impossible. They’re killing us.”

Example: “Free trade can be wonderful if you have smart people, but we have people that are stupid. We have people that aren’t smart. And we have people that are controlled by special interests. And it’s just not going to work.”

Example: “Hey, I’m not saying they’re stupid. I like China. I sell apartments for — I just sold an apartment for $15 million to somebody from China. Am I supposed to dislike them? I own a big chunk of the Bank of America Building at 1290 Avenue of the Americas, that I got from China in a war. Very valuable.”

Example: TRUMP: “Sadly, the American dream is dead.”

AUDIENCE MEMBER: “Bring it back.”


Another aspect of streetball is taking the ball away, common in either basketball of football, as in a steal or a fumble.  In poor areas of town, such as where I grew up, often only one person on the block could afford a nice basketball or football, so we had to make sure that person was playing in the game or else we could not play at all. In rare cases, the person owning the ball, having lost a game or felt cheated, could say, “I’m going home and taking my ball with me!” thus ending the game. Not surprisingly, taking the ball away has many emotional feelings attached to the action. Donald Trump talks about countries taking away our jobs, our money or our military equipment. Ironically, in each case, as far as I know, our government or our corporations have given away those resources instead of someone else actually taking them. Nonetheless, Trump routinely blames other people for these losses. In one example, he even uses a street fighting phrase of saying that no one will push us around. He also talks about taking or bringing the jobs back as if he is taking a basketball back during a game.

One player tries to take the ball from another in a women's basketball game in Australia.

One player tries to take the ball from another in a women’s basketball game in Australia.

Example: “Iran is going to take over the Middle East, Iran and somebody else will get the oil, and it turned out that Iran is now taking over Iraq. Think of it. Iran is taking over Iraq, and they’re taking it over big league.”

Example: “Last week, I read 2,300 Humvees — these are big vehicles — were left behind for the enemy. 2,000? You would say maybe two, maybe four? 2,300 sophisticated vehicles, they ran, and the enemy took them.”



Example: “That’s right. A lot of people up there can’t get jobs. They can’t get jobs, because there are no jobs, because China has our jobs and Mexico has our jobs. They all have jobs.”

Example: “We need a leader that can bring back our jobs, can bring back our manufacturing, can bring back our military, can take care of our vets. Our vets have been abandoned.”

Example: “We need — we need somebody — we need somebody that literally will take this country and make it great again. We can do that.”

Example: “I’ll bring back our jobs from China, from Mexico, from Japan, from so many places. I’ll bring back our jobs, and I’ll bring back our money.”

Example: “And guess what? No problem. They’re going to build in Mexico. They’re going to take away thousands of jobs. It’s very bad for us.”

Example: “I will find — within our military, I will find the General Patton or I will find General MacArthur, I will find the right guy. I will find the guy that’s going to take that military and make it really work. Nobody, nobody will be pushing us around.”

Sports metaphors

Finally, Donald Trump uses more obvious sports metaphors. He talks about winners and losers, and alludes to people who lose card games or gambling who end up with nothing. He also uses the metaphor of being a football cheerleader to describe someone who is a champion of important causes. Most often, he uses the baseball metaphor of being in the big leagues, meaning professional baseball teams instead of minor league teams. He uses this metaphor to imply that something is happening on a large scale, or that he is a professional while other politicians are in the minor leagues. At the same time, he continues to use hyperbole such as describing results as a disaster, something being destructive, or the entire country going down the drain.

blog - trump - Sign_wrigley_fieldExample: “Iran is going to take over the Middle East, Iran and somebody else will get the oil, and it turned out that Iran is now taking over Iraq. Think of it. Iran is taking over Iraq, and they’re taking it over big league.”

Example: “And we have nothing. We can’t even go there. We have nothing. And every time we give Iraq equipment, the first time a bullet goes off in the air, they leave it.”

Example: “But Obamacare kicks in in 2016. Really big league. It is going to be amazingly destructive. Doctors are quitting. I have a friend who’s a doctor, and he said to me the other day, ‘Donald, I never saw anything like it. I have more accountants than I have nurses. It’s a disaster. My patients are beside themselves. They had a plan that was good. They have no plan now.’”

