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Obama’s Farewell Address

Hello! Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day! I hope everyone can take a moment today to appreciate the work and sacrifices of this great civil rights leader. Unfortunately, I do not have any analyses of Dr. King’s speeches today. I have covered those in previous posts. However, today I present an analysis of President Obama’s farewell address, perhaps fitting today, as the final speech of our first African-American president.

But first I must say thank you to my many readers. I have recently reached many big milestones. I have now been writing this blog for more than four years. This month, in fact, is my 50th month of writing the blog. I have also recently passed the mark of having more than 400,000 total views! In 2016 alone, I had over 186,000 views, with more than 140,000 new visitors from 198 different countries. My posts on Martin Luther King’s speeches remain my most popular articles. Sadly, I still have been unsuccessful in getting my book published but I will continue to work on that this year. I am glad the blog continues to be useful to so many students, teachers and professors around the world. Thanks for reading!

Back to business…

After eight years of being the president of the United States, Barack Obama gave his farewell address this past week in a sold-out auditorium in Chicago where he began his political career. The speech was nearly an hour long, and covered many aspects of his two terms as president. He teared up near the end of the speech praising his wife Michelle for her support and leadership as first lady. He also thanked his staff for all of their hard work for many years.

Rhetorically, the speech was interesting since it is one of the few speeches by President Obama that was not confidently looking toward the future. Of course, since he was giving a farewell address, he was looking more backwards to what he had accomplished than what he would be doing in the future. However, he spent the bulk of the speech describing current threats to our democracy and asking the younger generation of Americans to save the country from those threats.

There were no soaring metaphorical passages or grandiose ideas in the speech. However, there was an amazing variety of metaphors used in the speech, once again demonstrating that it is nearly impossible to talk about politics without using dozens of common metaphors. In this case, we find examples of personification, and metaphors of vision, animals, shapes and sizes, strong chemicals, books, games, food, machines, buildings and journeys.

All examples below are from the transcript of the speech. Some quotes from the speech are repeated more than once if they contain more than one metaphor. The metaphors in question are presented in italics.  You can read the full transcript of the speech here.

Personification

It is very common to describe a country as if it is a person. This occurs in two different ways: either the government of a country or its citizens as a collective whole is imagined as a person who has a beating heart, has strength or weakness, can stand up to something, stand for something, fight back against bullies, or even buckle under pressure. The term buckle, by the way, is derived from the 16th century English word bokelen meaning “to arch the body.”

beating heart

Example: “After eight years as your President, I still believe that. And it’s not just my belief. It’s the beating heart of our American idea — our bold experiment in self-government.”

strength and weakness

Example: “And as it turned out, America wasn’t weakened by the presence of these newcomers; these newcomers embraced this nation’s creed, and this nation was strengthened.”

stand up

Example: “Whether or not we stand up for our freedoms. Whether or not we respect and enforce the rule of law. That’s up to us.”


stand for/ bullying neighbors

Example: “Rivals like Russia or China cannot match our influence around the world — unless we give up what we stand for — (applause) — and turn ourselves into just another big country that bullies smaller neighbors.”

buckle

Example: “But protecting our way of life, that’s not just the job of our military. Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear.”

Vision

Political speeches often contain metaphors of vision, i.e., speakers take the physical properties of seeing and extend those properties to abstract processes such as implementing governmental policies. Thus we have metaphors such as being in focus on something, setting sights on a goals, having a vision of a completed process or being able to describe political differences as a spectrum.

sights

Example: “…if I had told you all that, you might have said our sights were set a little too high. But that’s what we did.”

focus

Example: “That’s what I want to focus on tonight: The state of our democracy.”

vision

Example: “There’s a second threat to our democracy — and this one is as old as our nation itself. After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America. And such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic.”

spectrum

Example: “You can see it not just in statistics, you see it in the attitudes of young Americans across the political spectrum.”

Animals

Nature is one of the most common sources of political metaphors. Although we do not usually describe politicians as animals, we do use our common experiences with animals and pets to describe political positions or processes. One famous example is the lame duck, the position of the outgoing president in the time after the presidential election and before his or her successor takes office. The metaphor is derived from an old comparison to a duck that cannot walk because of an injured leg, sometimes attributed to a quote from Abraham Lincoln in 1863. In another example, we must often put our dogs on a leash to control them. When a dog or other strong animal is unleashed, it can run wild and cause unexpected consequences. Thus, metaphorically, an unexpected set of events may be described as being unleashed by a person in charge. Finally, wild animals, especially big carnivores such as wolves or tigers, jump or pounce on their prey as they try to kill it. Metaphorically, suddenly criticizing an opponent in politics may also be described as pouncing.

lame duck

Example: “You can tell that I’m a lame duck because nobody is following instructions.”

unleash

Example: “If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history…”

pounce

Example: “How do we excuse ethical lapses in our own party, but pounce when the other party does the same thing?”

