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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

blog - ACA - rocket

Launching Campaigns before Running

Even though the 2016 elections are a year and a half away, several candidates have already announced they are running for president: Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio among the Republicans, and the sole Democrat so far, Hillary Clinton. There are three metaphors commonly used to describe these actions, all three of which are fascinating examples how ingrained metaphors are in our daily English language usage. For one, the common phrase of running for president is derived from our collective experience with horse racing. We speak of presidential candidate in a race for the White House as if they are racehorses, and yet no know ever thinks twice about it. We also talk about the campaigns of these candidates. The word campaign was originally used as a term from military operations. In fact the English word campaign is derived word from the French word campagne meaning “country” since military forces often engaged in large battles in open fields in the countryside. This term dates back to Napoleon’s armies in the early 19th century.  Once again, we see how political actions are compared to military operations. Finally, we also find that we say political campaigns are launched. Normally we use the term launch to describe the liftoff or blast of the engines when a rocket begins its trajectory into space. The word launch was originally derived from a Latin term meaning “to throw a spear” related to our term lance.

blog - ACA - rocket

In sum, we cannot even describe a simple beginning of an interest in becoming the president of the United States without using metaphors from three different conceptual domains: horse racing, military operations, and rocket liftoffs. Even more strangely, I cannot think of any alternate literal terms to replace these metaphors. Can you have a process to win an election, begin a campaign, or try to become president? Most of us were taught in school that metaphors and similes are mostly only used in poems and plays, and that normally we speak in literal language. However, these examples are further evidence that thinking in metaphors is a common cognitive process.

Although I have explained some of these metaphors in previous posts, here are a few more examples from horse racing, military operations and vehicles.


Horse Racing

blog - horse - out of the gateout of the gate

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

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

run for office

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

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

running mate

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

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

blog - horse - front runnerfront runner

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

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

fast track

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

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

inside track

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

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

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

outside chance

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

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

blog - horse - photo finishneck and neck

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

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

home stretch

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

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


blog - war - revolutionprimary battles

Battles are the names of the primary engagements between armies in a war. Metaphorically, battles can also be fought verbally between people or groups. The notion of battle is commonly used in politics.

Example: In every presidential primary, there are many battles among the candidates to gain the nomination of the party.

battle cry

At the start of every battle, there is a call or cry from the commanding officer to alert the troops to begin fighting. The phrase battle cry can also be used to indicate the beginning of a political process.

Example: In 2011, the Occupy Wall Street protestors used the slogan “We are the 99%! as their battle cry to gain support against the richest 1% of the nation controlling the government.

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.

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

battle lines are drawn

The exact line separating the land controlled by two fighting armies is called the battle line. Metaphorically, a battle line is the ideological separation between two people or groups. In a public political argument, we may say that battle lines are drawn based on a certain view of a controversial topic.

Example: In the 2012 election, Democrats drew many battles lines with Republicans over the tax breaks given to millionaires and billionaires.

MAP - war - arms trainingcombat

Combat is another word for battles fought between armies in a war. Metaphorically, any verbal argument can be described as combat as well. As a verb the word combat can be used to describe efforts to fight against something.

Example: George W. Bush worked hard to combat the spread of AIDS in Africa during his presidency.


A firefight is an intense battle between two armies in which a great deal of gunfire is exchanged. In politics, a heated argument may also be called a firefight.

Example: Sometimes a peaceful presidential debate turns into a firefight among the top candidates.


The word clash is an onomatopoetic word meaning that it represents the sound made by two metallic objects hitting together. A physical confrontation between people or battle between armies may be called a clash. However, metaphorically, a disagreement in words or ideas between two people or groups may also be called a clash. Often we speak of a clash of personalities between two people.

Example: During the 2012 Republican presidential primary, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and other candidates clashed over positions on the economy.

Starting Vehicles


Some motorcycles require the rider to start the motor by forcefully kicking a pedal. This is known as kick starting the motorcycle. Metaphorically, to kick start something means to begin a new process with great energy and enthusiasm.