A cheerleader for the Green Bay Packers

A cheerleader for the Green Bay Packers

Example: “And we also need a cheerleader. You know, when President Obama was elected, I said, “Well, the one thing, I think he’ll do well. I think he’ll be a great cheerleader for the country. I think he’d be a great spirit.” He was vibrant. He was young. I really thought that he would be a great cheerleader. He’s not a leader. That’s true. You’re right about that. But he wasn’t a cheerleader. He’s actually a negative force. He’s been a negative force. He wasn’t a cheerleader; he was the opposite.”

Example: “We have all the cards, but we don’t know how to use them. We don’t even know that we have the cards, because our leaders don’t understand the game. We could turn off that spigot by charging them tax until they behave properly.”

blog - trump - Slot_machineExample: “But he used to say, ‘Donald, don’t go into Manhattan. That’s the big leagues. We don’t know anything about that. Don’t do it.’”

Example: “We have losers. We have losers. We have people that don’t have it. We have people that are morally corrupt. We have people that are selling this country down the drain.


Clearly Donald Trump has tapped into the anger of many Americans towards their government and what they perceive as the lack of effective policies. More specifically it seems that Trump is appealing to middle-class and lower socioeconomic groups of Americans who feel the government has not been fair to them. Growing up in a lower middle class neighborhood myself, I can attest to the common sentiment in those areas that somehow the game of life is rigged against them, and that the rich people in the United States have gotten rich on the backs of the poor, which, historically, is actually true. It is quite ironic, then, that a billionaire such as Donald Trump is seen as the savior to the working class citizens of the United States.

To continue my streetball metaphor further, we can liken American society to a streetball game. The players like the game to go on peacefully just as it is, with everyone playing by the rules. However, in Trump’s ideology, Mexican immigrants have been breaking up their games for years, and China is constantly taking away the ball (well, the ball was probably made in China anyway…). Donald Trump acts as if he can keep the streetball game going without interference from anyone else. He is going to beat or kill anyone who tries to push them around, because he can play in the big leagues. Even though he is great at trash talking, we shall see if he can walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

Next time: More metaphors in the news

blog - war - Missouri_broadside

When Liberals Attack!

I have been studying the announcement speeches of the most recent Republican candidates (15 and counting!) but I was disappointed to find that there were almost no metaphors in their speeches. They were quite uniform in their plain language, laying out the problems of the United States and the steps they would take to solve those problems. I will keep looking for more interesting uses of metaphors in the speeches of those candidates.

In the meantime, I was just reading a fascinating article in a recent Time magazine article by Michael Scherer. If you are a subscriber, you can read the article online here.  In the paper edition, it is “Up with People: Populist Fury and Economic Anxiety are Remaking Democratic Politics. It’s the Message of Elizabeth Warren,” pp. 40-45 in the July 20, 2015 issue.

The author Scherer discusses how Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are challenging former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on many progressive and populist issues facing the country today. I found a nice variety of metaphors used to describe the political moves the various liberal leaders were using.   There were interesting uses of metaphors from communication, fire, fragile objects, physical forces, boxing and war. As always, all examples are taken directly from the article. The metaphors are highlighted with italics, and some examples may be repeated if there are several different metaphors in the same passage. Enjoy!


One area of metaphor usage I have not previously discussed is that of communication terms. A literal act of communication can be used to metaphorically describe a larger, abstract form of communication. For example, a simple action or statement may be described as something being said loud and clear, a clear signal, or calling out someone. Similarly, we may say that an action is a clarion call, a clarion being a medieval trumpet used to call the start of a battle. On a lighter note, we can also talk about a punch line, the final line of a joke. Metaphorically, a punch line is an important or unexpected statement in a description of a problem.

call out

Example: “In December she [Warren] attacked the White House and Democratic leaders for agreeing to roll back limits on derivatives trading by federally insured banks, even calling out Obama’s current and former advisers for their work with Citigroup, one of the major proponents of the change.”