Shapes and Sizes

We often describe abstract shapes in terms of well-known boxes, circles or spheres. Thus we can talk about corners of the globe, even though, of course, the world is spherical and has no corners. The world or any abstract process can also be described as a balloon that can expand or shrink depending on the air pressure inside.   We can also describe a process or an argument as if it is in the middle of a picture frame. George Lakoff has famously trained many politicians to frame arguments in certain ways to not only win the argument but become successful in achieving their political goals. Finally, we also talk about economic processes or political attitudes as being in a bubble. This term can have two metaphorical connotations. In some cases, the bubble describes an untenable set of circumstances that will eventually collapse, as when a balloon pops from too much pressure. Many experts talk about the housing bubble that burst in 2008 when housing prices suddenly fell. In other cases, a bubble refers to the close-mindedness of groups of people who only believe information given to them from like-minded friends, radio announcers or television pundits.

corner

Example: “Let me tell you, this generation coming up — unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic — I’ve seen you in every corner of the country.”

expand

Example: “That’s why we cannot withdraw from big global fights — to expand democracy, and human rights, and women’s rights, and LGBT rights.”

shrink

Example: “A shrinking world, growing inequality; demographic change and the specter of terrorism — these forces haven’t just tested our security and our prosperity, but are testing our democracy, as well.”

frame

Example: “If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and an undeserving minority, then workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves.”

bubble

Example: “For too many of us, it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods or on college campuses, or places of worship, or especially our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions.”

Example: “And increasingly, we become so secure in our bubbles that we start accepting only information, whether it’s true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that is out there.”

Strong Chemicals

In an interesting and unusual metaphor, Barack Obama describes certain political processes as being corrosive, as if strong chemicals are eating away at a metal surface.

corrosive

Example: “But stark inequality is also corrosive to our democratic ideal.”

Example: “America, we weaken those ties when we allow our political dialogue to become so corrosive that people of good character aren’t even willing to enter into public service; so coarse with rancor that Americans with whom we disagree are seen not just as misguided but as malevolent.”

Literature

Political speeches often contain metaphors of literature such as telling a story, finding the correct narrative or turning the page on a new process. However, Obama’s farewell address was notably lacking in these metaphors, perhaps because his terms in office, and his narrative, are finished. However, there is one literature metaphor, opening a new chapter, used to describe his groundbreaking work to open new relations with Cuba.

new chapter

Example: “…if I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people…”

Games

Politicians are famous for comparing elections or economic processes to games or professional sports. In this case, Barack Obama describes the economy as a game that is fixed or rigged against working class Americans by corrupt politicians. He also describes the economy as a zero-sum game, a perception that the loss in wages or opportunities of the working class means huge gains for the corporations.

game

Example: “…the laid-off factory worker; the waitress or health care worker who’s just barely getting by and struggling to pay the bills — convinced that the game is fixed against them, that their government only serves the interests of the powerful — that’s a recipe for more cynicism and polarization in our politics.”

zero-sum game

Example: “And we have shown that our economy doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game.”

Food

Everyone eats so everyone is familiar with metaphors of food. A very common food metaphor used to describe a political process is to say it is a recipe as if one is baking a cake. Obama describes a theoretical government that only serves the rich and not the poor as a recipe for cynicism among our citizens. He also uses the metaphor of food scraps. After a large meal, most of the food is eaten but small portions called scraps may remain. Historically, in rich British and American families, the family members ate the main portion of the meal while the servants or the dogs were given the scraps. In cases of extreme hunger, poor people even had to fight for scraps just to get enough to eat.

recipe

Example: “…the waitress or health care worker who’s just barely getting by and struggling to pay the bills — convinced that the game is fixed against them, that their government only serves the interests of the powerful — that’s a recipe for more cynicism and polarization in our politics.”

scraps

Example: “If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and an undeserving minority, then workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves.”