Example: Most presidential candidates kick start their campaigns with a big rally at a famous landmark.

kick into gear, put in high gear

Many vehicles have different gears for different speeds. Starting a motorcycle or changing a gear on a bicycle requires the use of one’s foot. This may be called kicking it into gear. Increasing the speed may be referred to as putting the vehicle into high gear.   Figuratively, kicking something into gear means beginning a new process.

Example: During a bad economy, a president may need to kick a new jobs program into high gear to reduce unemployment.

shift gears

Some cars, trucks and buses have manual transmissions which require the driver to shift from lower to higher gears to travel. Figuratively, shifting gears means to change one’s focus from one project to another.

Example: Presidential candidates may need to shift gears during a campaign depending on current events or the questions of media reporters.

blog - vehicles - Shift_stickstuck in neutral

When the gears are not engaged, we say the vehicle is in neutral. It is impossible for the engine to move the engine forward or backward when it is in neutral. In a figurative phrase, being stuck in neutral means that a person or group of people is not making progress towards a desired goal.

Example: Peace talks between warring countries in the Middle East always seem to be stuck in neutral. 


Originally a nautical term, to lurch meant that a ship moved to the side instead of going straight ahead. Now it can also mean the jerky movement of any vehicle forward or to the side. Often when the vehicle does not go smoothly into the next gear, it may lurch forward. Metaphorically, the irregular or inconsistent action of a person or group of people may be called lurching.

Example: Political tensions between two countries with nuclear weapons may lurch the world toward a nuclear war.


A freewheel is a special type of clutch used in some bicycles, motorcycles and trucks that allows the driveshaft to spin freely under certain operating conditions. The freewheel allows the driveshaft to spin without any friction or resistance. Metaphorically, freewheeling means to engage in behavior without any rules or regulations.

Example: Presidential candidates normally do not like to have freewheeling town meetings with the general public. They prefer to have more structured question and answer sessions.

blog - vehicles - Disk_brakeput the brakes on

When a driver needs to slow down a vehicle, he or she needs to apply or put on the brakes. In a figurative phrase, putting the brakes on something means limiting or stopping an action already in progress.

Example: Many environmentalists would like to put the brakes on building new nuclear power plants around the world.


It is pretty clear that we describe politics in English using a wide variety of conceptual metaphors. It is amazing that we can hardly talk about candidates for an election without resorting to metaphors from war, horse racing and vehicles. Please let me know if you hear any more unusual examples as these candidates conduct their campaigns.

Next time: Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Video

blog - war - Cannon_Fire

Politics on Blast!

One of the many joys of teaching college-age students is that I get to hear the latest slang words and phrases in their everyday conversations. If you don’t mind hearing the word dude at the beginning of every sentence, it can be an interesting way of doing informal linguistic research. One of the phrases I have learned recently is to put someone on blast which roughly means to “embarrass someone by reporting his or her bad behavior.” They also call this putting someone on front street. However, putting someone on blast is also considered to be bad behavior – the perpetrator may be described as being cold or a cold piece. Here is a fictional conversation between two of my students, one of whom has just made fun of the other for getting a bad score on his test in front of the other students.

“Dude, why do you have to put me on blast like that. You’re a cold piece.”

“Sorry, bro. I didn’t mean to put you on front street. My bad.”

The word blast very interesting when it is used in slang phrase or metaphors because it has its origins in warfare and explosions. Of course, literally, the word blast means to explode as in a bomb detonation or a cannon firing. Metaphorically, to blast someone or something means to harshly criticize it or them. This usage is also an example of hyperbole (hi-PER-bo-lee) or great exaggeration, as in “I had a million pages of homework last night.”   Comparing the criticism of something or someone to the explosion of a bomb is indeed hyperbolic. Nonetheless, it is very common to hear examples of the metaphorical usage of blast. Recently, I read it in headlines after an international deal was reached to curb nuclear bomb development in Iran. One headline noted that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not like the deal by saying, “Netanyahu blasts ‘very, very bad’ Iran nuclear agreement” (see the full article here) In other news, we can also see this headline from another article, “Hill Republicans blast Clinton’s email explanation” or here, “Democrats Blast Schumer Threat to Kill Iran Deal.”

blog - war - blast

Dude, here are a few more examples derived from experiences of explosions, cannons and guns from warfare.

stick to your guns

The terms guns usually refers to handguns, not rifles. Handguns have been used for centuries in warfare, police work and personal protection. The word gun originally meant a device used in warfare in the Middle Ages to throw rocks or other projectiles. Many metaphors for guns are also taken from the days of the Wild West – the wild, generally lawless period in the 1800s in the Midwest and Western states of America. However these metaphors may also be derived from guns used in military endeavors. For example, the phrase stick to your guns means that one must not back down from a fight. This idea was derived from the notion of a soldier continuing to stand and fight when a battle seems to be lost.