blog - comm - traffic_light_on_redclear signal

Example: “Brookings scholars Elaine Kamarck and Bill Galston, for instance, both veterans of the Wall Street–friendly Democratic Leadership Council, sent a clear signal to Clinton this summer when they proposed new curbs on executive compensation, stock buybacks and other forms of financialization that they argue have bled the economy of jobs.”

loud and clear

Example: “‘They are sending a message not to Hillary Clinton, not to Jeb Bush,’ he said. ‘They are sending a message loud and clear to the people that own America, to the Big Money interests, that enough is enough. They cannot have it all.’”

blog - comm - Trumpet,_B_flat_-1623clarion call

Example: “The new fire is fueled by a shift in economics that feels like a crisis for many Americans and a clarion call for government action among liberals.”

punch line

Example: “‘Elizabeth [Warren] is, you know, a politician like everyone else,’ he told a reporter in May. ‘Her arguments don’t stand the test of fact and scrutiny.’ But he could not prevent the punch line: 78% of House Democrats and 73% of the Senate Democratic caucus initially voted against Obama, who prevailed only by restructuring the votes with the GOP.”

Physical Forces

It is very common to describe abstract actions as normal physical forces. We can find examples of shrinking, squeezing, or pressuring someone or something. There are also examples of holding sway and steamrolling families. Most famously, we have the nickname of supply-side economics as trickle down economics, as if money invested in corporations will trickle down like water to the middle and low socioeconomic classes.


Example: “‘The Wall Street wing of the Democratic Party is shrinking quite dramatically,’ says Robert Reich, a former Labor Secretary under Bill Clinton.”


Example: “Obama talked about the middle-class squeeze as far back as 2005, and he shares much of Warren’s agenda, from increasing the minimum wage to expanding infrastructure investments and overtime pay.”


Example: “Warren, who clearly intends to apply as much pressure as she can on Clinton, says with some coyness that it is “too early to say” whether she will join Sanders on the campaign trail.”

My beautiful picturesteamroll

Example: “‘Here is this coalition of giant credit-card companies whose plan was to improve their bottom line by 1 or 2 percentage points by just steamrolling millions of American families,’ she says.”


hold sway

Example: “The old arguments and alliances no longer hold sway and won’t draw crowds.”

trickle down

Example: “Clinton, for her part, has already adopted much of Warren’s language, attacking the idea in her campaign announcement speech that ‘if we let those at the top pay lower taxes and bend the rules, their success would trickle down to everyone else.’”

Physical Forces with Objects

There are certain metaphors of physical forces that involved specific objects. We can speak of social relationships as if they are physically tied with string or rope.  Those ties can also be loosed like untying a knot in a rope. We also talk of bending the rules as if they are branches of a tree.

strong ties, cut ties

Example: “She [Warren] also concluded that the party’s strong ties to Wall Street were not anodyne or manageable. They were the problem.”

Example: [speaking of Warren] “But a woman whose family finances and political fortunes have long been entangled with the biggest Wall Street firms has not yet declared how far she is willing to take the party down the populist path, or whether she is willing to pay the price of cutting ties with some of her biggest backers.”

blog - phys forces - Sheepshank_knotloose (verb)

Example: “But the next party agenda will be the province of the Democrats’ 2016 nominee, and centrists have been rushing to propose their own set of reforms, retreating from the long-held view that loosing capitalism from regulation would unleash benefits for all.”

bend the rules

Example: “Clinton, for her part, has already adopted much of Warren’s language, attacking the idea in her campaign announcement speech that ‘if we let those at the top pay lower taxes and bend the rules, their success would trickle down to everyone else.’”

Physical Forces with Animals

Working with animals leads to a several interesting metaphors. Wild or even domestic animals often need to be controlled as with leashes for dogs or reins for horses.   The sudden release of a natural process may be called unleashing it, while controlling something that is more powerful than expected may be called reining it in.