Machines

Government programs and political processes are often compared to machines that can crank out the same results time after time. In this case, Obama refers to terrorists as groups with a propaganda machine distorting truth and lies. Economic processes can also be compared to computers. When a computer stops working it may need to be restarted or rebooted to get it going again. Obama uses the idea of rebooting to describe his administration’s success in saving the auto industry. A complex machine can also be shut down if it is getting out of control. Obama uses this metaphor to describe his work to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program.   Finally, sometimes machines break down and must be repaired or fixed. Metaphorically we can describe broken economic or political processes as something that can be fixed.

machine

Example: “It represents the fear of change; the fear of people who look or speak or pray differently; a contempt for the rule of law that holds leaders accountable; an intolerance of dissent and free thought; a belief that the sword or the gun or the bomb or the propaganda machine is the ultimate arbiter of what’s true and what’s right.”

reboot

Example: “If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history…”

 

shut down

Example: “…shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot…”

fix

Example: “But there are no quick fixes to this long-term trend.”

Buildings

Yet another common rhetorical strategy in political speeches is to compare governmental processes to buildings. The idea of physically constructing a building is used to describe abstracting creating political processes. In this case, Obama describes the necessity of rebuilding our democratic institutions. In an unusual metaphor, Obama also quotes George Washington’s farewell address in which he talked about the underpinning of democratic rights. The term underpinning originally referred to the materials used to create the foundation of a building or a bridge. Metaphorically anything that supports or sustains a process or programs can be described as an underpinning.

rebuild

Example: “All of us, regardless of party, should be throwing ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions.”

underpinning

Example: “In his own farewell address, George Washington wrote that self-government is the underpinning of our safety, prosperity, and liberty, but ‘from different causes and from different quarters much pains will be taken…to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth.’”

Journey

The final set of metaphors worth mentioning is that of a journey. Readers of this blog are well aware that journey metaphors are almost ubiquitous in political speeches since the speaker rhetorically wants to demonstrate to the audience that he or she is making progress towards goals that will be of benefit to them as if proceeding on a grand journey. Journey metaphors can be quite complex, and Obama uses a wide variety of them in his speech. In one case, one can describe a process as if people are walking along a road. One can meet people along the way, or approach a destination. Thus metaphorically, we can say that one can approach a problem or meet a challenge. In another case, people travelling as a group must be careful not to leave anyone behind when they take off. Metaphorically people can be left behind economically if they do not have living wage jobs. We can also talk about the speed at which one travels. Thus we can talk about the pace of an ongoing process as if it is a vehicle travelling down the road. And of course, one does not want to go in reverse when trying to reach a destination. But we can also speak of reversing a bad trend to make things better for the American people.  More commonly, we talk about achieving a goal as if we are taking steps along a path. Obama shares his frustration of not achieving as much as he wanted to by describing it as taking two steps forward and one step back, even though he claims that the country is still going in a forward motion. Captains of ships set a course when they set sail towards a new destination. Thus, we can talk about a journey as a long course of action. Finally, Obama uses a colorful phrase derived from an essay from Ralph Waldo Emerson, that of hitching one’s wagon to a star to achieve great things in life. Obama encourages young Americans to hitch their wagon to something bigger than themselves.

approach

Example: “Now, we can and should argue about the best approach to solve the problem. But to simply deny the problem not only betrays future generations, it betrays the essential spirit of this country — the essential spirit of innovation and practical problem-solving that guided our Founders.”

meet

Example: “We have everything we need to meet those challenges.”

left behind

Example: “While the top one percent has amassed a bigger share of wealth and income, too many families, in inner cities and in rural counties, have been left behind…”

pace

Example: “It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes a lot of good, middle-class jobs obsolete.”

reverse

Example: “If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession…”

steps/forward motion

Example: “For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back. But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all and not just some.”

course

Example: “Over the course of these eight years, I’ve seen the hopeful faces of young graduates and our newest military officers.”

journey

Example: “America is no fragile thing. But the gains of our long journey to freedom are not assured.”

hitch your wagon

Example: “Because I know our work has not only helped so many Americans, it has inspired so many Americans — especially so many young people out there — to believe that you can make a difference — (applause) — to hitch your wagon to something bigger than yourselves.”

*******

Barack Obama’s farewell address was a poignant description of his past accomplishments and his hopes for the future. While not deliberately grandiose with few rhetorical flourishes, the speech succeeded in pleasing his supporters in reminding them of his successes as the 44th president. As I hopefully have described here, the speech also contained a wide variety of political metaphors that illustrate how we conceptualize political processes. I look forward to analyzing the speeches of Donald Trump as he takes office this week.