Example: When Barack Obama tried to pass a new health care bill in 2010, he had many opponents that tried to weaken the bill. However, he stuck to his guns and got most of the bill passed the way he wanted it.

smoking gun

When a gun is fired, a small amount of smoke is released from the barrel after the gunpowder in the bullet explodes. A smoking gun indicates that the gun has just been fired. Metaphorically, a smoking gun refers to evidence that something has just happened.

Example: After Barack Obama was elected president, many critics claimed that the was not a U.S. citizen and spent years searching for the smoking gun, a birth certificate from Kenya, but it was never found.

blog - war - colt revolveryoung guns

In a process known as synecdoche, sometimes the name of an object used by a person is later used to describe the person and not simple the tool. In this case, a person using a gun may also be called a gun. Specifically, a young gun is a young person who uses a gun in a forceful and accurate manner. Thus, metaphorically, a young gun is any young person who is very good at what he or she does and is forceful and confident in the work.

Example: Most members of Congress are middle-aged or older. However, sometimes some young guns are elected and provide youthful energy to the body of lawmakers.

turn their guns on

In a battle, soldiers sometimes must fight the enemy from several different sides. When they are attacked by a new force, the soldiers must turn their guns to fire at the new enemy. Metaphorically, people can turn their guns on other people if they start verbally attacking their opponents in a debate or argument.

Example: In a presidential debate, some candidates may turn their guns on other candidates to prove that they are superior to them.

blog - war - triggertrigger

Every gun has a trigger mechanism that fires the bullet. In common terms, a trigger is any action that starts a new process.

Example: In 2011, a special super committee was formed to solve the country’s budget problems. When they did not find a solution before the deadline, budget cuts in military spending and social services were automatically triggered.

trigger a recession

The term trigger can also be used to indicate the beginning of the end of something.

Example: Some experts believe that the recession of 2008 was triggered by the Wall Street bank failures.

trigger 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.

Example: 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.

fire a campaign manager

We say that to shoot a gun is to fire it. This term derives from the earlier practice of setting fire to the gunpowder in a weapon to launch or discharge the projectile. In common terms, we also use the word fire to mean discharging someone from a job.

Example: Many presidential candidates end up firing their campaign manager if they do not seem to be on track to win the election.

Unit trains in 5th Fleet AORfire off an e-mail

We can also use the word fire to mean sending off a letter or email in a quick manner.

Example: Presidential candidates may fire off an email to the campaign staff if they think something is not going as planned.

surefire way

In the early days of guns and rifles, they did not always work properly. Sometimes the gunpowder did not explode and the bullet was not discharged. More reliable weapons were sometimes referred to as surefire guns or rifles if they were more likely to work on a regular basis. In modern terms, a plan or process that is almost certain to work properly is called a surefire way.

Example: In American politics, a surefire way for a man to lose an election is to be caught in an adulterous relationship with another woman.

blog - war - target 2target 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.

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

call the shots

Firing a weapon can be called taking a shot. In the military, the person in command of an army or navy who decides when weapons are to be fired may be described as the person who is calling the shots. In metaphorical terms, a person who makes important decisions within an organization may also be referred to as someone who calls the shots.

Example: In a presidential election, the campaign manager, handpicked by the candidate, is the one calling the shots for scheduling public appearances and rallies.

blog - war - Berdan_Sharps_riflea long shot

To shoot at a target far away is called taking a long shot. The farther away the target, the less likely the person can accurately hit it. In common terms, a long shot is something that has a very low likelihood of happening. In politics, a long shot is a person who is not likely to win an election or an event that is not likely to happen.