Example: “But the next party agenda will be the province of the Democrats’ 2016 nominee, and centrists have been rushing to propose their own set of reforms, retreating from the long-held view that loosing capitalism from regulation would unleash benefits for all.”

blog - phys forces - reinsrein in

Example: “Economists like Summers, who encouraged the banking deregulation of the 1990s as a way to increase growth, speak often now about targeted measures to rein in the ‘rents’ accrued by the wealthy, like limits on intellectual property, stronger enforcement of antitrust laws and tax reforms to increase purchasing power at the bottom.”


We all have experience with fire. A spark may start a fire, while fuel is needed to keep a fire burning. Metaphorically, something that is excited or aroused may be called something inflamed, while a process that is growing larger may be described as a fire that is being fueled.


Example: “Not since Woodrow Wilson promised to break the ‘money monopoly’ and Franklin Roosevelt hollered ‘I welcome their hatred’ at the plutocrats has the Democratic Party found itself so inflamed against the intersection of wealth and power.”

DSC_7139fuel the fire

Example: “The new fire is fueled by a shift in economics that feels like a crisis for many Americans and a clarion call for government action among liberals.”

Fragile Objects

Abstract concepts may be compared to fragile objects that can be broken. We can break up or break down something or simply break it.


Example: “Not since Woodrow Wilson promised to break the ‘money monopoly’ and Franklin Roosevelt hollered ‘I welcome their hatred’ at the plutocrats has the Democratic Party found itself so inflamed against the intersection of wealth and power.”

break up

Example: “She [Warren] wants to break up the big banks, increase funding for Social Security and slow the revolving door between the White House and Wall Street.”

break down

Example: “But the similarities break down over how far and fast to go in financial regulation and free-trade agreements.”



Politicians are often compared to boxers fighting in a ring. A boxer may also be known as a pugilist while someone can pick a fight, stand up and fight, fight back or get back on offense instead of simply defending against blows from an opponent.


Example: [speaking of Warren] “A legal academic by training, a teacher by disposition and a pugilist to the core, she never sought politics as a career or party as an identity.”

pick fights

Example: “To see where the battle lines are drawn, all you have to do is list the fights Warren has picked with her own party over the past year.”

blog - boxing - Boxing_Tournament_in_Aid_of_King_George's_Fund_For_Sailors_at_the_Royal_Naval_Air_Station,_Henstridge,_Somerset,_July_1945_A29806stand up and fight

Example: “In the meantime, Clinton is trying to get back on offense in her own party. ‘I take a backseat to no one when you look at my record in standing up and fighting for progressive values,’ she said, after speaking to a crowd of about 800 in New Hampshire.”

fight back

Example: “Obama, after promising hope and fighting back from the Great Recession, will almost certainly leave office having failed in the central economic challenge of his time: raising incomes for the American middle class.”

on offense

Example: “In the meantime, Clinton is trying to get back on offense in her own party.”


As I have pointed out many times before, politics in the United States is often compared to war between opposing parties. In some cases, politicians from a single party may be at war with themselves. People can be targets or be under attack from their enemies. There may also be battles between competitors and battle lines may be drawn before the beginning of a fight. In maritime battles, a ship can fire all of its guns on one side at the same time in an action known as a broadside. A ship that is shot full of holes will undoubtedly sink.   A ship’s crew working for an incompetent or abusive captain may quit or mutiny. Metaphorically, a large verbal attack may be called a broadside, and a project may sink if it fails to make progress. Finally, people working for a failing politician may also mutiny and give up.

at war

Example: “… at the White House, where a frustrated President Obama has spent the summer at war with his own party over how to write the rules of global trade.”

blog - war - targettarget

Example: “House minority leader Nancy Pelosi says bluntly that Warren’s view of Obama as soft on Wall Street ‘is not the consensus in our party.’ Warren’s targets are less delicate. ‘I don’t know if she fully understands the global banking system,’ needles JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon. Warren Buffett has suggested she be ‘less angry and demonizing.’”

under attack

Example: “The old arguments and alliances no longer hold sway and won’t draw crowds. And the giants of the party now find their credentials, and motivations, under attack.”