Passing the Baton

With the 2016 Summer Olympics underway in Rio de Janeiro, I thought it was worth mentioning again a few metaphors from the exciting sport of track and field. One of the most common metaphors used during the Democratic National Convention a few weeks ago was the idea that Barack Obama was passing the baton to Hillary Clinton if she were elected to be the next president of the United States, as if they were both in a relay race during the Olympics.   Here are a few more metaphors derived from track and field sporting events.

blog - sports - Track_and_Field_ runnersthe first heat

In sprint and long-distance running competitions, runners often compete in many preliminary races called heats to determine who will be the finalists for the last race. Thus the first heat is the first race of the competition. Figuratively, the first step of a long competitive process may also be called the first heat.

Example: The Republican primaries of 2016 were the first heat to determine who was going to be the nominee to face the Democratic nominee in the November election.

blog - sports - hurdlingthe biggest hurdle

Some races require the runners to jump over wooden bars set up on the track called hurdles. Metaphorically, any obstacle or barrier to progress may be called a hurdle.

Example: Many pundits agreed that high unemployment rates presented Barack Obama with the biggest hurdle to getting reelected in 2012.

lap

In a long-distance race, runners have to run around a track many times to complete a race. Each time around the track is called a lap. In some cases, very fast runners will actually catch up and pass slow runners so that they are one full lap ahead of them. The slow runners are described as being lapped. In politics, people can be described as being lapped if one greatly outperforms the other.

Example: In the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton lapped Donald Trump several times in terms of fundraising and corporate donations.

blog - sports - pole vaultvault to, vault over

In a specialized sport, an athlete runs with a long pole, plants it in the ground and uses it to lift himself or herself over a very tall bar. This sport is called the pole vault. The action of jumping in the air with the pole is called vaulting over the bar. Figuratively, when a person has great unexpected success in one area, we may say that he or she has vaulted to a new level of success. When a person faces a large problem, we may also that he or she can vault over the obstacle.

Example: In the 1980 presidential election, Ronald Reagan vaulted to the lead and beat his opponent Jimmy Carter by a wide margin.

lower the bar

When a pole vaulter is training, it may be difficult to vault over high settings of the bar. Instead, the trainer may need to lower the bar so that the athlete can succeed in making the vault. Metaphorically, lowering the bar means to lower expectations for a certain person, project or program.

Example: After many long years of war in Afghanistan, both George W. Bush and Barack Obama seemed to lower the bar to define how one would declare victory there.

jump or leap to conclusions

In another specialized track and field sport called long jumping, athletes must run as fast as they can and jump as far as they can. They must make a great leap to beat their opponents. This notion of leaping can also be used in a metaphorical phrase leap or jump to conclusions meaning that one assumes an end result of some process without knowing the facts.

Example: On election night, many television viewers can get frustrated with reporters who leap to conclusions and announce the winners before all of the voting results are in.

 

070422-N-5215E-003 ANNAPOLIS, Md. (April 22, 2007) - A Special Olympics athlete participates in the long jump at the Naval Academy. This was the 39th year the Academy hosted the event, which drew 175 athletes from the surrounding area for two days of aquatics and track and field competition. More than 300 Midshipmen, active duty service members, and Annapolis-area high school students volunteered as event staff and athlete escorts for the event. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Matthew A. Ebarb (RELEASED)
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (April 22, 2007) – A Special Olympics athlete participates in the long jump at the Naval Academy. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Matthew A. Ebarb (RELEASED)

fall short

Some sports, such as the long jump competition in track and field, require athletes to jump long distances. When an athlete does not jump as far as his opponents have jumped in a competition, we may say that he or she has fallen short of the goal. This phrase is also used in archery when an arrow falls short of reaching the target. In a common phrase, when someone does not meet expectations or success at the proposed goals, we may say that he or she has fallen short.

Example: Many progressives feel that Barack Obama fell short in reaching liberals goals for civil rights in the first few years of his presidency.

track record

The fastest speed of a runner (or car or horse) is literally called the track record. Politicians may also have track records in the way that they vote on particular issues.

Example: Senator John McCain, a former prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, has had a good track record of supporting veterans after they return from foreign wars.

U.S. Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Course (NJROTC) cadets hand off batons during a 8x220-yard relay race on Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., April 17, 2009, during the 2009 NJROTC National Academic, Athletic and Drill competition. Units from 25 high schools, in 13 states, competed in personnel inspections, academic tests, military drill, and athletic events. (U.S. Navy photo by Scott A. Thornbloom/Released)
U.S. Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Course (NJROTC) cadets hand off batons during a 8×220-yard relay race on Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., April 17, 2009 (U.S. Navy photo by Scott A. Thornbloom /Released)

pass the baton

In relay races at track and field events, runners carry a short bar called a baton as they run. When each runner finishes his or her section of the race, he or she passes the baton to the next runner, who passes it to the following runner, etc., until the race is complete. In business or politics, a person who steps down from a position of authority can be said to pass the baton to his or her successor.