Example: When Barack Obama ran for president, many people thought it was a long shot for him to win the election since he was not very well known at the time.

big shot

A discharge from a large gun or cannon may be called a big shot. Metaphorically, a very important person in an organization may also be referred to as a big shot.

Example: People running for public office in the United States usually do not win the election unless they are backed with the money and support of big shots in local or national business circles.

straight shooter

Someone who is very accurate at shooting a gun is called a straight shooter. Metaphorically, a person who is always honest and does not make up stories or fabrications is also sometimes called a straight shooter.

Example: John McCain has been known for years as a straight shooter since he always stuck to his principles and told the truth in Congress.

shoot back, fire back

In a battle, enemies shoot at each other with guns. When one side fires first, the other side shoots or fires back. We may also use the phrase shoot back to refer to someone responding to an accusation or challenging point in an argument.

Example: During the 1988 vice-presidential debate between Dan Quayle and Lloyd Bentsen, Quayle compared himself to former president John F. Kennedy, also called Jack Kennedy, in terms of length of service in Congress. Bentsen, a former colleague of Kennedy’s shot back, “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”

blog - war - Firing_squad_1867circular firing squad

In years past, a person who commits treason against his or her country is sometimes shot by a firing squad, a group of soldiers with rifles trained for just such an action. Theoretically a firing squad lined up in a circle would shoot and kill themselves. In common terms, a circular firing squad is a group of people who work against their own interests.

Example: When Hilary Clinton ran for the Democratic candidate in the presidential primary in 2007, her campaign was not very successful. Critics later claimed that the campaign staff was like a circular firing squad.


The size of a bullet that can fit in a gun barrel is called its caliber. To measure the exact size of something later came to be called to calibrate something. In modern terms, any difficult process or plan can be calibrated by experts to determine success.

Example: Barack Obama knew that he would have a hard time getting Democratic bills passed in Congress. However, he apparently did not calibrate the tremendous difficulty he would have dealing with the Republican-held House of Representatives during his two terms.


The term salvo is from an old Italian word meaning a group of guns or cannons fired at the same time. It is still used in military jargon to mean the same thing. However, in politics, any large-scale attack of one person against another may also be called a salvo, especially common in presidential elections.

Example: During a presidential debate, one candidate may launch an opening salvo against his or her opponent to start an argument.


A fusillade is another term used to describe a large group of guns fired at the same target at the same time. In politics, any group of attacks from one person on another may be called a fusillade.

Example: In the last days of a presidential election, there is usually a daily fusillade of criticisms between the two remaining candidates.


When cannon balls, missiles or bombs are launched to hit a target at a great distance, their flight path must be calibrated exactly to go where it is supposed to go. The path that the bomb takes in the air, flying up in the air and back down to the ground, is called its trajectory. Events and processes can also have trajectories depending on their starting and ending points.

Example: In 2012, many people thought Mitt Romney was on the trajectory to win the presidential election. However, he was not able to win after all.

bang for the buck

The phrase bang for the buck literally means to have a loud explosion for money. Metaphorically, its origins lie in the desire of American politicians in the 1950s and 1960s to get more military force from the weapons they were currently paying for. In common terms today, to get a bang for a buck indicates that a person got a good deal buying something, or at least got the value for the money.

Example: In 2011, President Obama tried to get Congress to pass a bill giving many Americans new jobs and to reduce the high unemployment rates. However, critics complained that the plan was too expensive and did not give enough bang for the buck.

blog - war - Cannon_Firecannon fodder

The phrase cannon fodder is a translation from a German term meaning food for the cannon, meaning that soldiers are often killed in large numbers in wars, as if they are simply blown up by the cannons. In modern terms, the phrase is still applied to cases where soldiers seem to be sacrificed for no reason on battlefields. More abstractly, the phrase cannon fodder can also indicate any large number of people who are treated unfairly in a process.

Example: When governments make huge budget cuts in education, some critics complain that our children are becoming cannon fodder for politicians.


It is always striking to me how many different political metaphors are based on terms of war, the implication being that Americans consider politics as comparable to military actions. I am not sure what this says about the American psyche, but it is clear that American politicians are very aggressive and treat their campaigns as military operations.

Next time: Launching Campaigns before Running.