battle for the soul

Example: “‘The Democratic Party is being polarized to the left, laying the groundwork for a Tea Party–like insurrection,’ explains Bruce Josten, a top lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. ‘It is a battle for the soul of the Democratic Party.’”

battle lines are drawn

Example: “To see where the battle lines are drawn, all you have to do is list the fights Warren has picked with her own party over the past year.”

blog - war - Missouri_broadsidemutiny, sink, broadside

Example: “When Larry Summers, a top economic aide to both Presidents Obama and Clinton and a former consultant to Citibank, seemed close to getting his dream job as Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Warren joined a Democratic mutiny and sank his chances. This summer she launched a broadside against Mary Jo White, Obama’s Securities and Exchange Commission chair, accusing White of slow-rolling new rulemaking for the finance industry, and highlighting the conflicts of interest caused by her husband, who works at a Wall Street law firm.”


I am always amazed at the wide variety of metaphors that can found in a short magazine article. It presents more evidence that we can barely talk about politics without using metaphors. See if you can find examples of metaphors the next time you pick up a news magazine.

Next time: More political metaphors in the news.

blog - fruit - Red_Apple

Jiggery-Pokery and Fruits of our Labors

The past two weeks have been quite historic in terms of political and social upheaval and Supreme Court decisions. Nine African-Americans were tragically killed during a Bible study session in Charleston, South Carolina, leading to nation-wide calls to take down the Confederate battle flag from all public buildings. The Supreme Court handed down two landmark decisions, one making the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) the law of the land, and also making same-sex marriage legal under federal law.

I have been reading the reports in the news looking for examples of new and interesting metaphor usage. However, there were none that warranted a complete blog post. I must mention that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia called the Obamacare ruling “interpretive jiggery-pokery.” I was tempted to do a post on this wonderful phrase, but I am afraid that I have no idea what he is talking about.   I was also tempted to analyze the metaphors used in President Obama’s wonderful eulogy for Clementa Pinckney, a pastor and state representative killed in the Charleston attack, but, out of respect for the victims and the families of that horrible tragedy, I will not subject the eulogy to an academic analysis at this time. You can read the full text here if you would like to see President Obama’s soaring rhetoric in the eulogy.

Instead, today I would like to call your attention to another phrase I heard on the news lately, of an action in Congress that would not “bear fruit” due to public opposition. With summer in full swing, farmers’ markets are selling amazing fruits and vegetables these days. Even if you are not a gardener, most people would admit nothing tastes better than fruit picked fresh from its orchard’s branches, or a vegetable picked fresh from the garden. In a salute to our local farmers who work so hard to bring us fresh fruit and vegetables, here are a few metaphors based on terms used to describe growing fruit in orchards. Processes and results of growing fruit trees are used to describe political activities. The condition and flavor of certain fruits can be used to describe people or attitudes toward situations.

blog - fruit - apple orchardfruit

One plants a fruit tree hoping it will bear fruit year after year. If not, the tree is fruitless. In politics, a successful operation is said to bear fruit; a failed operation or pointless activity is said to be fruitless.

Example: If a candidate wins an election, the party can celebrate the fruits of their labors to have that person elected.


Example: Everyone thought it was fruitless to support a candidate who had confessed to not paying his taxes since the people would not elect him if they could not trust him.

blog - fruit - cherriescherry pick

Not all fruits are ripe at the same time. The ripe fruits must be picked while the others remain on the tree. In politics, cherry picking means some parts of proposals, laws or documents are considered while others are left out.

Example: Some of the senators just cherry picked the parts of the new bill they wanted to complain about and eliminate, while leaving others unmentioned.

blog - fruit - Red_Applebad apple

A bad person is sometimes referred to as a bad apple, i.e., one that has spoiled and could possible spoil other apples nearby.

Example: That lobbyist who was arrested and jailed for fraud was not typical; he was just a bad apple in the group of honest workers.

sour grapes

If grapes are beginning to spoil, their sweet taste will turn sour. If people complain about something, they can be said to have sour grapes.