 

 

Example: During the Democratic National Convention in 2016, some journalists wrote that Barack Obama would be passing the baton to Hillary Clinton if she were to win the presidential election in November.

Metaphors in French and Spanish

 

 

Hello!

A thousand pardons for my short hiatus from making new blog posts. At the end of the academic year, I normally get too busy with my teaching schedule to do much work on my blog. I was behind the 8 ball trying to do all my testing (billiards anyone?), up to my knees in grading (was there a flood?), and buried in paperwork (was there an avalanche?). We have also been doing some field testing of some new standardized tests (corn or wheat?) and crunching some numbers (with a nutcracker?) from an experiment related to some new reading strategies for our students. But allow me to get back on track with my blog…

blog - French - Flag on pole

When I first began my research into political metaphors, no other languages seemed to have the great frequency of metaphors as in English. The other day, however, I came upon some interesting political metaphors in French and Spanish. I am not fluent in either language, but I have a medium-level reading ability in both. I have the apps for Le Monde (from Paris, France) and El Pais (from Madrid, Spain) on my phone. I can brush up on my French and Spanish by reading the free newspaper articles on those apps. I was a bit surprised when I noticed a few political metaphors in both newspapers worthy of mention. Many of these metaphors would be considered dead metaphors by most linguists including even Lakoff and Johnson. However, as I have explained many times on this blog, I take a broad view of metaphor. Any example of a physical action begin used to describe an abstract process can be classified as a metaphor. I will try to explain each of these metaphors in turn. Some combinations of metaphors are explained as they appear in the sentences in the article. If you are not familiar with either French or Spanish, I will mark each word as being “F” or “S.” The translations in parentheses below are my own. My apologies if there are any errors.

flag - spanish - spanish-flag-1464084072Hvb

You can read the entire French article here and the Spanish article here.

 

blog - building - Notre_Dame_buttresssupport/soutient (F)/apoyo (S)

race/course (F)

I may be wrong but I assume that the physical meaning of support, as in a wooden beam supporting a building, is a primary meaning, while the abstract meaning of helping someone through a difficult time is a secondary meaning. In either case, I believe the notion of supporting a presidential candidate is a metaphorical expression. I was interested to see that the word is used similarly in both French and Spanish. The word race, as in the race for the president, is also used in French as the word course.

Example: “Barack Obama soutient Hillary Clinton dans la course à la Maison Blanche.”

(Barack Obama supports Hillary Clinton the race for the White House.)

Example: “Barack Obama anuncia su apoyo a Hillary Clinton.”

(Barack Obama announces his support for Hillary Clinton.)

blog - nature - meadowcampaign/campagne (F)/ campaña (S)

Another common metaphor in American English is the notion of a presidential campaign. This word has a tortuous history – it originally meant a field or the countryside, but then evolved to mean a military battle that took place on an open field. Later it was used metaphorically to mean the process of winning a nomination or an election.

Example: “« Je suis à ses côtés, je suis enthousiaste, j’ai hâte de m’y mettre et de faire campagne pour Hillary », ajoute M. Obama…”

(“I’m with her. I’m fired up and I cannot wait to get out there and campaign for Hillary,” added Mr. Obama…)

Example: “El presidente se ha declarado impaciente por entrar en la campaña.”

(The president has impatiently declared his entrance into the campaign.)

Example: “En 2008 se disputaron la nominación del Partido Demócrata, y la campaña fue feroz (la que ahora termina, entre Clinton y Sanders, sin anuncios negativos entre ellos, ha sido una campaña plácida en comparación).”

(In 2008, the Democratic nomination was disputed, and the campaign was fierce (that which just ended, between Clinton and Sanders, without negative attack ads between them, was a peaceful campaign in comparison)).

blog - weight - Bathroom_Scalebehind/ derrière (F)

weight/poids (F)

battle/bataille (F)

Another way to indicate support is to say that one is behind a certain candidate as if one is pushing the person up a hill. We can also say that a person puts his or her weight behind someone. In French, we can find the words derriere for “behind” and poids for “weight.” Another common military metaphor is the concept of a battle. We find the same word bataille in French with a similar meaning. In one long passage from the Le Monde article, we find all three of these metaphors used together.