Example: We hope the candidate who loses the election does not have sour grapes and complain too much. He or she needs to stay positive and look forward to the next election.

blog - fruit - grapestransplants

A transplant is a small vegetable plant or tree grown from a seed and later moved to the field when it is older and stronger. In social terms, a transplant is a person who moves from one area of the country to another.

Example: Transplants from conservative parts of the country tend to vote Republican no matter where they move.

Next time: The 4th of July!

The signing of the Declaration of Independence, painting by John Trumbull, 1819

Fathers’ Day Metaphors

Happy Fathers’ Day! I hope all the fathers reading my blog are having a great day filled with family and friends.

Today I thought I would highlight a few common metaphors based on the idea of fatherhood. Unfortunately, there are not many metaphors in politics based on motherhood. I believe this is because of the sad truth that politics and government have been male-dominated domains for thousands of years. For example, we often refer to the people who wrote the American Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as the Founding Fathers because, indeed, they were all men. George Washington, the army general whose leadership helped us win the Revolutionary War against the British, and became our first president, is also considered as the Father of our Country.   We even have more metaphors based on uncles than we do for mothers or aunts. With apologies to the great women leaders of the United States, past and present, here are a few metaphors based on fatherhood.

George Washington - portrait by Gilbert Stuart, 1797

George Washington – portrait by Gilbert Stuart, 1797


Historically, the father of a family is usually the person who has the most authority and control in the family. Metaphorically, a father is someone who invents or develops something that becomes commonly used in society.

Example: In the 1950s, President Eisenhower developed the state highways now used all over the country. Today he is considered the father of the modern interstate highway system.

The signing of the Declaration of Independence, painting by John Trumbull, 1819

The signing of the Declaration of Independence, painting by John Trumbull, 1819

founding fathers/forefathers

Former presidents such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are often called the founding fathers or forefathers of the United States because of their roles in breaking away from England and forming a new country.

Example: Supreme Court justices must often interpret the Constitution based on the intentions of the forefathers to provide justice to all Americans.

World War I Army recruiting poster

World War I Army recruiting poster

Uncle Sam

An uncle is a brother of one’s father or mother. As such, an uncle is usually close to the family and provides additional support. The roles of uncles in politics can be quite unusual. A common way of referring to the United States government is to call it “Uncle Sam.” The origin of this name is obscure, but one story is that during the War of 1812, a man named Sam Wilson supplied meat to the troops. The soldiers allegedly referred to him as Uncle Sam, since the initials U.S. also stood for the United States. A popular recruiting poster in World War I featured a man dressed in red, white and blue who represented Uncle Sam increased the popularity of this idea.

Example: Nobody in America likes the idea of Uncle Sam raising his or her taxes.

crazy uncle

Many families have relatives who are a little eccentric or have unusual behavior. A so-called crazy uncle is someone who is part of the family but who may be embarrassing at family gatherings. In politics, a crazy uncle is someone who causes trouble for the popularity or acceptance of a politician.

Example: In the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama’s former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who made some controversial anti-American speeches, was considered by some critics to be Obama’s crazy uncle.

cry uncle

In wrestling games played by American children, one child may pin the other child to the ground. The dominant child may ask the other child to “say uncle” or “cry uncle” which is a cue that the other child loses the game and gives up, in which case the second child must yell “uncle” before he is let up off the ground. In popular terms, to cry uncle means to surrender, give up or merely complain about an unfair situation.

Example: In American presidential politics, third-party candidates may cry uncle if they are excluded from debates and national media coverage.

blog - fathers - inherit Diamond_District_Houseinherit/inheritance

When a son or daughter receives money or land from a parent when that parent passes away, this is called an inheritance. In a monarchy, the oldest son, a prince, usually inherits the kingship from his father, the king. In American politics, a president is said to inherit the problems of the previous administration when he or she takes office.

Example: In 2009, Barack Obama inherited a serious economic crisis when he took office.

heir apparent

Someone who inherits money or land from parents or grandparents is also called an heir. An heir apparent is someone who seems to be the sole heir in a family but it is not certain. In politics, an heir apparent is a politician who is set to become the next leader of a political party or special interest group.

Example: In 2012, when Mitt Romney won the Republican nomination for presidency, he was considered the heir apparent to lead the Republican Party for the next four years. However, he lost the election to Barack Obama.

Next time: TBA

blog - US flag

Flag Day Metaphors

This coming Sunday, June 14, 2015, is Flag Day. It is a day that recognizes the adoption of the national flag on June 14, 1777. Of course, the first flag designed by the famous Betsy Ross only had 13 stars (and 13 stripes) representing the 13 colonies – soon to be the first 13 states of the United States when the government was formed a decade later.

blog - flags - 13 colonies


Flags are symbols of the patriotism we have for our countries.  We think of flags mostly to represent all of the countries of the world. However, flags have been used for centuries to represent aristocratic families, states, counties, armies or military units.   When used to represent armies in a battle, the flags carry great importance to those fighting in that war. Metaphorically, military banners and flags are used to describe certain aspects of politics. In honor of Flag Day this year, I offer a few examples of metaphors based on military flags.

marching under a flag

Historically, each army carried a flag of its country or particular military division. Soldiers would then march under the flag as they went into battle. In common terms, any group of people united to achieve a common goal may be described as marching under the same flag.

Example: Conservative Republicans often march under the flag of low government spending.

Flags of the members of the United Nations at the UN building in New York City

Flags of the members of the United Nations at the UN building in New York City

unflagging support

Someone who carries the flag of an army is especially devoted to the cause. If the flag falls to the ground, this indicates that the army may be losing the battle. In metaphorical terms, someone with unflagging support is especially devoted to the goals of the project.

Example: In the 2012 election, some progressives who had given Barack Obama unflagging support in the previous election began to lose confidence in him since he had failed to enact many progressive laws.


A flag is also called a standard in some cases. Thus the person is carries the flag may be called a standard-bearer. Metaphorically, a standard-bearer is a person who has the highest amount of honesty and integrity in a group of people.

Example: President Bill Clinton was considered to be the standard-bearer of the Democratic Party until he was caught having an affair with his intern, Monica Lewinsky.

under the banner

A banner is a type of flag that is long and narrow. An army may also march under a banner. In common terms, a group of people may act together under a banner if they are working together to achieve a goal.

Example: The American people often get frustrated with politicians who claim to be working under the banner of helping everyone achieve the American dream when they are actually helping corporations get richer.

The 3rd Infantry Division unfurling a flag over the Pentagon two days after the 9/11 attacks.

The 3rd Infantry Division unfurling a flag over the Pentagon two days after the 9/11 attacks.

unfurled his own thoughts

When a flag is unrolled, we may also say that it is unfurled. Ideas or words may also be unfurled as a person speaks.

Example: A good presidential candidate will unfurl his or her own thoughts carefully during a debate.





Next time: Fathers’ Day

MAP - war - arms training

Memorial Day Metaphors

In honor of Memorial Day, and the thousands of servicemen and women who have given their lives in serving their country, I offer today a few comments on the metaphors of war. It is a sad fact that the United States has been at war for 222 of its 239-year history. That’s 93% of the time. Thousands of Americans have been killed fighting in these wars. I have done a little research, compiling data from several sources (primarily statistics from a Veterans Administration publication and from the Defense Department.)

Here is a summary of all military personnel killed fighting for our country. A few quick notes on the table below.  Only the largest wars are listed here and they are listed in reverse chronological order. The years of the wars are described according to the time of American involvement.  Battle deaths are listed separately from other types. As you may know, during the Civil War, more people were killed by disease than those killed in battle. Accidents and disease kill thousands of people in every war. There is not much specific data for the Revolutionary War or the War of 1812.  Please let me know if I have made any errors in this summary.


Years War Battle Deaths

Total Deaths

2001 – ?

War in Afghanistan




War in Iraq




Desert Shield/Desert Storm




Vietnam War




Korean War




World War II




World War I




Spanish-American War




Civil War




Mexican War




War of 1812




Revolutionary War








As you can see from the table, over half a million people were killed in battle in America’s wars, and incredibly, there have been more than a million total deaths.