Example: “Il [Obama] a attendu de recevoir à la Maison Blanche le rival malheureux de l’ancienne secrétaire d’Etat, Bernie Sanders, jeudi 9 juin, pour annoncer officiellement, en tout début d’après-midi, qu’il mettra tout son poids dans la bataille à venir, derrière Mme Clinton…”

(He has waited to receive at the White House the long-time rival of his Secretary of State, Bernie Sanders, on Thursday, June 9, to officially announce in the early afternoon, that he will put all of his weight in the battle to come behind Mrs. Clinton…)

have an influence/mesure de peser (F)

A slightly different way of indicating support is to have an influence on someone, but it French this is translated as a mesure de peser, literally “a measure of weight.”

Example: “M. Obama est en mesure de peser sur la campagne cet automne.”

(Mr. Obama will have an influence on the campaign this autumn.)

blog - body position - at her sideside/ côté (F)

Yet another way of indicating support is to say that a person is on the side of the candidate. In French, we can say that a person is a ses côtés. Interestingly, Obama’s phrase of “I’m with her” is translated in the French newspaper as “I am at her side.”

Example: “ Je suis à ses côtés…”

(I am at her side.)

 

 

blog - family - Family_Portrait

family/famille (F)

In English we speak of political parties. In Spanish, this word is usually translated as partidos, but in French, at least in one case, a party is referred to as a famille.  Here is a long quotation from the French article.

Example: “Les principaux responsables démocrates, qu’il s’agisse de la représentante Nancy Pelosi (Californie), du sénateur Harry Reid (Nevada), ou encore du vice-président Joe Biden, ne cessent d’insister sur le respect avec lequel doit être traité M. Sanders, ne serait-ce que pour faciliter la réunification de la famille démocrate après une course à l’investiture aussi disputée que huit ans plus tôt.”

(The principal responsible Democrats, who are under the guidance of Representative Nancy Pelosi (California), of Senator Harry Reid (Nevada) or again of Vice President Joe Biden, do not cease insisting on the respect that must be given to Mr. Sanders, who would not be able to facilitate the reunification of the Democratic family after a race for the nomination also disputed eight years earlier.)

blog - French - porte-parole luggagespokesperson/porte-parole (F)

This term is an example of a word being literal in one language and a metaphor in another. The meaning of the term spokesperson is fairly indicating a person who speaks on behalf of a large organization. In French, the term is porteparole. The term parole means “speech,” while the term porte is a noun form of the word porter which means “to carry,” as in our English words, portable or porter. Thus, in French, a spokesperson is one who “carries the words” to someone else.

Example: “Dans ce message enregistré mardi, selon le porte-parole de la Maison Blanche, Josh Earnest, M. Obama loue avec insistance les qualités de l’ancienne secrétaire d’Etat.”

(In the message delivered on Tuesday, according to the White House spokesperson, Josh Ernest, Mr. Obama insisted on the qualities of the former Secretary of State.)

blog - nature - earth-orbitorbit/ órbita (S)

team/equipo (S)

Two other examples from the article in Spanish are orbit and team. In Spanish, these terms are órbita and equipo. Both of these metaphors illustrate the need for an expression that relates who people work together in a group, saying they are either on the same team or in the same orbit.

Example: “Obama y Clinton pertenecen a la misma órbita ideológica: el centroizquierda pragmático. Y parte del equipo de Clinton trabajó con Obama.”

(Obama and Clinton belong to the same ideological orbit: the pragmatic center left. And a part of the team of Clinton worked with Obama.)

weapon/arma (S)

In a final example from Spanish, we find the usage of the metaphor of a weapon as a something that helps someone achieve one’s goals. In this case, President Obama is described as an effective weapon or arma to be used by Mrs. Clinton to defeat Trump.

Example: “Obama, además de uno de los presidentes más populares en las últimas décadas, es un político con un talento extraordinario en campaña. Puede ser una de las mejores armas de Clinton ante Trump.”

(Obama, in addition to being one of the most popular presidents of the last few decades, is a politician with an extraordinary talent for campaigning. He can be one of the best weapons of Clinton against Trump.)

*******

As you can see, some of the most common political metaphors used in English can also be found in French and Spanish. I do not know enough about these languages to know how extensive the usage of metaphors really is. If any of my readers can add more clarity to this issue, please let me know. Comments and questions are always welcome. Thanks!