It is no wonder, then, that words, phrases and metaphors from war are in our everyday vocabulary. I have made several bog posts concerning war metaphors in the past two years. Feel free to use the search function to search for any specific metaphors you are interested in. Here are a few of the most common war metaphors used in American politics.

blog - war - war chest

war chest

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

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

under the watch

Sentries are required to watch the perimeter of an army base. This process is referred to as being under their watch. In government, actions and events that occur during a presidency or governorship may also be described as being under the watch of the elected leader.

Examples: President Roosevelt was upset that the attack on Pearl Harbor happened under his watch.

blog - war - triggertrigger happy

If someone frequently fires a gun, we may that this person is trigger happy. In politics, a government official may be called trigger happy if he or she is prone to go to war very easily.

Examples: Many people thought that George W. Bush was a bit trigger happy going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan during his presidency. However, Barack Obama was also keen to continue the war in Afghanistan as well when he became president.

target demographic

With guns as well as bows and arrows, people practice shooting their weapons by aiming at a target a long distance away. The literal target has been changed to mean a metaphorical goal in a process or project. In politics, candidates and elected officials try to please their constituents who may vote for them.   A specific group of people in a certain area with certain political views is called a demographic.   Trying to please this group of people is called targeting the demographic.

Examples: Democrats tend to work with wealthy liberal voters as their target demographic for raising campaign money.

blog - war - horizonenemies on the horizon

Battles at sea require that naval commanders be able to see enemies approaching across wide areas of ocean. In other words, they must be able to see their enemies as they appear on the horizon. In politics, candidates or politicians must be able to see their opponents before they attack in a debate or written argument.

Examples: During the Republican presidential primaries in 2012, popular candidates such as Mitt Romney had many enemies on the horizon.


A swift boat was the name of small, fast boats used on rivers by American soldiers during the Vietnam War. Senator John Kerry from Massachusetts famously captained one such boat during the war. During his run for the presidency in 2004, opponents claimed that he was not a decorated war hero after all. These criticisms helped Kerry’s opponent win the election. Afterwards, the process of unfairly criticizing a political candidate based on prior experience came to be called swift boating.

Examples: American voters dislike the swift-boating practices in presidential elections, but, unfortunately, these types of attacks are very common.

The Battle of New Orleans - Andrew Jackson wins the final battle of the War of 1812 on January 8, 1815 (painting by Edward Percy Moran, 1910)

The Battle of New Orleans – Andrew Jackson wins the final battle of the War of 1812 on January 8, 1815 (painting by Edward Percy Moran, 1910)

battleground states

The land where battles are fought are called battlegrounds. In politics, states in which voters may vote for either Democrats or Republicans are called battleground states when candidates fight for the votes for their party.

Examples: Ohio and Florida are often considered battleground states in presidential elections.


under attack

When two armies are fighting in a battle, the army on the offensive will be shooting guns or missiles at the other army. The second army is said to be under attack. In politics, candidates running for office or elected officials may be described as being under attack if they are constantly criticized for their views of behavior.

Examples: George W. Bush was constantly under attack from Democrats while he was in office. Later, his Democratic successor, Barack Obama, was always under attack from Republicans.

MAP - war - arms trainingwar on terror

Although the word war is usually used in a military sense, it is commonly used metaphorically to describe the efforts of a government to fight against a social problem. Most famously, after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the United States began a so-called war on terror.   We also talk about war on cancer, poverty, or drugs.

Examples: George W. Bush’s war on terror led to the war in Iraq and trillions of dollars fighting al-Qaeda terrorists around the world.


Linguistically, it makes perfect sense that we use metaphors of war to talk about politics – both are intense competitions with great financial and human costs. However, psychologically it is sad that our system of government is so antagonistic that comparisons to war are almost second nature. Perhaps in the future, we will have more metaphors of peace in our politics. Please remember our service men and women on this national holiday.

Next time:  TBA