 

Flashback: Obama’s Speech in Cairo, 2009

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

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

 

Nature

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Farming and Ranching

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

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

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

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

 

Music and Theater

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

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

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

 

Buildings

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

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

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

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

 

Personification

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

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

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

 

Physical Forces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Journey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*******

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

 

Next time:  Back to the campaign trail

Flashback: Obama’s 1st Inaugural Address

I have had several requests from linguists and graduate students around the world in the past few months to have more analyses of President Obama’s speeches. Previously, I analyzed his 2nd Inaugural Address from January 2013 among other speeches. Today I would like to an analysis of his 1st Inaugural Address from January 2009.   Although it may seem like ancient history, this important speech reveals the energy and optimism of his record-setting campaign and election. President Obama uses a wide variety of metaphors in his speech including those from nature, farming, personification, theater, machines and tools, buildings, food, fragile objects, physical forces and journeys.

As always, the examples below are taken directly from the transcript of the speech. I have italicized the metaphors in question. Some examples are repeated if they contain multiple metaphors.

 

Nature

We commonly use metaphors of nature to describe political events or historical conditions. In one extended passage, President Obama speaks of rising tides, still waters, gathering clouds and raging storms. In other cases, he also speaks of our national confidence being reduced like the sap of a tree, while political changes are compared to earthquakes or shifting ground and American ideals are seen as lighting the world like the sun.

Example: “Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath.  The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace.  Yet, every so often, the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms.”

blog - nature - still water

blog - nature - rainstorm

 

 

 

 

 

Example: “Less measurable, but no less profound, is a sapping of confidence across our land; a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, that the next generation must lower its sights.”

Example: “What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply.”

Example: “Our Founding Fathers — (applause) — our Founding Fathers, faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man — a charter expanded by the blood of generations.  Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience sake.”  (Applause.)

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Farming

Our close relationship to nature includes our thousands of years of farming practices. In one case, terrorists are compared to farmers who sow conflict instead of seeds.

Example: “To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.”

 

Personification

Politicians commonly refer to countries or political movements as people.   Thus, Obama refers to America as a friend of other nations, while earlier generations faced down fascism. Additionally, he speaks of dogmas as having the power to strangle our politics. Most famously, he described terrorists as a group of people to whom he would like to extend and hand if they would unclench their fists.

blog - personification - handshakeExample: “And so, to all the other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born, know that America is a friend of each nation, and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity.”

Example: “Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with the sturdy alliances and enduring convictions.”

Example: “On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.”

blog - personification - Clenched_human_fistExample: “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Theater

In addition to metaphors of personification, we also commonly compare countries to actors playing on stage or in a movie. Thus, President Obama claims that American must play a role in establishing peace around the world and that we must consider our role in keeping our military personnel safe in overseas engagements.

Example: “…and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.”

Example: “As we consider the role that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who at this very hour patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains.”

 

Buildings

It is also common that politicians speak of governmental progress as building a new structure. Thus, we find an example of President Obama describing his goals in 2009 to lay a new foundation for economic growth. He also describes terrorists as those who would not only build societies but also destroy them.

Example: “For everywhere we look, there is work to be done.  The state of our economy calls for action, bold and swift.  And we will act, not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth.”

Example: “To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.”

 

Machines and Tools

We have used animals and machines for hundreds of years to make our lives easier. We put harnesses on domesticated animals to make them do work on our farms. We can also use tools to fix a machine or try not to lose control of its power. Thus Obama speaks of harnessing the sun, wind and earth for fuel. He also speaks of using instruments to meet new challenges, and watching the stock market so that it does not spin out of control.

blog - machines - harness horses
Example: “We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.”

Example: “Our challenges may be new.  The instruments with which we meet them may be new.”

blog - machines - spinning topExample: “But this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control.”

 

Food 

We all have experiences eating food. We may describe the taste of food as something that is salty or sweet, sour or bitter, fresh or stale. Unpleasant events may be compared to a bitter taste, while old political strategies may be compared to stale bread. With a nod to the rhetoric of Martin Luther King, Jr., President Obama claims that we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation while stale political arguments are no longer applicable to modern societies.

blog - food - Stale_breadExample: “We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation…”

Example: “What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply.”

 

Fragile Objects

We compare the strength of people, political movements or personal motivation to fragile objects like glass vases. President Obama uses a popular metaphor to describe the American spirit as something that is not fragile and thus cannot be broken.

Example: “And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken — you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.”

 

Physical Forces

We can also control objects and our environment by shaping them as if they are mounds of clay. Thus, Obama says that we are shaped by the languages and cultures of other countries, while we must be responsible to shape our own national destiny.

Example: “We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation…”

Example: “This is the source of our confidence — the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.”

 

Journey

Finally, and not surprisingly, President Obama uses many journey metaphors to describe his goals for his presidency which was just beginning in 2009. We use metaphors of walking, driving or sailing ships to describe progress in our lives. President Obama uses quite a variety of these types of metaphors. He does not want to roll back the progress that had been made on reducing global warming, but to carry forward the gifts of our forefathers to create a better world. He claimed that the United States has long been on a difficult path, but without short-cuts, while finding the surest route for a new way forward. He wants to country to think about how far we have traveled together and to keep our eyes on the horizon and carry forth our gifts to a new generation.

Example: “With old friends and former foes, we’ll work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet.”

Example: “The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea passed on from generation to generation:  the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.”

blog - journey - ShortcutExample: “Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less.  It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those that prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame.  Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor — who have carried us up the long rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.”

Example: “The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity, on the ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.”

Example: “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”

Example: “So let us mark this day with remembrance of who we are and how far we have traveled.”

blog - war - horizonExample: “Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.”

*******

It is interesting to see the optimism in Barack Obama’s rhetoric and choice of metaphors at the start of his presidency. I wonder if he believes he has achieved all he had hoped for on his journey…

 

State of the Union Address 2016, Part 2

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

Physical Forces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Body Position and Personification

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Journeys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*******

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

Next time: Metaphors of the Iowa Caucuses

State of the Union Address 2016, Part 1

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

Sports

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

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

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

Nature

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

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

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

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

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

Buildings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Machines and Tools

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

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

blog - SOTU16 - Hand_tools

Next Time: SOTU 2016, Part 2

Happy Holidays! Metaphors of Eating!

Happy Holidays!

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

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

Eating 

hungry for something

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

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

blog - food - Family_eating_mealconsume/consumer

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

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

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

chew the fat

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

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

eating savings

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

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

eating higher costs

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

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

feast on

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

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

blog - food - Digestive-systemdigest

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

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

spoon feed

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

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

piecemeal

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

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

piece of the pie

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

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

blog - food - slice of piesmall slice

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

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

 

blog - food - Assorted_forksfork over

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

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

fed up with something

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

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

IMG_1320pick up the tab

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

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

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

 

 

 

1st Democratic Debate, Part 2

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

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

Nature

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

blog - nature - graniteblock of granite

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

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

sowing the seeds of unrest

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

rooted in values

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

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

straw man purchasers

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

cascading threats

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

windfall profits

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

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

quagmire

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

bogged down

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

 

 

 

rein in/run amok

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

 

Body Position

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

blog - body - standingstand up to his bullying

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

stood up against the NRA

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

back down

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

I am still standing

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

standing but not running

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

paralyzed

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

blog - body - backbone

 

backbone

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

handful of billionaires

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

wrong hands

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

 

Physical Forces

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

IMG_0062tear our country apart

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

rip it apart

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

wiped out millions of jobs

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

crushing debt

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

broken criminal justice system

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

turnouts

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

exploded in violence

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

middle class is shrinking

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

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

middle class is collapsing

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

railroaded

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

thread a tough needle

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

blog - phys forces - needle

Journey

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

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

out of step

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

want to step forward

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

blog - journey - thresholdstand on the threshold

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

path toward citizenship

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

reversals

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

turn the state around

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

blog - journey - back seatback seat

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

put forward specific plans

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

go forward

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

move our country forward

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

blog - journey - aheadbehind instead of ahead

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

get ahead and stay ahead

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

 

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

Next time:  TBA

1st Democratic Debate: Part 1

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

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

 

Education

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

grades from the NRA

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

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

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

powerful lesson/lessons from Benghazi

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

I did my homework

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

blog - education - Quadratic_Formulaformula

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

all-of-the-above strategies/energy

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

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

 

Light and Darkness

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

political shadows

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

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shadow banking

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

take people out of the shadows

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

stark contrast

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

 

Magic

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

blog - supernatural - magicianmagician

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

disappearing

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

 

Card games

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

at stake

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

blog - cards - Royal_Flushun-stack the deck

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

follow suit

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

 

Military 

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

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

common ground/stand my ground

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

blog - military - shieldsshield the gun companies

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

 

Width

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

close the gap/the gap between rich and poor

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

heal the divides

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

 

Personification

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

the ad writes itself

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

save capitalism from itself

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

the party left me

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

blog - religion - altarleft them at the altar

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

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

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

Next time: More metaphors from the Democratic debate.